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YouthActionNet Blog

Chameleons, Zebu, and Lemurs: Adapting the YouthActionNet Curriculum in Madagascar

Laura Leeson | May 31, 2018
Maia shares lessons from YouthActionNet with her team



In 2016, Maia Freudenberger was selected as a Laureate Global Fellow for her work as Founder of Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) in Madagascar. The initiative works to reduce teen pregnancy, school dropouts, and risky sexual behavior among young adolescents through a comprehensive, school-based, sexual health and leadership education program which has reached over 29,000 Malagasy youth across 12 middle schools since 2013.

Through the fellowship, Maia had the opportunity to develop her personal leadership capacities alongside 19 other young social entrepreneurs from across the world. The week-long, in-person retreat was so transformative that Maia knew she needed to lead her team of young Malagasy change-makers on a similar journey, challenging them to step away from the demands of daily work in order to see themselves, their work, and the world with new eyes.

With permission to translate and adapt YouthActionNet's youth leadership curriculum, Maia got to work. As a result, PJL team members spent two intensive days exploring their leadership capacities, strengths, and weaknesses, defining their sense of purpose, and learning how to collaborate effectively and motivate teams to high performance.

During a third training day, the technical team dug into monitoring and evaluation to further examine the social impact and sustainability of PJL, as well as consider how our work connects to larger systems and issues in Madagascar and beyond.

For Chrystian, PJL's Technical Officer, the most defining part of the retreat was the session on different leadership styles. "I've always been a leader,” says Chrystian, "but finally seeing and understanding those specific qualities that I have, and how they relate to other types of more ‘obvious’ leaders, makes me realize that I possess something unique and special."

This leadership style session is one example of how we adapted YouthActionNet's curriculum to make the training more relevant to Madagascar. The module, which uses animals to represent four different leadership styles, was made much more practical (and funny!) by using creatures from the big red island. Bears (objective evaluators) became chameleons; deer (focused on relationships and fairness) became zebu; eagles (big picture thinkers and visionaries) were simply birds; and buffalo (results-oriented drivers) became of all things, lemurs! In case you are wondering, Chrystian identified as a zebu, leading with an emphasis on consensus-building and inclusion.

Mihaja, PJL's newly-appointed M&E and Special Projects Coordinator, said that learning about program logic models was his favorite part of the three days. "You can see every detail about the program and how it's supposed to work,” explains Mihaja, “and you can tell exactly what we are working toward."

Another team favorite was a session about turning competencies into super powers. Mamisoa, a Youth Educator Supervisor, put it best: "I understand now that I shouldn't focus on my weaknesses. It's turning those things I'm good at into super powers that will take me and the organization much further."

Seeing ourselves, our work, and the world with new eyes left everyone re-invigorated and driven to get back to work pursuing PJL's mission of equipping Madagascar’s youth with the skills and knowledge to make healthy choices and be leaders in their own lives.

Thank you so much to YouthActionNet, for providing us with the opportunity to transmit this important training to our young staff, as well as AmplifyChange, for their continued financial support of our team's capacity building.

Laura Leeson is currently the Acting Executive Director of Projet Jeune Leader. Reach out to her through PJL's Twitter account, @PJL_Madagascar, and website. Read more stories of youth-led change in Madagascar on the PJL Blog