Young Gambian selected for prestigious AfYWL fellowship

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By Alagie Manneh

A talented young woman, Abigail Ceesay, has become the first Gambian to be selected for the prestigious African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) fellowship programme.

Abigail, 23, was among 5254 candidates from 54 African countries who applied for the programme. She made the cut for the only 66 candidates accepted and fully recommended for the final roster, before her final selection among 40 others now expected to go on assignments at requesting UNDP offices at headquarters, regional and country levels.

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Established in 2019, the AU-UNDP programme aims to invest in global women leadership, promote African expertise and build an Africa-wide network of outstanding young women professionals to spur innovation, South-South cooperation, and development exchange.

In line with the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the partnership builds on the AU’s “1 Million Next Level” initiative that seeks to connect 300 million young Africans to opportunities in education, employment, entrepreneurship, engagement and health and wellbeing.

Speaking on her selection in an interview with The Standard, Abigail outlined the importance of the fellowship programme, and said that it will among other things, build gender responsiveness and resilience, grant young African women the opportunity to develop their required professional experience and leadership skills in order to participate in political decision-making processes.

The young Gambian has since been assigned to the UNDP headquarters in New York City with the Bureau for Management Services.

A Pan-Africanist advocate, Abigail hopes to dedicate her budding career to building a more prosperous Africa by venturing into South-South collaborations, strengthen strategic partnerships and develop and implement innovative solutions to eradicate poverty and promote economic development.

“This programme enables me to fulfil these aspirations by obtaining high-level professional experience and leadership skills and becoming a part of a network of young, intelligent African women professionals dedicated to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 through concerted efforts,” she said. “My father, Malick Ceesay, always emphasised how lucky I am to have been granted the opportunity to obtain proper education and how I must always seek to do everything in my power to support others and contribute to the development of The Gambia. This is precisely what I want to do with this Programme because I believe we can only rise by lifting others.”

Abigail, who graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in political science, including a major in international relations and a specialisation in political economy, expressed optimism that her participation in the respected Programme will engender enthusiasm for young Gambian women aspiring to drive transformational changes.

“I want to encourage young Gambians to understand that the future of our country is in our hands, and be on the lookout for opportunities like the AfYWL Fellowship Programme. International organisations recognize the importance of youth and women’s representation in political decision-making and have several ongoing initiatives such as the African Union Digital and Innovation Fellowship Programme, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Fellowship, and the World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Programme for young Africans,” she said.

She postulated how “extremely important” it is for young people to be granted the opportunity to thrive and contribute to the development of The Gambia.