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"We want to share what we have learned" - Interview with the chairman of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association

Victoria, Seychelles | January 10, 2015, Saturday @ 13:33 in Editorial » THE INTERVIEW | By: Brigitte Mendes | Views: 5371
"We want to share what we have learned" - Interview with the chairman of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association

Christopher Lespoir, Chairman of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association. (Christopher Lespoir)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - October this year saw the launch of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association (SYLA) which brings together graduates of the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme (SYLP), initiated by the Seychelles President James Michel in 2007.

The new association aims to identify young graduates with the potential to become future leaders and innovators of Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean with a population of around 90,000 people.

A fourth cohort is currently enrolled in the two year programme to obtain their Masters degree in leadership and strategy in the social domain.

The three previous cohorts studied for a Masters degree in strategic management.

The association set up to bring together graduates of the programme is aimed to be a platform that will allow them to join together and spearhead initiatives and projects for the benefit of Seychelles.

It is expected to focus on five main themes: research, national policies, capacity building, social responsibility, and exchange programmes and networking.

SNA caught up with Christopher Lespoir, the first Chairman of the SYLA. Lespoir, a pilot working for the national airline, Air Seychelles, was part of the first cohort of the SYLP in 2008, graduated in 2010 with first-class honours. 


SNA: What are the main objectives of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association (SYLA)?
CL: One of the main objectives of the association is to engage those who have been through the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme (SYLP). Like our motto says: 'Solutions for tomorrow through actions of today'. Basically, we have to walk the talk. We cannot be just a think tank. We cannot be just a tick in the box. The programme (SYLP) has been done, it's been a model, but we don't find any results.

Just think - two years of studies and all the bits and pieces that go with it, and then you don't do anything with it. What's the point? There are other countries that are making an examples of us, they are creating their own programme. For example the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) programme, which I attended recently in the United States, which is now called the Mandela Washington fellowship programme. When I was in the United States for that programme they were really impressed, because the structure of ours, the SYLP is quite similar to what they are doing. Ours is for two years but theirs is six weeks, so we are on the right track, but we have to make it count.

 The SYLA logo (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY

SNA: What positive contribution can the SYLA make towards the community in dealing with various issues?
CL: Definitely, we have a calendar of activities. We need to be ready to give back and be ready to participate. We took part in the Festival Creole last month to raise funds for the Association. On the calendar we also have other fund raising activities planned. We have had discussions with the 'Guy Morel Institute' (the former Seychelles Institute of Management) to see how we can engage the SYLP graduates because although everyone has done a dissertation, but what are those dissertations being used for? Imagine 101 dissertations; don't you think there are answers to a lot of our issues? I don't think we need more research, we all know the issues and what can be done. We will also be engaged in discussions and in implementations. Walking the talk!

For instance, in my case, my dissertation is being used in Air Seychelles (the Seychelles' national airline) where I work and I'm also using it to prepare something for the Ministry of Health. An announcement of a national study was made recently on the issue of service delivery, which is showing a drop. Why are people not productive? There are a number of SYLP graduates who wrote their dissertations on this particular issue of productivity at work. We have had discussions and they will be engaged to help and to see what information can be taken from their dissertations.

During the time spent in the US under the YALI programme participants were also assessed by possible sponsors. Following the assessment I have been selected by Microsoft for a three month internship next year based on my performance and expertise which is in line with their development plan for Indian Ocean as of January 2015. The internship will focus on professional development and leadership training in one of their organizations in the region. It’s a personal achievement but for Seychelles it will further position the country as the development plan for the Indian Ocean region by Microsoft unfolds next year. Whereas the SYLA will indirectly benefit, for as Chairman I can use the various resources I now have to seek funding for locally based projects.

President James Michel and the SYLA chairman unveiling the website of the association on Saturday October 18. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY

SNA: When the Association gets together, in a sense it's sort of a 'think tank', or rather brainstorming of ideas. How does this differ from previous 'think tanks' that have been set up, namely the Equator Institute and the National Consultative Forum?

CL: When we started this through an election in September last year, we had a general meeting to launch the association. After I got elected as chairman I mentioned one thing, one of the conditions for accepting the role was that I do not want it to be like another Equator Institute, I do not want it to be like another tick in the box. This has to be different because everyone has their own private life, everyone is very busy and we cannot afford to waste more time in meetings which is not productive. We have one meeting a month each lasting 45 minutes. Meetings are supposed to be a reporting exercise, not a brainstorming exercise. Brainstorming you do it at home, online, that is why we have all the resources.

Most of the time because of my work I'm never there, but things work. Because the principle of being with one person, two, three or four, whoever is there, the end product needs to be the same as if the whole team was there. So, for the past year it has worked really well. For example for the fundraising activity during the Festival Kreol we ran a stall for 2 days from 3pm till 3am the next day with a team of six people. It took us three days of planning. Though we were a small team we were effective. That is on a social aspect. So, we want to implement the same kind of discipline within the Association for other kinds of formal events that we plan to do. We mean business. If I'm here just as a formality, I will gladly step down.

The former Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Seychelles, who has been managing and coordinating the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme since 2007 Lucy Athanasius presents President James Michel with a copy of SYLA's constitution. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY

SNA: What has been the other achievements of SYLA so far?
CL: We only had the launching of the Association a couple of months ago, but even before that we had visited the Foyer de Nazareth’s orphanage, we had discussions with the Guy Morel Institute on how to better engage the people, we had discussions with the other cohorts on how we can come up with projects, and the interesting thing is I can see a partnership growing between the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the SYLA. Why, because from YALI we can get access to small grants, and already we’ve received a small grant of 4,000 US dollars to come up with a project.

Together with the members here we’ve already discussed on what kind of projects we can come up with. One project in mind is to empower and train young kids from school, especially at secondary school level. We want to help in guiding them through their career paths and help them see us as role models or as mentors to achieve their goals. So it will be a mentorship programme and we realize that in schools there are career guidance classes but in our opinion they lack role models to come and speak to them. If you tell them your story, this can inspire then more than just a theory session.

At the same time the SYLA has started looking at other organizations to partner with. For example, with the Seychelles Young Parliamentarians, SYP. We’ve had discussions with their Speaker on how to partner with us to make this work. We find that some of the potential partners have similar thoughts, so we said why not join together and come up with a common project. With this grant we have decided to partner with YALI and the young Parliamentarians for this small project of mentorship programme for the young kids of Seychelles and this is being funded by the United States Government. We want to roll out the project in January 2915. So that's a start.

Since I am now an elected member for the advisory board for Southern Africa, under the YALI programme, it’s an advantage for the Association. We will be meeting in South Africa soon for the first conference on how to keep the YALI going. So we intend to use same principle here, that is, how to keep the SYLP going. You have to keep the synergy going.

Some of the executive members of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association in a souvenir photo with President James Michel. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY

SNA:  Are there any projects on the table that the association is currently working on?
CL: We have a number of projects lined up but this calendar is not cast in stone. Right now, we are working with the Military and Police Young Leaders to see how they can contribute, in our various activities. We are not there just to raise money or to do voluntary activities; we want to be fully engaged be it on a social, voluntary or official basis. We have to break the stigma of; “Young leaders, they think they know everything, they think they got a wishful thinking”. SYLA has a message, and that is we are here to partner with everyone else to make things work. We want to share what we have learnt and learn from what they know. It's all about Seychelles.

SNA: How long is your mandate as chairman of the association?
CL: Chairmanship and Vice chairmanship is for a period of 3 years while the other members’ tenure are for 2 years just to ensure that there is proper continuity and handover after the mandate. The Association covers three different types of membership. First there is the student membership. It’s basically for those who are currently on the SYLP programme but are yet to graduate.  Then there’s the full membership for those who have graduated and the honorary membership for those willing to help, even though they have not gone through the programme. You have to realize that you cannot just see this as a prestigious title to join the SYLA. You have to prove yourself and be ready to commit. You don't have to automatically join it's on a voluntary basis. Once you graduate we encourage the graduates to join, but deliver on what you is expected of you.

SNA: Being a young graduate of the SYLP, any words of advice to others who are thinking of enrolling on the Young Leaders Programme?
CL: Issues and challenges will forever be there. But like the motto says, challenges starts today for solutions tomorrow. If you feel and want to make the difference, then I would encourage anyone to join the SYLP. It will take your time and dedication, but at the end of the day it's very fruitful.

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Tags: Christopher Lespoir, SYLP, SYLA

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