Building bridges to shape role models
Sem Mandela Uutoni’s desire for community development manifests itself in his work and is what drove him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in regional and rural development, plus a master’s degree in regional development and environmental economics, which he attained summa cum laude.
Uutoni’s quest to be a bridge builder, especially when it comes to providing young people with access to opportunities, is something that started as a passion, but became a reality with the establishment of Africa Pathfinder Leaders Initiative (APLI) two years ago.
“To be quite honest, the biggest accomplishment with APLI has been starting and getting it off the ground,” he says.
The 26-year-old had wanted to do something in youth development for over five years before eventually starting the initiative in 2018, which he describes as a major accomplishment.
The leadership initiative, led by a specifically selected group of leaders, has the main aim to mobilise change makers across the country and ultimately address the shortage of skills, resources and networks encountered by young people as they aspire to achieve their own goals and contribute to development.
“APLI gives us all a platform to put our passion into action as they aspire to achieve their own goals and contribute to development,” Uutoni says about the initiative which caters to leaders in various fields.
He added that the frontrunners at APLI are “exceptional at what they do and passionate about youth development.”
Windhoek being at the forefront when it comes to information and opportunities, it is a challenge for APLI to reach young people outside the Khomas Region.
Although APLI is aware of the pool of talented and passionate young people who live in various regions of the country and are doing incredible work in transforming their communities, applicants and consequent trainees are mainly from Windhoek.
The organisation is thus challenged to come up with new ways to reach and engage talent in regions and give them access to the opportunities.
The current focus for APLI is to increase and diversify its impact across the different age groups of the youth demographic, starting with rolling out a foundation programme aimed at training high school leaders.
In the next two years, APLI is keen on establishing and maintaining strategic partnerships with various stakeholders as they understand the imperativeness of collaboration.
Uutoni values friends and family and normally spends any free time that he would have in the company of his loved ones.
“I enjoy being in the company of people who are dear to me, so I spend a lot of time with my family, especially my siblings and my friends.”
He has a fulltime job as a development advisor at the National Planning Commission, which he is excited and passionate about.
“I like to end off my day with a good read,” he says, adding that he currently has two books keeping him busy - ‘Expect The Extraordinary’ by Jerry Savelle and ‘Allah is not obliged’ by Ahmadou Kourouma.
“I had the honour of being raised by two strong women, my mother and grandmother. They were able to transcend all the afflictions that were in their way and made incredible sacrifices to ensure that I got chance to be educated. Education has given me a voice and a seat at the table where the decisions of the future are made. Their work ethic, tenacity and sacrifices inspire me daily.”
The young man is driven by growth and the desire to constantly do and be better. “Whether it’s in myself or other people, I am fuelled by helping people overcome what inflicts them from attaining an improved quality of life,” he says.
Uutoni describes a leader as “anyone who has the conviction to do something greater [than] themselves, and most importantly acts on that conviction,” and he strongly associates leadership with service.
He further explains that leadership ties together with being able to recognise one’s social and civic responsibilities and acknowledge how fortunate and privileged one is to have access to opportunities and experiences.
“We have a responsibility not only to rise but to ensure that we take someone with us on the rise; in that way we all win and when we win the entire system wins.” These are the words of Uutoni’s mentor, Mee Helena, as he fondly calls her. A wise woman who also constantly reminds him that “the future is not always linear.”
10 fun facts about Sem Mandela Uutoni
He has a pug called Bokkie.
He collects paintings.
He loves travelling, and has been to 32 countries so far.
He is still trying to figure out a thing called swimming.
He is very good at 30 Seconds.
He loves smiling.
He enjoys cooking.
He loves tea.
He played basketball in high school.
His friends describe him as a perfectionist.