Next Gen Africa

What would it mean for young people to co-design their own futures?

Visuals by Nakhanu Wafulu

Growing up in Nairobi, my siblings, friends, and I were indoctrinated in the generational values of our parents. A formal education, a conventional career path typically understood to be a doctor or lawyer, and adherence to tradition were considered the trifecta of a successful life. For the most part, we did as we were told. There wasn’t much space for an alternative path. Throughout my academic journey, from primary school through university, my mother was the decision-maker. She decided where I went to college and where I should focus my time.

Clyde, my 16-year-old son, lives in a completely different world. In our relationship, we abide by a different set of values. His agency, independence, and empowerment are paramount to me. In a quickly changing world with an unpredictable labor market, how can I know what’s best for his future? How can I encourage him to follow tradition, when so much of what built our past is irrelevant in today’s reality?

These generational differences are not unique to my family—they mirror a broader change in Kenya and the rest of the continent. East Africa is one of the youngest regions in the world, with a median age of around 18. A youthquake isn’t coming, it’s already here. And with it, huge shifts in values, preferences, and dreams are taking place.

As I think about the future of Africa, I wonder: who will be its architects? Who will sustain these new visions? Who will chart new paths amidst unknown possibilities? The answer to these questions points to one large, very diverse group of people: our youth.

Equipping Young People through Co-Design

As a community engagement coordinator at, my goal is to serve as a bridge and build mutual understanding between our design teams and the communities we serve. In both my personal and professional capacity, I have worked closely with many young people across the continent and witnessed their transformative potential.

Our youth show a desire for innovation, an appetite for change, and an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit. They also carry self-doubt, timidity, and insecurity. The growing age gap between our older leaders and growing youthful constituents not only magnifies these opposing feelings, but also fuels youth-adverse sentiments, disenchantment with existing systems, and a gridlock that blocks momentum towards positive change.

At, we see co-design as a possible approach to address some of these challenges.

Co-design is a collaborative problem-solving approach rooted in designing with, not for, communities. By encouraging young people to shape the process from start to finish, we can strengthen their decision-making and leadership skills. This approach also fosters ownership over a solution, leading to higher rates of success during implementation. To create the conditions for their success, we must intentionally design engagements that make them feel comfortable, confident, and celebrated.

Transformative Moments

In 2013, began working with MSI Reproductive Choices to design solutions that promoted sexual reproductive health (SRH) choices for girls in the Sahel. The years that followed were marked by great successes and even greater learnings. In those early years of the organization, we learned that community-led initiatives were critical to successful outcomes, and scaling SRH services regionally requires a tailored, community-centered approach.

As our work in SRH evolved, so did our practices. In 2019, we launched Billion Girls CoLab (BGC)—an incubator and creative space where girls take the lead in designing products and services that support their sexual and reproductive health and wellness, improve their lives, and support their futures. Every four months for four years, we mentored a cohort of young women from Kenya, known as the BGC Fellowship, who prototyped ideas to address social challenges in their communities.

Jenevive leading a Billion Girls CoLab workshop.

BGC opened my eyes to the necessity of shifting power in our work. When we put power in our fellows’ hands, the value of co-design was immediate. Girls who arrived shy and guarded, quietly brimming with ideas, transformed into confident and collaborative leaders. In four years, BGC incubated seven scalable programs co-designed by young girls that remain active today. Because young people are far more comfortable embracing technology and evolving their learning, we have found that engaging them in implementing programs that leverage technology has been vital to their success.

In our recent partnership with Tupande by One Acre Fund, we engaged young Kenyans to explore how the agricultural sector could adapt to align with their aspirations. To ensure a comprehensive gender lens, we formed a council of women, a group of current Tupande farmers, and non-Tupande farmers to co-design a gender assessment alongside our team. For many of our participants, this was an opportunity to understand the full value of their input and lived experiences. Co-designing with young stakeholders opened the door to stronger, more specific strategies that the organization may not have been able to access on their own.

Supporting a council of women to provide gender informed insights on Tupande's program.

Lifting up our young people

In Africa, young people do not just represent the future—they are the lifeblood of today. They’re far more educated, proficient in modern technologies, and open to change than older generations. Still, unemployment rates for young people remain high, and their voices are absent in leadership positions. For any long-term social impact programs to be relevant and effective, young people must be engaged, energized, and connected to the work.

To do this, we must invest in, trust in, and empower our young people with the tools, opportunities, and platforms necessary to lead.

Working with youth, we clearly see the power they hold, and the futures they can build. As we engage our network of funders, and decision-makers in supporting our youth co-design practices, I’d like to encourage you all to reconsider and reimagine how to lift up our rising generation, ensuring their participation not just as beneficiaries, but as leaders shaping their own destiny.