Kenyan youth leader comes to Heller

November 22, 2016

Raphael Obonyo, Kenyan youth leader

Raphael Obonyo just can’t stop winning prizes.  He was recently named as one of five runners-up for the 2016 U.N. Person of the Year Award in Kenya for his “impeccable leadership and unprecedented contribution to youth empowerment.”  In 2015 he was a nominee for the U.N. Nelson Mandela Prize, and the Africa Youth Hub named him Africa’s most inspirational youth. He’s been featured on Kenyan television and in magazines as one of East Africa’s most promising leaders.

Raphael has an inspiring personal story. He comes from Korogocho, a sprawling slum neighborhood in Nairobi with between 150,000 and 200,000 people squeezed into 1.5 square km. Where others saw poverty and despair, he saw beauty and opportunity. 

He co-founded Koch FM, the first community radio in Kenya, and Miss Koch Initiatives, enabling more than 300 girls to get a high school education. He played a similar role in establishing the Youth Congress of Kenya and Kenya Youth Media. 

As Raphael explains in a deeply person 2014 TEDx talk, he believes that education is transformational, and that poor people tired of being portrayed as hopeless and violent can “write their own stories”.

Outside of Kenya, Raphael has served in various policy advisory positions to the World Bank, UN Habitat and UNESCO. Last year he published Conversations about the Youth in Kenya, with an introduction by Chief Justice of the Kenyan Supreme Court. 

An expert in public policy, international development, community organizing and human rights, Raphael holds a Master's in Public Policy from Duke University and a Bachelor of Commerce degree from University of Nairobi. He won the 2012 Policy Star Award at Duke University, where he studied with a Ford Foundation International Fellowship.

From February 15-17, 2017, the MA Program in Sustainable International Development will host Raphael as a Visiting Scholar at the Heller School.  He’ll teach a ProSeminar on International Youth Policy, giving students a rare opportunity to learn from his first-hand experience in creating successful youth programs and policies at the local, national and international levels. The ProSeminar will complement Professor Joan Dassin’s Spring 2017 Module 1 course on International Youth Policies and Programs (HS 312f).

The demographics of many developing countries, in which up to two-thirds or even three-quarters of the population is under the age of 30, drive youth issues to the very top of the international development agenda. Raphael’s conviction that youth are not only a population “with problems” – the conventional approach – but also a population with the “power to solve problems” gives his work deep resonance and appeal both in Kenya and to young people around the world.

SID is especially proud that Raphael will share his knowledge and experience at the Heller School, where the Center for Youth and Communities has conducted policy-oriented research and advocacy on education, civic engagement, workforce development and similar domestic issues for more than 30 years.

Highlighting the international dimensions of these issues and the potential role of youth in bringing “vision and action for social progress and development” will provide an extraordinary opportunity for SID students who want to learn more about this vital field.