Rumbi Makanga, Founder of The 1980 Alliance, UK & Zimbabwe
In December 2013, I was a fresh young undergraduate, pondering my connection to my homeland, Zimbabwe, and feeling frustrated at the level of hopelessness that I was observing among young people. I remember wishing that there were more creative and constructive outlets for the myriad feelings that young people had: the frustrations about their situations, fearfulness about the future, anger at the state of affairs and a simmering, quiet conviction that we, the youth, were the best hope our country had for turning the corner.
I founded The 1980 Alliance, a youth network and platform. The name was the result of coming to a dead end in my creative thinking, so I went for something straightforward; at the time of our launch, our target group was people who were born in 1980 and afterwards. And thus, The 1980 Alliance was born.
In December 2016, I feel it more keenly than ever - we, the youth, are the best hope our country has for turning the corner. Much has improved over the last three years, but unfortunately many of those positive developments, including a growing and thriving youth scene across a wide range of fields, will be overshadowed by political and economic failings in our country. There is a profound political crisis, as there always has been, and there is a deepening economic crisis. There are severe cash shortages, many young people are still unemployed and underemployed, industry has all but collapsed, our government is broke and the future is very uncertain.
But in my now three years as a budding youth activist and leader, I have discovered much about myself, about others, and about what is required to enact change. Then, I was hopeful and naive. Now, I am mostly hopeful and somewhat more grounded, realistic and practical. But there are some significant things that I would like to note, for myself and for others:
1. Don’t focus too closely on chasing your dreams.
When I finished high school, I went to university intent on becoming a development practitioner. My dream was to work in the World Bank or the UN and create policies that would impact millions of people around the globe. I wanted to eradicate poverty, cure diseases, and do a job that I felt was helping people, and making a difference.
I never, ever considered, let alone dreamed, of being a youth activist. I never thought I’d found and be leading a youth organisation at the age of 22. The point is to say that sometimes your dreams find you, and if you approach life with too narrow a focus, you could miss out on some amazing opportunities. I’ve learned to be flexible in that regard, and I fully accept and embrace the fact that in 10 years I might be doing something completely different.
2. Hope is not enough.
As I said before, I was woefully naive when I set up The 1980 Alliance in January 2015. And I was buoyed by the things that young people were saying when they reached out to us. They were so glad we existed, they loved what we were doing, and they were so excited for what the future held.
But hope is not enough, and neither is having fans. In truth, I knew this then. I was, after all, a strategy consultant. But it’s taken me far too long to formalise our processes and create an organisation that is as professional as it is creative, and energetic and flexible. This means accepting my limitations as a leader, as a worker and as a human being, and finding ways to plug the gaps. It also means committing a lot of time to learning and growing and improving myself, so that that can be reflected in the organisation.
3. Surround yourself with good people.
This is something I have done since the beginning, but I cannot overstate the importance of it. I came across Secret Birds because a friend posted about it on Facebook, and I looked it up and decided to get in touch. That was over a year ago, and I am so glad I did. Jo-Ann has become a great source of hard truths and a great motivator. She was giving me tips on monetising before I felt that we were ready, showing me the valuable resources I had before even I could recognise their value, and showing me all the ways in which I was a good leader when I was doubting myself.
In 2017, I fully intend to continue to expand my network and deepen my relationships with people that inspire, empower and educate me, at the same time as I grow an institution that seeks to do the same for Zimbabwean youth.
I am still passionate, and I believe the work we are doing is worthwhile. But that is not to say it is not challenging. This project has pushed me to be better in all ways, and has driven me to learn new skills that I never really wanted to have, like social media management and marketing.
I am still learning, however, what it means to be a leader, and a human being, and I am incredibly grateful to be doing so in this encouraging community.
Rumbi Makanga is a Zimbabwean youth activist and writer. She founded The 1980 Alliance in 2015 and manages an international team working to inspire, empower and educate young Zimbabweans. Her writing has featured in Munyori Literary Journal, Afropean, Black Girl Magic Lit Mag and Expound Magazine.