SA: Young social entrepreneurs can change our country – but they need help

By Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana

Creating opportunities for young people has to be South Africa’s number one priority and it needs to be a coordinated effort that extends beyond a focus on creating jobs to include fostering positive entrepreneurship communities, writes Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana.

Just over half a million young people are celebrating having achieved their matric in 2018, but what kind of a future are they facing in South Africa?

The terrible reality in this country is that too many will struggle to take the next step of either enrolling in further education or starting work.

Youth unemployment is a critical challenge.

According to recent estimates, we have about 6.1 million unemployed youth in South Africa and, in a sluggish economy, it is likely these numbers will keep on growing.

Last year’s Job Summit vowed to create 275 000 new jobs a year, but this will hardly make a dent.

It will take a decade to create employment for only a third of those who need it. Who knows by how much the number of young job seekers will have grown by then?

In other words, there may be more jobs, just not enough. We need to go further – and faster.

Faced with such odds, a shift in focus is urgently needed.

The Jobs Summit took an important step in the right direction. Government, labour, business and community leaders came together to agree on a plan of action to spark growth in the jobs market.

The plan included response teams to help struggling businesses to prevent retrenchments, create training schemes, promote local exports, and mobilise finances for their businesses.

But to create opportunity at scale, there must be an equal, if not greater, emphasis on investing in the people who go on to create jobs – entrepreneurs.

And not just any entrepreneurs; we need, especially, innovative social entrepreneurs who can create their own opportunities while also tackling social challenges.

Increasingly, entrepreneurship is recognised globally as a key area for addressing poverty, inequality, and unlocking economic growth potential with organisations like the World Economic Forum, through the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, promoting social entrepreneurship in particular as a catalyst for social change. Social enterprises essentially use market-driven strategies to tackle critical social issues in brand new ways.

Unfortunately, South Africa does not show up strongly as an entrepreneurial country, social or otherwise.

According to the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the country continues to perform poorly relative to economies of a similar type (what the WEF calls efficiency-driven economies).

This is despite the fact that many South Africans, especially those who live in local communities, are brought up around entrepreneurship.

They have parents and grandparents who run small businesses, most often selling things in the community.

However, this kind of survivalist entrepreneurship does not grow economies or change societies. We need courageous, competitive, innovative entrepreneurs who think beyond just surviving if we want to move the dial on opportunities for youth.

This is, of course, easier said than done. It requires an immense amount of coordinated support and development that should start in school and extend into post-school opportunities.

The younger a person starts to experiment with entrepreneurship, the sooner they learn to bounce back from failure, and the sooner they can begin building networks through which they can gain opportunities and support.

The good news is that young people are eager for this. Contrary to negative stereotypes about disengaged and demotivated youth, most are hungry for opportunity and willing to work hard to get it.

Through our work at the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, we have seen many young people embrace the idea that they can start something themselves that not only earns an income but also solves the problems they see in the communities around them.

The Bertha Centre invited social entrepreneurs to join a UCT GSB Solution Space incubation programme in Philippi in 2018; we received 127 applications.

We can support only 20 a year but, according to a new report by Endeavour Insight and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when it comes to fostering productive entrepreneurship communities, a small number of high potential entrepreneurs can have a significant impact – if they are able to reach scale.

The report recommends a “bottom up” approach that involves paying attention to what is needed and what works in specific contexts and to build on that. Linking those who have already succeeded with those who are just starting out is key and is a function that we believe we are well placed to perform.

Through our work in Philippi, we are also closely listening to what young entrepreneurs themselves are saying. The youth in Philippi envisage a community that is supportive of all people.

There should be recreational activities for young children; health and wellness, aftercare and old age care services; physiotherapy, rehabilitation services and community events; and, platforms for creatives such as writers, poets, singers and artisans.

From this list, not only do we get an insight into what communities such as Philippi feel they need, but we also see opportunities for social innovation and entrepreneurship.

These young people know what is needed in their communities. If they could be given the skills and support to respond to these issues with smart, profitable solutions then essentially you not only create businesses – and jobs – but you begin to create thriving communities.

If we work together to improve the prospects for young people in communities like Philippi and tackle the problem at multiple levels – at home, at school, and in the workplace – we can make progress.

As Naledi Pandor, Higher Education and Training Minister said on unemployment, “South Africa is going to succeed at addressing its problems only in so far as we manage to establish partnerships across different stakeholder groups.”

Young social entrepreneurs are a crucial stakeholder.

They are hungry for opportunities and they have the power to change our country for the better.

But they cannot do it on their own, they need our (government, business, social service organisations, academia’s) help.

Source City Press


Published by

All African Youth Platform

We are Youth - Serving & charitable organization

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