Empowering Africa’s Youth: A Spotlight on UNDP’s Youth Specialist

UNDP People for 2030
4 min readMay 5, 2023

Meet Pauline Deneufbourg, Youth Empowerment Specialist at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pauline shares with us insights of a career led by a constant commitment to youth participation and engagement in governance and peacebuilding processes.

Pauline Deneufbourg, Youth Empowerment Specialist UNDP Ethiopia

One of my first involvements with youth in the field was in France thirteen years ago, through social inclusion missions and my work with specialized educators on participatory projects. This was my first step towards promoting volunteerism and youth support. Since that first experience, engaging with youth has remained a cross-cutting aspect of my work. I joined the United Nations in 2008 with UNESCO in Central America. In 2012, I was deployed as a United Nations Volunteers Programme Officer in Tunisia. In addition to managing volunteers for different UN entities in the country, I coordinated the implementation of a youth volunteering promotion project in the Arab region. This experience allowed me to work across different teams within UNDP, in an exciting and historic context of transition in Tunisia following the Arab Spring. There was a real demand from young people in general to participate and engage in development projects and civic activities. My three-year engagement in this program was fantastic.

After a brief deployment in Iraq, I became the United Nations Volunteers Programme Manager within the peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, UNOCI, in 2015. In this new context, I continued to work for the benefit of youth and local communities, including concrete actions in refugee camps or communication campaigns promoting volunteerism.

In 2017, I moved to Mali in the same role, with MINUSMA, where I was responsible for over two hundred volunteers deployed in different sites in a complex security context. In 2019, I continued my mission in Mali, joining the UNDP Country Office to support the emerging process of UN transition in the country, in close coordination with MINUSMA and the UN Country Team. Today, based in Ethiopia at the regional office of UNDP, I provide support to forty-six countries. It is a privilege to be engaged across an entire continent with colleagues who bring diverse expertise and professional backgrounds, all working towards common goals. In this role, I am also directly involved in regional projects and events.

Pauline at the Youth Connekt Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, october 2022

Throughout my career, I have been exposed to emergency and crisis contexts. UNDP has also allowed me to contribute my expertise and direct support in crisis or political transition contexts. I was deployed as a SURGE advisor following the coup d’état in Mali in 2020 for a duration of five months to ensure the effective participation of youth in the transitional process and resource mobilization in this new context. Working in these contexts is exciting, and the impact of our engagement is visible. For example, UNDP’s commitment through the Youth, Peace and Security project in the Great Lakes region, implemented in 2022 with the support of UNFPA, has sensitized over 300 young people on their role in peace and reconciliation processes. Despite sometimes complex security conditions, UNDP continues to serve the most vulnerable populations, including young men and women, in communities directly affected by conflicts.

Working for UNDP has reinforced my conviction that with passion, resilience, and empathy, we can go beyond our limits to have a strong, real, and lasting impact on youth.

Our approach is to work with and for youth, in a spirit of co-creation, while creating favorable conditions for their active participation. Two recent and concrete examples are close to my heart. Following the coup d’état in Mali in 2020, and in the context of political transition, I developed a project to mobilize youth and promote social cohesion through sports. The Grand Trail of Youth for Peace, an initiative implemented jointly with the International Organization for Migration , allowed over 1500 young Malians to participate, through sports, in the future of their country and the process of peace and national reconciliation. It promoted social cohesion, connected villages and communities in the South, Center, and North of the country and created spaces for dialogue and expression in the localities traversed.

Pauline with some participants at the Grand Trail of Youth for Peace in Mali,

Another example is the radio program “Vijana kwa amani”; launched with the support of UNDP in South Kivu, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in November 2022. It consists of four broadcasts on a community radio, facilitated by young peacebuilders, to promote dialogue on youth participation in peace processes.

What stands out from my various experiences is the importance of the culture of leadership within UNDP: I was entrusted with responsibilities and given the freedom to propose my ideas, initiate and implement collective projects.

What lessons have I learned from my experience? Working with UNDP has taught me to dare to take risks, propose my ideas, and face complex situations. So, if this type of field engagement inspires you, I would like to say, dare to try and do not be discouraged. A good starting point is joining the United Nations Volunteers . This experience has been a fantastic accelerator for me to strengthen my skills, develop my network, and enter the world of the UN.

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