The youth represents Africa’s now, not just Africa’s tomorrow. Young people must wear the crown of leadership today, as the change-makers of today and tomorrow and as future leaders. It is time for young people to step up to the plate and not shy away from taking responsibility and receiving the baton of driving Africa’s development in a positive spirit.

This might seem like a daunting task, but we must remember that “he who fears the sun will not become chief”. This is how you earn your stripes as responsible leaders. And then, to your determined actions, add selflessness, not selfishness. Add collectivism, not individualism. Add synergy and complementarity; not thinking in isolated silos; leveraging on your skills and building on ongoing work; not being primarily driven by financial reward or falling for whoever parades the most of it.

As you move forward, be guided by the words of Martin Luther King Junior, who said that life’s most urgent and persistent question was, what are you doing for others.

Do not dare stop at your dreams

As the biggest stakeholders in Africa’s future, dreaming – and dreaming big – for Africa is what all of you should do. And do not dare stop at your dreams – arise from slumber, roll up your sleeves, create the dreams and make them happen. You are endowed by our creator with inherent capacity to dream and create your dreams. And by doing so, take leadership in transforming Africa to be at the apex of global development, where it ought to be. The message is simple. It is time to passionately engage in innovative volunteerism.

Read: The future of Africa rests with the youth

File picture: A primary school student decodes letters. The Gambia GPE/Dan Petrescu Photo: Globalpartnership

The world may seem to be in a terrible mess today, but what I have learned has shown me that there is hope. Hopelessness destroys the will to live. It is only by holding onto hope, and promoting hope in others, that we can change Africa and the world.

My personal story

I was not born into wealth and opportunity. I grew up herding goats in my village and the only hope and inspiration was provided by my parents, who believed everyone’s dreams were valid and, through hard work and perseverance, they could be realised. I went to school without shoes but the message was simple: with hard work, passion and perseverance, there can be a better tomorrow.

Read: Slogans for a doomed African youth?

When I finished university, I did one year of volunteering to gain skills. Through perseverance, I won a scholarship to study at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Later I attended Harvard University Kennedy School of Government to pursue an Executive Education on Climate Change and Energy Policy Making. This experience taught me a lot of what I share with you today. The first is this: Never be afraid to dream big. Secondly, dreaming is not enough; to achieve anything, you must apply discipline and consistency every day. Set goals and plan every day. Work hard every day. Thirdly, never forget that how much you have is what you do with what you have. Finally, do not just aspire to make a living; always aspire to make a difference. It is now the turn of all the young people of Africa to make their own effort. Most of us have the blessing of an education – and knowledge is power. Use your knowledge and your pens to promote hope and change Africa and the world. Write about Africa. Tweet about Africa. Always know that the difference between “impossible” and “possible” lies in one word: determination. Let’s seize the moment!

Dr Richard Munang is UN Environment’s Africa climate change and development policy expert. These are the authors views, not those of his institution.