Sudan has a population of 37.96 million people and the youth make up 62% of this population. Although their status is the key to Sudan’s future, over 20% of Sudan’s youth are unemployed today.
According to UNFPA’s report, Giving Young People a Priority (2013), 31% of Sudan’s youth, aged between 20 and 24, are not receiving proper education and therefore have difficulty finding employment. Employers in Sudan prefer employing people of older age due to their professional expertise, leaving limited opportunities available for young people in Sudan to develop.
However, Sudan is seeing a growing number of youth development initiatives and programs such as Al Mustakbal, Moving Forward Sudan, Al Sudaniya Mentoring and Sol For Change, aiming to empower Sudan’s youth and create better career opportunities for them.
Al-Mustakbal is a not-for-profit grassroots initiative established in 2012 to help the country’s young generation successfully participate in Sudan’s growing economy. Al-Mustakbal runs professional development and academic support programs in Sudan, creating networks to connect Sudanese youth with valuable mentorship systems, as well as to bridge the gap with and between the Sudanese diasporas. It has since expanded to include a network of students and young professionals across the globe committed to supporting youth career and educational development in Sudan.
“Al-Mustakbal prides itself in being a cofounded entity. Till now, and up until the point when we are a formally registered NGO in Sudan. Any new staff members are considered cofounders of the initiative. All I have done was come up with the initial idea,” said cofounder Yahia Hassan, who graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics in May 2014.
During his time in Yale, Hassan met Aala Abdelgadir, a cofounder, and told her about his idea of Al-Mustakbal. “She expressed a lot of interest in it, particularly as she wanted to do something similar but in the area of graduate education. So in November 2012, we put the two programs together under one umbrella, called it Al-Mustakbal, and began building a global team of similarly passionate Sudanese students and graduates to implement what is now a truly successful initiative,” Hassan said.
In order establish Al-Mustakbal as a fully functional and sustainable NGO, the 23-year-old Hassan decided to move to Sudan for a year immediately after his graduation. In addition, he needed to find companies and organizations in Sudan who would partner with Al-Mustakbal to provide internship opportunities for the youth there. During his time in Sudan, Hassan found that many young men and women in Sudan find it challenging to occupy their free time with suitable and productive initiatives.
“Whenever I asked friends what they did in the summer, their responses were always ‘pretty much nothing’. That wasn’t their fault however. The youth really do want to work, develop, and grow professionally and academically, yet most of the time, the opportunities aren’t there. Internship programs in Sudan exist here and there, but they’re pretty much useless. You sit down for a few months, do nothing, and leave with a contact who can write a letter of reference. No skills are learned, and no mentorship is given. With that, I was inspired to do something. I felt the responsibility to use whatever credentials I had to give other students and graduates the same opportunities to learn, grow, and develop,” explained Hassan.
Today, Al-Mustakbal consists of at least 20 members, with 50% of the staff is based in Sudan, and the rest are across the US, UK, Gulf, and Malaysia. Al Mustakbal’s network includes University of Khartoum and Harvard University students, Ahfad University and Yale University graduates, architects, PhD students in Spain and the US, DAL Group employees, and high-profile professionals in Sudan and around the world.
Al-Mustakbal provides two flagship initiatives:
Tadrees: By facilitating access to leading international graduate programs, Tadrees enables students to learn cutting-edge research, techniques and technology in their field. Through this graduate specialization, students will gain the expertise to become innovative leaders in their own fields and contribute to development in Sudan. Currently, Tadrees runs only one program – the Graduate Education Program (GEP). The GEP provides one-on-one graduate school advising to talented undergraduate students (and young professionals) in Sudan interested in pursuing graduate school in the US or the UK. The GEP pairs selected candidates with experienced mentors to guide them through the complex graduate application process.
Tamreen: Tamreen focuses on helping Sudanese students build and hone professional skills that are in high demand throughout the private and public sectors of Sudan and the rest of the world. Currently, Tamreen runs only one program – the Internship Program (IP). The IP offers structured vocational training opportunities to qualified Sudanese students and graduates in Sudan and the diaspora. To do so, Al-Mustakbal collaborates with different business to allow Sudanese students pursuing high school, undergraduate, and graduate degrees the chances to gain first-hand experience and practical skills through temporary employment, to make them more competitive in the global market for labour. More generally, the program seeks to realign the skills attained by Sudanese students at home or abroad, during their studies, with the skills that employers in Sudan need.
“Through our Graduate Education Program, Sudanese students and graduates have gotten the mentorship they needed to get into the masters programs they wanted in the UK and US. Through our Internship Program, students and graduates have benefited from real world professional experience, and roughly 40% of interns received employment offers,” explained Hassan.
Al-Mustakbal seeks to facilitate access to transformative opportunities that equip young people with the skills and experiences to become qualified candidates in the professional and academic arena. Secondly, through comprehensive initiatives, Al-Mustakbal offers support for students as they navigate complex challenges and decisions in the professional and academic world to ensure that they make informed decisions and maximize their chances for success. In brief, we strive to hone the skills of Sudanese students by opening doors that were previously inaccessible.
Hassan sees a bright future for Sudan’s youth. “What has inspired me so much since returning to the country however is the change in mentality. We are no longer waiting for solutions to our problems. We have taken it upon ourselves to find our own solutions,” he said. Seeing this potential in the Sudanese youth motivated Hassan to establish Al-Mustakbal.
In Sudan, a great number of young women have difficulty identifying opportunities for personal and professional development. Focusing on the development of young females in Sudan is Al Sudaniya Mentoring (ASM). Established in August 2013, ASM is an organisation that works to empower, engage, and inspire young Sudanese girls to become confident and pioneering leaders of the future through an annual mentoring program.
The idea of ASM was born when British-Sudanese founder Mai Khidir was discovering her career path. She explains, “After graduating from pharmacology, I decided to branch out of the scientific world, and explore different areas such as PR/Marketing for a food and drink agency and conference management for life science events. I did not feel a sense of fulfillment whilst working in the private sector, and wished to have a career that ensured that I contributed to the progress and advancement of developing countries. I then decided to pursue a career in public health, as this career path would enable me to play an important and vital role in positively impacting individuals and communities across the world.”
Khidir then decided to move to Sudan for a year to start her public health career and be a part of initiatives responsible for the development of Sudan. “As a member of the Sudanese Diaspora, living in Sudan was challenging, and opened my eyes to the struggles that women face. I wished to also work in the women’s rights field, and raise women up, so that they are free to choose their own path, without undue pressures from the society in which they live,” she said.
While in Sudan, Khidir volunteered at the Miracles Sudan Riding Centre, where she met like minded individuals, and was recommended for the MILEAD African development fellowship. “This fellowship enable me to inspire, and develop young Sudanese women, which is something that I have long dreamed of,” she said. The fellowship programme is a transformational leadership development programme which aims to empower and develop pioneering young African future women leaders, by assisting them to develop and implement life changing projects in their countries of origin. “I spent three weeks in Ghana, where I networked, and was trained on women’s rights issues, and development in Africa and created the Al Sudaniya Mentoring Programme,” she said.
Joining Khidir on the ASM team are five others who help organize and coordinate the program and provide advice, guidance and support to mentees and mentors when required. In addition to running ASM, the 26-year-old currently works in public health in London. Khidir graduated with a BSc in Pharmacology, and completed a Master’s degree in public health in 2014.
Today, ASM is in the second year of this mentoring fellowship programme with 20 girls enrolled. To date, five girls have graduated from the program. “The girls that have graduated have benefited from learning from the experiences of mentors, who they see as role models. They have learnt about women’s rights, and have found their own unique voice, and taking pride in what they have to offer the world. Mentees have learnt that the answers they seek do not necessarily come from those closest to them, but within themselves,” said Khidir.
Both the mentors and the mentees have been recruited through social media and word of mouth. The mentees live in Sudan, however, the mentors are located in various countries including Sudan, UK, US, UAE, Qatar, Malaysia, Switzerland and Sweden. “This programme is about connecting Sudanese women across the globe, aged 22 and over, with young girls living in Sudan aged 17-22 for one to one Skype sessions about topics such as CV writing, leadership skills, time management, women’s rights, and many more. Mentees and mentors are involved in discussing the topics mentioned above, and to share experiences, in order to develop the confidence of young Sudanese girls to follow their dreams,” said Khidir.
After graduating from the six-month programme with ASM, the mentees develop and gain new skills. “We want mentees to develop a newfound confidence in themselves, their abilities, and the power and strength they have within themselves. We also want mentees to have a real vision and plan for their future, so that they are actively working towards their goals. We also want mentees to learn from the projects that they implement in Sudan, and be able to develop other impactful projects in the future,” said Khidir.
The ASM programme is also beneficial to the mentors. “Some of the mentors have not lived in Sudan, but they have always wanted to give back to their home countries. Thus, this is a brilliant opportunity for both mentees and mentors to learn from one another, and broaden their horizons to different perspectives and ways of thinking. This programme isa way of building and strengthening the bridge between Sudanese womenacross the globe. We can all contribute to the development of Sudan, andlocation is never a barrier for individuals passionate and dedicated toassisting in the development of Sudan,” said Khidir.
ASM is dedicated solely to young females in Sudan because, as Khidir explains, “women in Sudan face a multitude of challenges rooted from the deeply ingrained gender stereotypes in Sudan, often leaving women lacking the guidance, and support that can ensure they fulfill their potential. We need to address societal norms, and the pressures that women face in Sudan, so that their sociocultural environment is conducive to their growth. As the saying goes ‘educate a woman, educate a nation’, we firmly believe that focusing, and raising women up so that they can flourish, will produce a ripple effect that can produce long lasting changes to the mentees, and to other individuals they interact with.”
However, ASM also encourages interaction between males and females as it’s vital for a fairer, more egalitarian Sudanese society. “We understand that engaging with men, and working towards gender equality is pivotal to creating a fairer society so that women can achieve their goals. As we evolve, and expand, we hope to work, and connect with men and women and push forward our agenda to break down obstacles, and formulate solutions, and opportunities for everyone,” explains Khidir.
This year, ASM will be introducing a new project in the last three months of the programme. Khidir explains, “Al Sudaniya Mentoring has collaborated with Moving Forward Sudan, to enable mentees to implement a small community based project of a topic of their choosing, for example they could be involved in organising a small workshop on women’s rights issues every week at their university. The project that they implement will assist them in developing leadership skills, and utilising the skills gained during the programme in order to consolidate their learning, and build their character.”
In Khidir’s eyes, a brighter future for Sudan is in the hands of the youth. “Despite the challenges, hardships, and often negativity that the youth experience in Sudan, you do not have to resign yourself to a bleak future. The youth have the power to be the real change makers, and be the difference they wish to see in Sudan. It takes hope, courage, and fierce determination to overcome adversity, and become stronger, more resilient, and able to take steps to make dreams a reality. We are all change makers and we all have the potential for altering the course of Sudan’s future. If we all work together, we are better able to tackle problems and develop solutions,” she said.
Sol For Change (Sol)
Sol For Change (Sol) is the newest youth development initiative in Sudan. Referred to as a social movement, Sol is organized by youth for youth to enhance arts in Sudan. The goal of Sol is to create a network for those who practice arts in Sudan to help cultivate talent and activate self-pride and joy though the creation of art.
“Sol is a youth-led movement that aims to provide opportunities for young artists to showcase, develop and discuss their arts with the people around them. It also aims to motivate the public to have discussions and serious dialogues about the status of Arts in Sudan, Africa and the world and further motivate them to get involved with arts, all for the purpose of promoting self-expression and social development,” said the founder of Sol, Abdelrahiem Faisal.
The idea of Sol was born in May 2015. “The idea was formed from my urge to establish a youth-led leadership foundation that connected different universities together and inspired youth to drive change in their communities, along with my love for arts and my understanding of the importance of self-expression,” said 19-year-old Faisal.
Currently based in Malaysia, Faisal was born and raised in Sudan. He attended the Faculty of Engineering, and Mechanical Department at the University of Khartoum for a short period of time until he was offered a scholarship to study in Malaysia.
Valuing self-expression, Faisal established Sol to encourage young men and women to express themselves through the arts. “The name Sol is a syllable from the solfège pitch identifying method, it is sometimes mistaken for the word ‘Soul’ for the similarity in pronunciation. This name fit perfectly with the vision I had, which is creating a harmony of change initiative that were directly from the Soul and that depicted originality,” he explains. Joining Faisal’s Sol is a team of 20 individuals from various universities in Sudan.
Sol caters to many forms of art including drawing, painting, photography, poetry and music. In addition, Sol will soon be offering dance, fashion, handcrafts and design. “The movement organizes exhibitions and art-related events in which both participation and attendance is opened for the public. Our exhibitions are very unique compared to others as we focus more on the conversation rather than the plain exposure,” said Faisal.
Sol has recently organized three exhibitions in the University of Khartoum. During their first exhibition in the Faculty of Architecture, Sol organized a short two-hour information session and discussion for more than 20 students about the status of young artists and arts in Sudan. “The collected feedback was astonishing and the room was intensely filled with an urge for action. This played a major role in our belief in the ability for change,” he said.
Faisal believes Sol has great potential in Sudan as it is much needed in the country. “If Sol was initiated somewhere else, I think it would have faced a challenge in attracting people to the movement or catching the public’s interest, but we didn’t really face such an issue here which proves how much this land is yearning for such enthusiasm and action,” he said.
In Faisal’s eyes, for the youth in Sudan to prosper, they need optimism, encouragement and self-confidence. He explains, “I think the youth of our country have been met with rejection and disapproval that it somehow grew on them and made it hard for them to smile and dream.” With Sol, Faisal hopes to unite the youth and fill their faces “with hope, dreams and sky-high ambitions,” he said. “This requires from us to take our members and the youth we engage with into a journey of self-reflection and self-worth, so that we may set them free from whatever failure they’ve faced before and remind them once again of their childhood dreams.”
Established by the youth for the youth, these youth development initiatives and programs are helping young Sudanese men and women find opportunities to develop and prosper both professionally and personally. Most importantly, they are empowering the youth – the key to a bright future in Sudan.