Nurturing a new generation of leaders

Too many young people in South Africa leave school or university with the idea of becoming high-paid CEOs so that they can drive the latest BMW and live in a mansion. What they are not doing enough of is harnessing their talents and resources to address the country’s social issues and uplift their communities, writes Amanda Blankfield-Koseff, founder and CEO of non-profit organisation, Empowervate Trust.

The culture of most South Africans is to rely on government alone to solve the country’s challenges. Since the 1994 elections, government has been expected to provide housing, jobs, schooling and medical care, as well as solve a host of other social ills. While government obviously has a massive role to play, it cannot solve the big issues without the cooperation, input and support of all South Africans.

This is why active citizenry is so important. Instead of mobilising in a negative way by burning tyres, throwing rocks or vandalising schools, South Africa needs active citizens who conceptualise and implement creative solutions to community issues. Once projects gain momentum and government sees their benefit, it may decide to provide its support to the initiatives and help take them to the next level.

At the moment, government is viewed as the big, bad beast, who does everything wrong. But, what about the responsibility that comes with the human rights we are promised in our constitution? There is a vital role each South African should be playing to affect positive change in the country.

This is the message Empowervate Trust in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education is imparting to the young people who take part in its Youth Citizens Action Programme (YCAP). The country’s young people need to embrace their citizenship with pride and lead by example by contributing towards the country’s growth and prosperity.

YCAP encourages active citizenship and social entrepreneurship. Instead of starting a business to merely create personal wealth and the accompanying lifestyle, young people are encouraged to become more mindful of the impact they can make in society – to identify gaps in the market to solve social or environmental issues. In this way they can contribute to positive change in the country, as well as make money for themselves.

The rise of social entrepreneurship is challenging the status quo. It is about coming up with sustainable solutions to address social issues. Profit to reinvest in the communities and lives of marginalised people holds greater weight as more lives can be impacted to create a prosperous South Africa.

The millennial generation is a lot more in tune with this school of thought. Many young people realise that it rests on them to create a world that they can be proud of. They realise that active citizenship starts within their immediate surroundings and amongst their peers.

Over the past nine years, young people have embraced YCAP’s aim of empowering and motivating the next generations of active citizens. They have been working with their peers, teachers, communities and thousands of young people across the country have already helped ease the burden of poverty, increased food security in their schools, incorporated extra curriculum activities to combat depression and reduced the dependency on drugs amongst their peers.

The idea is to work together to achieve more; to ensure that others succeed because it will help many others to succeed. The tall poppy syndrome of diminishing people, or bringing them down, serves no purpose. We need to all lift ourselves and others up. Those who enjoy success should be hailed as role models and they should work to raise others up.

We tell learners: “if you become successful later in life, go back to your schools and communities and do motivational talks, help others, fundraise and become cognisant of things you can change. You can make a difference!”

To get young people to see the world in this way requires the inculcation of certain values. Underpinning Empowervate Trust’s YCAP toolkit is the notion of “putting values into action one step at a time.” Values are taught through practical exercises. Learners operate in teams and need to make sure their teams are run properly and have democratic processes in place to elect leaders, to ensure people with the right strengths fulfil certain roles and, most importantly, that everyone is held accountable.

When learners have completed the programme they understand they are change agents and need to become role models in their schools and communities. In addition, they are equipped with a host of skills to help them fulfil this role including teamwork, leadership, time management, communication, public speaking, IT and basic financial management skills.

An important aspect of this process is imparting skills to young people to equip them for positions of power, whether they become business people, politicians, teachers, employees or social entrepreneurs – these are life skills that will serve them well in their future endeavours.

On concluding the programme, young people understand that showing the world how rich they are is not an indication of their character or greatness. They realise that true greatness lies in the way they act as leaders in their communities and what they do to empower others.

They also emerge from the programme with an understanding that the world is constantly in flux and that the way things are done today will be very different tomorrow. They understand that the workplace will be different, with more people working in global project teams to solve challenges rather than occupying specific jobs. They also understand that they will need to be adaptable with 21st century skills to remain relevant, and that communication and teamwork will be key in this new environment.