What We’ve Learned: 10 Lessons on Empowering People

Innovation is not just about technology but rather about the way the revolution in communications is bringing people together.

Earn buy-in from day one

Recognizing that the need for our work exists in many developing nations, YTF is committed to increasing our global presence. We won’t do this, however, without earning the trust and buy-in from the communities that are seeking to replicate our model. They know their communities and their needs better than we do. Buy-in ensures that we are bringing value to the community, affecting the breadth and depth of people impacted as well as our alignment with issues facing the community.

Select projects carefully

We are reactive in our expansion approach. New opportunities come as grassroots organizations request that we work with them to create a Community Technology and Learning Center (CTLC) in their community. We consider organizations very carefully – in addition to being like-minded, sharing our vision and being credible organizations, YTF seeks partners that can provide their own volunteers, source materials from local merchants or co-invest in the initiative.

Hire local teams

We believe it is imperative to hire local teams to lead our programs in each country. They know the culture and they speak the language. We have learned that the adage, “people are your most important asset” isn’t quite right. People in general are not your most important asset – the right people are. By hiring local, we hire the right people every time. We combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, leading the alchemy of great performance at the local level.

Inspire sustainability

We do not believe in helicopter aid. Our goal has never been to tackle poverty problems in developing nations by just giving out aid. Instead, we inspire our program participants to sit in the driver’s seat of their development. We work with them to find achievable and realistic solutions to their most pressing needs, using technology as inspiration.

Design best-fit programs

Replication is anything but a cookie-cutter process. Our objective is to reproduce a successful program’s results, not to recreate every one of its features. Replicating programs that do not produce results is a waste of precious social resources and is harmful to the beneficiaries.

Partner with communities

We see the people we serve not as a problem to solve, but as part of the solution. At the core of YTF’s work is a network of communities and grassroots partners that are committed to positive youth development in respective countries. We partner with whole communities and work with the “go-to” people in these communities, including the local government chairpersons, traditional rulers and chiefs to develop programs that best meet their needs.

There is no currency like trust

Trust is the most precious commodity we can offer. Building it takes time, and it can be destroyed in an instant. We have learned that nothing is more important than earning trust from the local partners and the community. We listen to them. We don’t dictate. We understand what their issues are and then partner with them to develop solutions that best meet their needs.

Volunteers matter

We engage skills-based volunteers at various points in our growth.  We focus on cross-cultural collaborations, human centered design, community development and empathy which when combined, prepare volunteers to enter into informed partnerships with our local offices. Over the years, our volunteers have proven to be an incredible source of talent to YTF. Our volunteers are like family and we treat them as such. We never underestimate the potential of our volunteers and their dedication to the cause we serve. We have over 200 volunteers living across 4 continents many of whom have volunteered with us for an average of four or more years.

Innovation is not just about technology

Innovation is not just about technology, but rather about the way the revolution in communications is bringing people together. We must not forget that technology in itself is not a determinant of change, only a facilitator. It is the social context within which these new technologies are introduced and, more importantly, implemented, that determines their usage and impact. The information revolution has much less to do with bits and bytes, than it has to do with the realities and aspirations of everyday people. In designing our innovative programs, we seek to build an all-inclusive global information society that doesn’t limit who has access and doesn’t leave people behind.

We are always learning

Even after many years of doing this work, we encourage our teams to keep individual journals of lessons they learn daily, the people they meet and the character they build. We ask that each team member review their journal often and soak in how much they learn. This propels our teams to continue growing and thinking critically about their impact.

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