By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Young professionals from across Africa gathered together in Nairobi, Kenya, for a meeting aimed at developing a common vision for a future where the dignity of all is recognized and no one is left behind, inspired by Pope Francis’ invitation to give a new soul to the economy.
The three-day youth forum, organized by the Jesuit Ecology Network Africa (JENA) in conjunction with the Economy of Francesco organization and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, saw the presence of young economists and entrepreneurs from eight African countries.
The “Encounter in Nairobi” held from 27 – 29 September took place as part of efforts toward the 2021 Economy of Francesco Global Event in Assisi which took place on 2 October.
Commitment to change
Drawing from the diversity of their cultures and experiences, the participants at the meeting committed themselves to becoming catalysts for change in the world, in spite of socio-economic and political challenges.
In a message from the Nairobi regional gathering to the global Economy of Francesco, the participants pointed at the root causes of some of the challenges faced by the African continent, including the exclusionary effects of colonization, the destruction of ecosystems, corruption and a lack of investment in knowledge production that would be by and for Africans.
In the face of these difficult challenges, the young professionals called for solidarity and support for a renewed economy that gives life in order to promote integral human development that is worthy of the dignity that we all share.
A space for “changemakers”
Dominic Chai, SJ, a Jesuit economist working at the Vatican Covid-19 Commission and co-host of the gathering, explained that the vision of the Economy of Francesco is to “provide a space for young changemakers to gather in their local communities to share their hopes for the economy of tomorrow, one which according to Pope Francis should be one that fosters life and ensures that nobody is left behind.”
Chai added that towards that end, the “Encounter in Nairobi” brought together young economists and entrepreneurs together, in a spirit of synodality, to discern on what local communities can do to bring the Economy of Francesco vision to life.”
Similarly, the Director of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) and co-host for the gathering in Nairobi, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, highlighted the importance of the encounter as an opportunity to “listen to one another in a spirit of charity.”
The Jesuit priest also stressed that “Africa’s young changemakers will only be able to bring their vision to life by working together and drawing on their diverse talents and experiences.”
Common call to service
Speaking further on the importance of the Nairobi gathering, JENA’s Policy and Advocacy Officer, Fernando Saldivar SJ, noted that the young professionals were “animated by the spirituality of Laudato si', and reflected individually upon the journey that brought them to the encounter and how best they could answer the common call to service that the group discerned together.”
Sharing some of the ideas from their common reflection, Wendy Omanga, one of the participants from Kenya stressed the need for world and local leaders to “give opportunities for youth voices to be heard in terms of the humanity of the world and the conservation of the environment we live in.”
Emmy Otim from Uganda invited African youths to “leverage on technology to build synergies across the world in order to have more sustainable ways of dealing with our problems and to create solutions that work for everyone.”
Another participant, Chalo Mwansa from Zambia, drew from the African philosophy of Ubuntu, the idea that “I am because we are”, which he hopes will inspire us to build back better and move ahead as a community.
Pope urges young people to work with creativity
During the Economy of Francesco global event held on Saturday, Pope Francis, in his address to the over 200 young entrepreneurs, economists and activists gathered in Assisi, encouraged them to continue to work with creativity and inspired by the Gospel to change the present economic paradigm as the world continues to struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Holy Father also reminded everyone that we are stewards, not masters, of the goods of the earth which have been entrusted to us by God, and we are called to take care of and to distribute them so that no one is excluded.