“Young people are plagued by big things: access to education and job opportunities. Those are the big issues in their minds right now,” explains Ashley Roman, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers’ Programme Manager.
ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a national non-profit organisation in South Africa with the primary objective of equipping the youth to become active citizens, in order to influence and provoke positive change in their communities. Activate has trained and empowered over 3,400 young South Africans in previously-disadvantaged communities, since it was launched seven years ago, creating a network of change agents that have a daily impact in their communities.
Roman, who is studying towards a Master’s degree in Inclusive Innovation, says the real issue all stakeholders in South Africa need to address, is how society is contributing to empowering the youth to be “meaningful social actors”.
“Within our organisation, Activate, the youth are doing great things, coming up with solutions, solving problems, so we know that we can teach the youth at grassroots to think creativity and have a social impact to create social change on a big scale.”
The question Roman has, is how do we create a groundswell movement in South Africa to get everyone else to do the same to empower this generation? He believes we need to create spaces where we can have these conversations with the youth.
“A lot of our current education and training, our school curriculum too, is not preparing young people for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or creating young people who are agile and adaptive. We need to find mechanisms to leverage and engage all stakeholders to address these issues.”
Activate trades in hope. If they can give young people hope for the future, they believe – and their research has shown this – the youth will engage in less risky behaviour; and do become productive members of their communities and empowered to participate in local democratic structures, whether it is elections, local government bodies, NGOs or political party structures.
Activate CEO Chris Meintjes trusts that South Africa can change the playing field completely by empowering the youth with skills and thereby giving them hope for the future.
“We wanted to create an experiential learning journey to enable a young person to discover their own learning potential so that they could generate a better tomorrow for themselves, and their country as a whole.”
Activate has achieved its goals in this regard, as is evidenced by the research it conducts annually to measure the impact of its programmes on its youth activators. Within the Activate network, a high proportion of Activators are politically active and have engaged with local government structures within their communities as active citizens: in the past year, 79% have contacted a local politician about community issues; and 68% of the network have engaged their local councillor.
“The biggest economic segment in our country are young people, aged 18-25 years old in South Africa. We have a huge challenge ahead of us… we need youth capacity building programmes, we need to give them access to meaningful platforms that will make their lives better. We all need to play our part,” urges Meintjes. “We need ecosystems that allow the youth to grow their capacity, skills and knowledge. I believe a young person can do anything given the resources.”