Bringing Back Ubuntu: Diana Mulili is on a Mission to Solve the Problem of Youth Unemployment in Africa
The interim CEO of Msingi East Africa, Diana Mulili, is dedicated to driving youth transformation in Africa. Her work at Msingi and as a youth coach reflects her deep passion for the continent and its people. As a member of The Room and a graduate in the founding class of the African Leadership University’s School of Business, Diana continues to leverage the power of this community to further her mission. The Kenyan changemaker has over 15 years of leadership experience across the Private Sector and Economic Development Sector in East Africa. She shares her insights on creating prosperity and addressing the challenges of youth unemployment in Africa as well as learning from the crisis of COVID-19.
As someone who is making a profound impact on the continent, tell us a bit about your story and what drives your life’s mission?
I am an Africanist; everything African is what I am, who I am. I am also a mother to two kids — and a gym rat! I’m forever learning, forever hungry, forever on to the next thing. For me, that means I have to be very spiritual — not religious, but spiritual in my ways so that I can maintain a flow that’s needed to keep moving. The thing I love most is connecting people, and my current mission is all about African youth. This has been very dear to me for a long time, and it propelled me to become a coach. I am dedicated to coaching youth from around the continent and have seen the desperate need for this. It is at the heart of my life’s work.
What is the focus of your work at Msingi?
My work at Msingi is all about creating prosperity across East Africa. We currently work in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, and we focus on studying priority value chains in the region so that we can tackle the systemic constraints that have been there since pre-independence because that’s precisely the kind of perspective that is needed. We believe that by bringing about sector transformation, we’ll be able to solve the problem of unemployment. This approach is informed by an understanding that attacking a problem directly does not necessarily solve the problem.
Youth unemployment is particularly important to me because it’s what I live with every day. Given the youth population that we have, how do we ensure that they can be put into productive work and have the ability to boost the economy? This is critical when we talk about Africa’s missing middle, and we can see what the pandemic has done in terms of ripping off the band-aid. We just can’t continue to have a short-term perspective.
Are you concerned about the ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis for the continent?
I think that the pandemic is a blessing, because for us as Africans we need to step back and have some perspective in thinking about how to create an ecosystem where the youth have multiple choices in front of them. For this to happen, we need our own funding. It’s so frustrating because the truth is that whoever funds you, runs your agenda. We need to be able to fund our development and move away from agencies that are running their own agendas, determining where our development path leads. This is a time to reboot so that we can achieve the structural transformation that is needed for us to have hope.
What do you think is key to addressing the challenges you’re facing in your work?
Solving Africa’s prosperity issues is a mammoth task. Before we can tap into the opportunities that exist, we need to tackle some big blocks along the way. To achieve this, we have to build a critical mass. It can’t just be a few people sparsely spread across the continent. There have to be many people sharing in this vision and working towards it together. Common purpose is so important, and that’s what The Room is all about too. We share the same values in this community and hold each other to high standards.
The critical thing for me is learning how to leverage what you have. You won’t always have everything you need to get where you want to go, to attain your goals and your mission, so you need to start with the little that you do have or the privilege that you have. You must use this to propel not just yourself, but those around you to the heights that are needed. I believe that it’s not about what you get from others; it’s about what you give because that’s how you really gain — by giving, without expectation.
Finally, if you could have one wish granted, what would it be?
For Ubuntu to come back so that we have more humanity in how we care for each other.