Africa’s brightest young minds help shape the future

Held on an annual basis, the 16th and most recent edition of the Brightest Young Minds (BYM) Summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa between 22 and 26 June 2016. Like in other years, present were 100 of Africa’s brightest youth between the ages of 20 and 32 representing many different countries from across the continent. BYM’s mission is to create positive social impact by identifying young African go-getters, connecting them with one another and industry experts and providing them with the opportunity and resources to carry out their innovative ideas and ventures. The theme of the 2016 Summit was ‘Shaping the Future, Now’. 

Like in previous editions, the Summit offered the opportunity to the participants, to learn and listen from a wide range of guest speakers from a diverse set of industries and professions. Some of the speakers included Rob le Blanc from the Awethu Project, Minister Jeff Radebe from the Department of Planning, Monitoring Evaluation and Administration and Willem van der Post from Deloitte amongst many others. Notable speakers at previous Summits have included Ahmed Kathrada, the recently retired Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Michael Jordaan, Ketso Gordhan and many others. Having a wide range of speakers from different backgrounds and professions is to reflect the diverse array of activities and interests of the delegates themselves and is intended to enable stimulating debate and networking opportunities. Doing so can bring the speakers and participants closer together and can result in an environment where tough questions are asked with the hope of inspiring the next generation of Africa’s young leaders and experts. It can also help encourage them to design, develop and implement innovative and new solutions to some of the many complex challenges being faced across the African continent. 

The Summit concludes with the delegates being randomly selected into eight teams. Each team is presented with two challenges related to Africa’s sustainable development. The challenges can be about the environment, affordable housing, access to finance, mobile solutions and ICT or fields in which innovative and new solutions are required. After agreeing upon and selecting one of the challenges each team is then given approximately 24 hours to work together, debate ideas and develop a sustainable solution to their challenge. They then have to present it in front of their fellow delegates, alumni members, the BYM organising team and a panel of distinguished judges. In 2016, the winning team at the 2016 Summit was called ‘AfricaLit’, and its members presented a pioneering social enterprise concept that would enable the provision of solar powered street lights in African towns, cities and communities.   

Opportunities also exists to replicate the BYM Summit concept in other African cities and countries as well as in other regions. Bringing bright and young people, who represent our future, together has the potential to have great developmental impacts. No matter whether you are an academic, a business person, an entrepreneur or a scientist the experience of attending and participating in a BYM Summit can be life changing.  The opportunity to be a young leader and to inspire change also does not simply end with the conclusion of the BYM Summit. A key component of its strength and longevity is the BYM alumni network. Through this network, as well as by themselves, BYM alumni are expected to continue encouraging positive social changes within their respective communities and professions, to provide mentorship and to continue inspiring others around them. Commenting on the importance of this Farhan Yusuf, a Tanzanian citizen and 2015 BYM delegate, notes that “’the brightest young minds are all high achievers and so often easily get back to their busy lives after such summits and brainstorming sessions. The alumni network connects them to causes beyond their personal achievement – causes that inspire and drive the alumni to fully utilise their potential in making a difference to the world around them.”

However, while organised conferences and summits, such as BYM, present an excellent opportunity for young and innovative people to come together, learn from one another and to share different ideas this does not always have to be done through such a formal gathering. If you have an idea which you believe in, which can help overcome one of the many social and economic challenges faced by people and communities across Africa or it has the potential to effect positive change then you should pursue that idea. Yusuf highly encourages this, and believes that “an idea is only as good as its execution and the best way to ensure that the execution happens is to communicate and collaborate. Young minds around Africa need to share their ideas with each other and collaborate in making them a reality. These collaborations can happen anywhere and so the youth must seize every opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas. They must own every platform.” 

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Written by Ken Fullerton