Issue II: Generations in Dialogue
II-03 | What makes a person young and what makes a person old, Philbert Aganyo?
Interview by Michael Scheyer
What makes a person young and what makes a person old, Philbert Aganyo?
Philbert Aganyo from Kenya is the team leader from Religions for Peace’s Youth Media Team. But considering his age, one might say es is not that young any more? But is age the crucial factor for leadership? Learn what he thinks about the difference between age and youth.
Scheyer: Dear Mr. Aganyo, how old are you?
Aganyo: I turned 35 years old.
Scheyer: Concerning “young generations”: Do you consider yourself being young?
Aganyo: Yes. I believe I am a young generation because of two things; the last 10 years have been the decade of learning for me. Both academic and professional development. I have also been privileged to go on a journey of self-discovery, I have experienced working with youth and exercised youth leadership. Thus I believe age is and can never be the limit for being young.
Scheyer: At what age – do you think – someone cannot be considered “young” anymore? And why?
Aganyo: When one stops to support the growth and development of the youth, and the passion with which they do that work ceases, then and only then can such a person be considered not young anymore. Being young is a unique tribal identity that transcends age.
Scheyer: Do you think, the actual age and the categories of young and old are connected with each other? (Is a twenty-year-old automatically “young” and a 60-year-old automatically “old”?)
Aganyo: Well, like I have mentioned before, first, I agree that the confines of age, the numbers that count, automatically set those definitions. But that’s all they are – definitions. So whereas a 20-year-old would automatically be young and a 60-year-old be automatically old, in my view I feel that both these categories can make choices to either be young or old irrespective of their ages.
„There’s more to gain than to lose by trusting the youth with decision-making, leveraging their versatility, youthful energy and freshness of thought, among many other positive factors supporting youth.”
Scheyer: You are a team leader. When people think of leadership, they often wish leaders to be “experienced”. That implies that young people – without centuries of experience – should not be leaders? What do you think: Is experience that important to leadership or are there other factors, that make a good leader as well?
Aganyo: The classical definition of being a leader puts experience at the center as a core requirement, and I don’t dispute this fact because I know just how much can be at stake where experienced decision-making is needed. But again, the World is not static. It is dynamic, it is in a forward motion. A lot is changing in terms of how we view leaders. Experience too has been proven to be not the only determinant of good leadership. With all these considerations, I strongly believe that the space for learning on the job is fast becoming an integral principle of 21st century leadership. Numerous young leaders have become even better leaders because they have been allowed to first, step up and unleash their leadership potentials, that wouldn’t have otherwise been noticed, and then secondly, given the latitude to explore the possibilities of leading on the go. In conclusion, experience is not all that is required to be a great leader, other factors like passion, and willingness to learn rank top of the list.
Scheyer: The young generations are raising their voice right now. There is a global movement on environmental matters and their voices are being heard. But do you think, being loud and being heard is enough? What is missing?
Aganyo: In my view, organizing has been the missing ingredient, but I am happy that this is being overcome. I am persuaded that very soon when great organizing combines with the intelligent noise that is being made, especially the kind of organizing that is well-structured to deliver tangible results – policies, legislation, funding, you name it, then that would be a big win for youth leadership.
Scheyer: Do you think, young generations should systemically be given more power in decision-making processes – like quotas in parliaments?
Aganyo: Absolutely! There’s more to gain than to lose by trusting the youth with decision-making, leveraging their versatility, youthful energy and freshness of thought, among many other positive factors supporting youth.
On a fringe thought, I am a firm believer that calculated risks are the only meaningful moves that remain in this world to cause change. The World has also witnessed the worst – COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola, Wild fires and Tsunamis not to mention widespread joblessness among the youth – so much so that taking a risk with youth in decision-making should not be a scary feat. This is because often times it is argued that the inexperience of the youth cannot be trusted to make decisions. How about we give the youth an opportunity, then judge them based on that?
„I only have one question to you reading this if you’re below 35, what do you want to be remembered for? Are you working towards it and what support do you need?”
Scheyer: How else could we integrate the needs of young generations in decision-making?
Aganyo: Capacity Building – Build the capacity of the young people, through inter-generational efforts and initiatives for mentorship and professional development. This would guarantee sound decision-making in these that shall have graduated from such mentorship initiatives.
Institutionalization of Youth Initiative – If we could ensure that youth involvement in decision-making is institutionalized, structured and embedded in policy, then it would be a significant step towards assuring consistency. Consistency yields mastery.
Scheyer: All these questions are about age. Of course, since this interview highlights International Youth Day. But do you think, we are focusing too much on age right now? Do young people feel that – too often – they are being reduced on their age?
Aganyo: Yes. As I already mentioned above that whereas age is an important factor of defining youth, it has been used to negatively profile youth and blatantly deny them opportunity and access. I have also interacted with young people who are demotivated and demoralized against stepping up simply because they are “underage”. This may need to change at some point, so we instead focus on the abilities of youth, not on their weaknesses and age.
Scheyer: What would you like to ask from “older generations” to stop doing?
Aganyo: One, let them STOP being intimidated by the prospects of young people being energetic and having stronger drives. Instead, they can see this as an opportunity for cross-learning, experience sharing and mentorship.
Two, they can STOP being judgmental of the youth whenever they make mistakes as a result of their poor judgment. They can instead reflect back to a time when they too were young and needed to learn in a similar manner to what is currently happening.
Lastly, let the older generations STOP ignoring the youth, especially where the youth deserve recognition for great work. Sometimes a pat on the shoulder and recognition is the motivation to grow and become better.
Scheyer Now it is your turn: What do you want to ask the readers? For what question should they be looking for an answer?
Aganyo: I only have one question to you reading this if you’re below 35, what do you want to be remembered for? Are you working towards it and what support do you need? – Begin working on your mission statement and endeavor to bring it to life.
If above 35, are you doing anything to mentor one or two people who are younger than you, showing them direction and being deliberate on making them better people? Start on a journey to mentor a young person today.
Mr. Philbert Aganyo is a Youth Empowerment Advocate and Mentor who supports youth self-awareness, preparedness, and inclusion at key policy and decision-making levels of society, both in Kenya, and the Africa Region. He is the Team Leader of the Religions for Peace Youth Media Team.
He currently serves as The National Chairperson of the Kenya Interfaith Youth Network and also doubles up as a Member of the Africa Interfaith Youth Network (AIYN) Governing Council, where he serves the Kenyan and African Youth at National and Continental stage through Supporting Interfaith Dialogues for the Promotion of Peace, Climate Action, Religious tolerance and Countering violent extremism.