Unlocking Potential: Insights from Esther Ndagire

Published On Jul 8, 2024

We first met Esther Ndagire, a brilliant public changemaker from the inaugural cohort of the African Union Digital and Innovation Fellowship, at the Creative Bureaucracy Festival in Berlin.

Today Esther contributes her expertise to  the African Union's Women Gender, and Youth Directorate. We left the event with so many questions that we simply had to follow up for a longer conversation.

From her work at the United Nations Population (UNFPA) to her current role within the African Union Commission's Women, Gender and Youth Directorate, Esther emphasises how important it is to incorporate digital tools and technologies in the African Union's work which spreads across the continent.



Here’s what we asked:

Can you summarise the unique circumstances of hiring public servants in the African Union? 📝

The African Union (AU) has a unique approach to hiring public servants that underpins equal opportunity, gender parity, and youth representation. By recruiting competitive candidates from across the African continent, AU’s recruitment process is guided by a quota system that aims to ensure fair geographical representation from all AU Member States. In instances where candidates have equal competence, priority is given to nationals from the least represented Member States, as well as youth, women, and persons with disabilities. 

The AU’s recruitment process also emphasises gender parity, and youth representation with the goal of ensuring that by 2025, 50% of the organisation’s staff will be women and 35% will be young people. Its bottom-heavy staffing structure, with officials across different levels involved in policy making and decision-making processes, reflects the organisation's commitment to creating a diverse, equitable, and representative workforce that mirrors the demographics and priorities of the African continent.


Are there any skills or traits that are unique to successful public servants in the AU?  🛠️ 

As an Intergovernmental and political organisation, the AU’s staff body is composed of individuals with diverse academic and professional backgrounds. These include international relations, political science, economics, law, social sciences, natural sciences, administration, finance and IT, among others. 

In addition to a competitive professional and academic background, a successful career at the AU necessitates various skills. For example, the staff diversity requires that AU staff are proficient in working within different cultural contexts along with possessing robust collaboration and teamwork skills as well as strong written and verbal communication skills to effectively engage with colleagues and stakeholders. The AU also necessitates respect for hierarchy while balancing innovative thinking, as the staff must navigate bureaucratic processes while also seeking opportunities to improve processes. 

Moreover, successful AU staff exhibit resilience and the ability to maintain professionalism, in different situations. Integrity and ethical decision-making have also been seen to be key as AU staff serve as representatives of the organisation's values.

Finally, adaptability to changing circumstances is crucial, given that AU operates in a complex environment that requires agility and responsiveness to new challenges. The unique blend of cultural competence, collaboration skills, communication abilities, resilience, integrity, and adaptability set successful AU staff apart, enabling them to excel in their roles and contribute to the organisation’s mandate.


How does the relationship between AU and its member states affect the public sector? 🌍

The relationship between the African Union and its Member States (55 Member States) has a profound impact on the public sector across the continent. As a primarily policy-oriented organisation, the AU provides overarching frameworks and guidelines such as Agenda 2063 that Member States rely on to develop their own public sector policies and strategies. Agenda 2063 serves as a blueprint for Africa's long-term transformation. Member States also look to the AU for technical expertise and capacity building support to strengthen their public institutions. 

The AU promotes good governance, democracy, and human rights, which encourages public sector reforms aligned with these principles. Furthermore, the AU's role in conflict prevention and resolution directly impacts the public sector in affected Member States, providing support for post-conflict reconstruction and development. It is evident that the AU's policies, initiatives, and interventions serve as a guiding force for Member States in shaping their public sectors, promoting continental integration, and fostering sustainable development across Africa.


Given Africa’s youthful demographics, what strategies does the African Union employ to prepare the next generation of public servants? What do the demographics say about the future African Union itself? 🌱

What do demographics say about the future African Union itself?

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with over 400 million young people aged between 15 to 35 years. It is projected that the African youth population will make up 42% of the world’s youth population in 2030 and double the current population of African youth by 2055. The World Bank estimates that up to one million Africans enter the labour market every month, yet fewer than one in four secure a formal job. Therefore, the youth population in Africa presents both significant opportunities and challenges for the continent's sustainable development. This demographic trend underscores the urgency to invest in youth development, equipping young people with the skills, opportunities, and support they need to drive economic growth, social progress, and innovation.

The African Union is addressing the challenge of preparing the next generation of public servants in Africa, leveraging the continent's youthful demographics in various ways. One of which is its "1 Million Next Level" Initiative. Building on the success of the "1 Million by 2021" initiative, the 1 Million Next Level Initiative aims to test and scale new ideas continent-wide, sustain multi-stakeholder partnerships, and ensure youth-centric solutions. Launched by H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the 1 Million Next Level Initiative is concerned with scaling up youth development and engagement strategies and initiatives for impact. It seeks to reach at least 300 million young people by 2030 in Africa with opportunities for promoting Health and Well-being, Education, Entrepreneurship, Employment, and Engagement (4Es+H). To achieve speed, scale, and sustainability, the 1 Million Next Level initiative focuses on supporting countries and partners to develop and implement country acceleration strategies (CAS) to allow them to contextualise and prioritise actions to accelerate flagships and build resilient foundations and ecosystems for youth development and engagement programming. 

Africa's demographics with a rapidly growing youth population projected to reach 1.7 billion by 2030 and 3 billion by 2063, highlight the necessity for these efforts to harness the demographic dividend and ensure the AU remains responsive and representative of its youthful population. The African Union Youth Volunteer Corps (AU-YVC) is an AU initiative supporting the goals of 1 Million Next Level Initiative by serving as an avenue for Africa’s youth to engage in the continent's development through meaningful participation by providing service for their continent.

The program also seeks to promote shared values and Pan-Africanism among the upcoming generation among other objectives. Launched in 2010, the continental development program recruits and places youth volunteers to work in all 55 countries across the African Union. So far, the AU-YVC program has deployed over 1200 volunteers to various organs and departments of the African Union, Member States, and partner organisations. It has been instrumental in deepening the status of young people in Africa as key participants in the delivery of Africa's human development targets and goals. In 2023, a total of 105 (59 (56.2%) female and (46(43.8%) male AU Youth Volunteers served across various organs and departments of the African Union. Additionally, in 2023 a call for applications was launched between August 24th and September 30th where a total of 16,895 applications was received through http://aucareers.org from across the 55 Member States.

Last but not least, the AU Digital and Innovation Fellowship Programme is an initiative that ensures young people’s meaningful participation in governance. Implemented by the African Union Commission’s Women, Gender, and Youth Directorate in collaboration with GIZ DataCipation and Afrilabs, the initiative also enhances AU's capacity to utilise technology and innovation to address governance and development challenges in Africa. The first edition saw the deployment of 13 highly skilled fellows who immersed themselves within AU departments and organs, identified technology challenges and co-created 12 tailor-made solutions to enhance processes, build long-term capacity and advance the African Union’s mandate within the context of Agenda 2063.  

The AU Tech Fellowship has seen remarkable growth and interest, with 3,192 applicants by April 29th, 2024, surpassing the target of 2,000 applicants for the 2nd cohort. The second cohort also saw a 430% increase in fellows from the first cohort, with a 400% increase in male participants and an impressive 544% increase in female participants. Eligibility for the program is restricted to individuals aged 18-34, but 168 applicants were over the age limit, and 74 were under 18, which hints at the need for such initiatives for Africans. There was also a significant rise in applications from marginalised groups, including 48 people with disabilities, 106 refugees or internally displaced persons, and 90 applicants from the diaspora. Notably, applications from the diaspora increased by 562%, indicating growing global interest and participation.

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Esther Ndagire's journey from the African Union Digital and Innovation Fellowship to her impactful role at the AU’s Women, Gender, and Youth Directorate exemplifies dedication and passion for digital transformation in public service. We are grateful for the opportunity to have had such a meaningful conversation with her. 

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