Excited youth milled around under the shade of palm trees in the balmy weather of Zimbabwe. Many were nervous. They were about to explore what they had to offer and what they needed from 150 other young people they didn’t know, as the opening to a weekend of leadership training.

It was an unusual scene, teenagers talking together without electronic devices. Looking sharp in their finest clothes, they were about to impress each other with more than their appearance. Some were unsure whether they should be considered leaders, uncertain of the value that they had to offer. They were about to learn something profound about themselves and the others who had been gathered by Tadzie Madzima of IGNITE Youth.

The Offers and Needs Market

The hopeful and bright youth sat in small circles. Over the next 90 minutes they participated in a process in which community members come together to identify and exchange their passions, knowledge, skills, resources, and needs. They offered things such as surplus avocados, access to a recording studio, seeds and advice for vegetable gardens, and connection with a sound engineer. Through this simple, 90-minute exchange the youth broke through gender stereotypes, established friendships, and gained confidence in their power.

Tadzie Madzima would have loved to experience this process when she was coming of age. Raised by a single mother in Harare, money was often tight. As a teenager, she was yearning to develop her interests and gifts. Her devoted mother worked long hours to provide for her three children and had little time to counsel them on their career and life ambitions. Many of her schoolmates got pregnant and dropped out of their studies. Tadzie became the youth coordinator at her church, and then founded IGNITE Youth to offer career coaching and mentorship. She is a role model for other women seeking to develop the confidence, skills, and knowledge to become financially independent and create income without resorting to activities that sometimes include prostitution to afford food for their families.

A seasoned event organizer, she’d never encountered the Offers and Needs Market until facilitator Layla Fry brought the process to Zimbabwe. Yet it felt strangely familiar — it tapped into the ancient wisdom of exchange that is essential to healthy tribal culture.

We all have gifts worth sharing

After Layla introduced the Offers and Needs Market process, everyone thought in silence for a few minutes about what they wanted to offer to each other. Next, the whole gathering buzzed with excitement as people began sharing their offers in small groups. Because the market begins with developing a positive sense of identity, Tadzie saw people move beyond their victim mentality, becoming confident and proud of who they are. One shy participant, who had spent his teenage years earning money exclusively through exhausting physical labor, was moved to tears when others expressed interest in the variety of offers he shared.

Like many of these youth, Tadzie learned how to be generous even when money was scarce. She encourages people “to start helping where you are with what you have. Sometimes we think that we need money or resources to contribute to someone else’s life. It doesn’t take much for you to bring a smile to someone, and there are many non-monetary rewards for doing kind things.”

The next generation of African leaders listened attentively to the needs of others, developing a valuable trait that heals division and violence: empathy. Their worldview shifted as they found value in their differences. Participants became aware of their own creativity and the generosity of others.

At this event the youth experienced themselves as change makers with power to improve lives which, as Tadzie explained, demonstrated that it doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to make a positive impact. “When we asked for help at the market, it was surprising how much was available.” One man was looking for farming advice and connected with a farm owner who grows millet and would mentor him. You could feel their hearts opening as their sense of what was possible was expanding with the immense value being presented in their circle.

“Sharing needs can be seen as a sign of being inadequate or inexperienced. Yet through this process, the youth developed humility to ask for the help that they need. It broke down the perception of ‘I can’t ask someone to help me.’”

Healing isolation through exchange

Most participants grew up in the bustling capital of Harare. Generations ago, the youth came of age as an integral part of their tribe, knowing they had valuable contributions to make toward the well-being of their land and people. Humans long for a sense of belonging, and this feeling is especially acute in young adulthood. Many young people feel like they don’t fit in, or can’t find anyone with similar interests. This is why coming together to share resources is so powerful — it creates a sense of belonging that heals the isolation of modern societies.

Shattering stereotypes

At the marketplace, something amazing happened between genders.

There are significant financial challenges for young women in Zimbabwe, and the nation has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Sub-Saharan Africa. This often reinforces gender-power dynamics. Yet through the Offers and Needs Market, men and women broke through assumptions about the other gender.

Many of the young men were pleasantly surprised to hear the variety of skills and resources that the young women were offering. And young women participating in the market realized that they have a variety of value to offer. Through this and other IGNITE events, they are discovering a sense of worth well beyond what society dictates to them. These experiences are shifting the worldview of men and women as they cultivate greater understanding of one another.

Tadzie is working on breaking down another barrier: age. Inspired by this experience, Tadzie plans to offer an intergenerational Offers and Needs Market. Imagine parents and grandparents acknowledging the diversity of value that their youth are bringing, and all generations honoring an invitation to give and receive mutual support.

IGNITE Youth is organizing upcoming Offers and Needs Markets to multiply local exchange and build a more vibrant economy in Zimbabwe. As the talent and wealth in their own community became visible, they felt that anything was possible. Meaningful connections that are strengthened or initiated through these events create a healthier economy that contributes to the wellbeing of people and planet.

Listen to the full interview here.

Teaser photo credit: Layla Fry