Youth leadership skills honed

During his matric exit interview, a Columba Leadership Trust programme graduate said: “Before the academy I didn’t hold any leadership roles, but after the academy I become a prefect … I am the head boy now.  I am chairperson of the debating society … I’ve become part of the South African Research Institute … and joined the South Africa Institute of International Affairs.”  

Founded in 2009, the mission of the Columba Leadership Trust is to activate a national movement of young leaders. To date it has provided more than 2 400 leaders in 90 schools with leadership skills.  Its values-based youth leadership programme is continuously run throughout the year, in schools in six provinces across South Africa.  

The programme itself is two years long, but the core phase of it is a six-day residential leadership academy, which takes place in a natural setting. “Taking young people out of their everyday contexts and treating them with great dignity and respect opens up a panorama of possibility for them with the intention of giving them the strength and courage to find their own unique voice and purpose, and thus activates them to become agents of positive social change for themselves, their schools and their communities,” says Michelle Phipson, head of investor relations at Columba. “Columba Leadership engages with learners in grade 10 over the first two phases of the programme, and continues to support and mentor the group over the course of grades 11 and 12.”

The programme centres around six values central to leadership that help young people become sought-after employees, namely: awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance and service, which, combined, form the Columban Code of Responsible Leadership. This approach to nurturing leadership has paid off, it seems. Young people who are/have been part of the programme have launched at least 90 youth initiatives and 81% of Columba’s alumni have pursued further education, employment or volunteering within two years of leaving school.  

Columba is now in the advanced stages of developing Social Bucks, a mobile app that will allow young people to track the social contributions and the skills they develop through service-based leadership. By assigning financial metrics to social change, the app will also make it possible for Columba to measure the Social-Return on Investment (S-ROI) of investor funding. “The Social Bucks app will allow us to very accurately report back on the SROI of investors’ contributions,” says Phipson. She- says that by tracking their involvement, young people will ultimately already have a CV upon leaving school. 


“Columba Leadership believes in youth engagement for school improvement — this app will allow us to track and report back on both, while assisting young people to more successfully transition from school to the world of work or further study.”

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