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Give Seychelles’ Young Leaders a chance to prove their worth, says Athanasius

Victoria, Seychelles | January 7, 2015, Wednesday @ 10:24 in National » GENERAL | By: Brigitte Mendes, Sharon Meriton Jean and Hajira Amla | Views: 1908
Give Seychelles’ Young Leaders a chance to prove their worth, says Athanasius

One of the products of the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme, Maria Marie, receives her Master's degree from the President James Michel after successfully completing the the two-year programme. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - The former Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Seychelles, Lucy Athanasius, says graduates of the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme (SLYP) should be given a chance to put their new skills to the test in the workplace.

However, she has cautioned that completing the Masters Degree programme does not automatically guarantee the participants a higher position.

Seven years after being launched, the SYLP has thus far produced 81 young professionals with a Masters Degree in Leadership and Strategy. The uniquely tailored model for empowering the country’s aspiring young leaders has also recently gained interest from abroad as a model to follow.

The fourth cohort of the programme which will specialise in social work is following their last year of studies.Upon their completion, the organisers expects to seek a new group of 24 applicants for the two-year programme to continue providing the Indian Ocean republic of 90,000 inhabitants with strong and well-educated leaders of the future.

Some of the recipients of the SYLP course tailored for young professionals of Seychelles in a souvenir photo.Since 2007, 81 young professionals have followed the Young Leaders Programme and graduated with a Masters Degree in Leadership and Strategy. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

Pushing graduates to greater heights

The Masters course aims to give the participants the necessary skills and training experience, in order to enable them to take up key leadership positions in both the government and private sector of Seychelles.

"The success of the SYLP is attributed to the high standard and quality of the lectures and overall consistent running of the programme," says Athanasius, who manages and coordinates the course.

Two past students hard at work. Every two years, an elite group of 25 applicants are chosen for the SYLP programme. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

Launched by President James Michel in 2007, the course is jointly conducted by the University of Seychelles and the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) of the National University of Ireland.

On average, around 60 Seychellois applicants, aged between 25 and 38 years old apply for the part-time programme every two years, although less than half will be chosen per cohort.

“It’s very competitive so we have to take the best of what we get,” said Athanasius, adding that an undergraduate degree or at least five years experience in a middle management position is a prerequisite of the course.

Moreover, the training is specially adapted to provide relevance to the unique challenges of the small Indian Ocean island nation.

Going back to school! On average, around 60 Seychellois applicants, aged between 25 and 38 years old, apply for the Young Leaders part-time programme every two years, although less than half are chosen per cohort.(Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

Wide-ranging studies

The local lecture programme conducted by the University of Seychelles contains various modules taught by local experts in their own respective fields.

The participants are posted on a month-long District Administration attachment in one of the 25 local government administration districts on the island.

“It’s an eye-opener for many because they get to see different aspects of the community we take for granted,” explained Athanasius. “They get to see also the problems in the community which maybe we don’t even imagine actually exists. It helps them to get closer to their own people.”

In addition, participants are also expected to come up with a viable project to help the community with the hope that it may be replicated in other districts.

After graduating, many of the SYLP graduates holds key leadership positions in government and the private sector, ranging from Members of the National Assembly, chief executives and directors, to self-employed persons leading their own businesses.(Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

On the other end of the study spectrum, the IPA sessions are conducted by lecturers from Ireland. The topics covered ranges from leadership and strategy implementation to finance and economics.

In addition to writing a dissertation supervised by the IPA, participants must also undergo a one-month overseas attachment to develop their leadership capacity.

During the degree course, participants are also allocated a mentor who can impart essential nuggets of knowledge and experience.

Despite being enrolled in the programme, the participants still have to work at their full-time jobs, so they must also learn to find a balance between their studies, work, social and family life.

The former Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Seychelles, Lucy Athanasius, addressing participants of the Seychelles Young Leaders Programme (SLYP) at a past graduation ceremony. After two years of hard work, Athanasius hopes graduates of the programme are given a chance to put their skills to test in the workplace. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

‘No expectation for immediate promotion’

Athanasius says one of the biggest challenges of the SYLP is the negative perceptions of the new graduates from their colleagues and even immediate superiors in the workplace.

“Many people think when we talk about ‘leaders’ - automatically we feel they want to be CEO’s, DG’s, they want my job… but they should not be feeling threatened because these people have got new skills, have come to another level, and they need to be recognized for that.”

“These people are there to help the organization as part of the team in any position that they are put. It is not necessarily taking out the chief executive just to give place to a young leader” explained Athanasius.

According to Athanasius, although many of the graduates are being given the opportunity to shine and take up leadership roles, there were still some workplaces that were not willing to give the graduates a chance to prove their worth, which she describes as “unfortunate".

Athanasius added that the programme did not guarantee immediate promotion to the participants.

“What the SYLP does is give the participants the necessary tools, the skills and knowledge to be the best leader they can be wherever they are. After all a leader is one who is able to inspire others to follow,” explained Athanasius.

"There should be no expectation of immediate promotion. People have to prove themselves and earn it through how they work and lead,” she added.

The local lecture programme conducted by the University of Seychelles contains various modules taught by local experts in their own respective fields. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

‘Putting the needs of others before your own’

Many of the SYLP graduates are already holding key leadership positions in government and the private sector, ranging from Members of the National Assembly, chief executives and directors, to self-employed persons leading their own businesses.

Maria Marie is a graduate of SYLP and is a proportionally elected member of parliament. Graduating in 2012, Marie applied to join the programme to equip herself with the necessary training and skills to deliver competent and professional leadership.

“The SYLP’s experience has made me more mature, self-disciplined, confident and more assertive both in my career and life in general,” Marie told SNA.

Sabrina Belle also enrolled in SYLP in 2010 and after graduating she was promoted to Deputy Head-Teacher at Belonie Secondary School, situated in a suburb close to the capital of Victoria.

In an email interview with SNA, Belle said that the SYLP was more than just an academic programme.

“You are presented with the opportunity to truly know yourself and others around you. I’ve learned that to be an effective leader is to put the needs of others before your own.”

Now working as the Human Resources and Budget Manager at the Small Business Financing Authority (SBFA), Belle urged others to join the programme.

“If SYLP is your goal and seems right for you, then take that path and strive your best. At times we are capable of more that we know we only need to take the first step,” said Belle.

After graduating from the programme, the students are encouraged to joined the recently launched Seychelles Young Leaders Association (SYLA), which aims to improve leadership and service delivery in the country’s public sector. (Seychelles Young Leaders Programme) Photo License: CC-BY

Solutions for tomorrow

Christopher Lespoir, a pilot with the country’s national airline, Air Seychelles, was among the first cohort of SYLP students which commenced in 2008. He graduated in 2010 with first-class honours.

In an interview with SNA, Lespoir attributed his successful completion of the course to good time management, support and understanding of those around him.

“I had the full support of my family. I have a wife and two kids, and you need to make time for them too,” said Lespoir.

Lespoir used the programme to deepen his research skills on a version of safety management used in aviation called crew research management (CRM). He is now adapting his safety programme to use in other local institutions, such as the Ministry of Health.

Lespoir was recently elected as chairman of the Seychelles Young Leaders Association (SYLA), a new initiative which aims to improve leadership and service delivery in the country’s public sector by utilising the combined capabilities of the SYLP’s graduates.

“The answers to many issues that need to be dealt with can be found in the numerous dissertations written by the graduates, as part of their Masters Degree,” Lespoir explained. “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?”

“Solutions for tomorrow through actions of today, that’s our motto. Basically we have to walk the talk – we cannot be just a think tank, just a tick in the box...”

The Seychelles Young Leaders Association has also received a grant of $4,000 from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) based in the United States to come up with a community-based project; one which Lespoir has revealed will involve mentoring young Seychellois children.

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Tags: Masters Degree, mentorship programme, SYLA, SYLP, Seychelles Young Leaders Programme, President James Michel

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