Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
South Africa is ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the world (World Bank, 2012). The Gini co-efficient is an international measure of economic inequality (with 100 being total inequality, 0 being most equal) and South Africa’s Gini co-efficient is currently 63.1. There is widespread knowledge of the country’s policies of racial inequality and segregation that were developed during the Apartheid era. However, there is less understanding that since the end of Apartheid in 1994, socio-economic inequality in South Africa has been increasing. This is compounded by the increasing cultural and geographic stratification of socio-economic groups.
This situation is made more remarkable in light of South Africa’s incredible racial and cultural diversity. This scenario, combined with the increasing inequality, creates strong divides in society that are expressed as limited interaction between different groups, and a focus on the differences between groups’ lifestyles, practices, beliefs and attitudes rather than on the commonalities or the richness of diversity. For example, children normally attend schools that are within the vicinity of their communities (for multiple reasons) and, in the communities that are largely homogenous, this provides little opportunity for interaction with counterparts from other backgrounds even though such diversity could greatly enrich their experiences and knowledge. With this limited level of social interaction from an early age, there is a lack of mutual experience, understanding and appreciation of the social challenges that these various groups of young people face in their daily lives. This has resulted in low levels of connection across society. Most young people grow up oblivious to the real, lived experience of fellow citizens from different backgrounds: for example, the difference between the experiences of rural and urban life; the differences between cultural practices within and across racial backgrounds, religious beliefs and more.
With young people making up 58.5 percent of South Africa’s population, they are crucial to the country’s transformation. Inequality goes on to negatively impact educational performance and access to further educational opportunities, creating an ever-worsening cycle of poverty and increasing stratification. Also, the current education system in South Africa focuses more on the hard skills and less on the social and emotional skills that prepare learners to face the social challenges in the world. Reports indicate that today’s youth lack social and emotional skills on top of their academic education to build social capital and create a generation of people that will make a difference beyond just being ‘employable’ (University World News, 2013). This is particularly true for empathy and other non-cognitive (socio-emotional) skills. Therefore, most learners come out of the education system without being sensitized to the needs of others or empowered with confidence use resources around them to effectively to influence change in their communities. Although the South African curriculum now incorporates life skills as part of the education system, this merely provides information on life outside the classroom and does not necessarily expose the learners to the realities of others and the necessary leadership skills to build the self-confidence needed to interact with others and take action. Indeed, teamwork, as a skill, is rarely contemplated as part of most life skills and conventional education in South Africa.
Furthermore, the education system does not provide learners with practical experiences in community action to give them the ability to act on the social challenges facing their communities and not just wait for the authorities or someone else to provide solutions for them. Thus, the education system is increasingly putting an exclusive focus on test results, teaching youth to rote learn rather than proactively ask questions and problem solve. This does little to improve employment prospects, and sets up the student to simply follow instructions rather someone who identifies and creates opportunities. Consequentially, South Africa is creating a generation that is systematically disenfranchised. Except for those at the top socio-economic level of an increasingly stratified and unequal country, there are limited opportunities available to youth, across all boundaries, to interact, learn from each other and take action for themselves.
Programs that attempt to tackle this issue usually cater to specific constituencies and focus on uplifting these young people from their current conditions. This approach shows results for these specific constituencies but does not address the two underlying barriers that prevent all youth in South Africa from truly interacting: the development of empathy skills and the single culture or constituent approach to youth development. Young people with empathic skills must be brought together in a truly multi-cultural environment so that they can collectively address the country’s problems.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
The racial and cultural diversity of the South African population results in societal stratification whereby different groups are often isolated and experience significant differences in incomes and lifestyles.. This stratification creates barriers that prevent people from appreciating the daily challenges faced by others in different communities and from different social backgrounds than their own. Pip recognized that empathy is a crucial and critical tool that needs to be embedded in today’s youth in order to create a future generation of change makers. Her organization, ‘enke: Make Your Mark’ (founded in 2009), employs a model based on three pillars: Connect, Equip and Inspire. enke first connects young people across socio-economic and cultural divides, then equips them with skills needed for success and, lastly, inspires them to take action. Thereby, basic principles of leadership, change making skills and empathy are infused in young learners from very diverse backgrounds. The youth she works with come from townships, rural and urban communities, from the most under-resourced schools to the most exclusive in South Africa. These young people are united by a passion to make a difference in the world, a desire to be connected to youth with similar passions and to be equipped with the skills that would help them create the change they want to see. Pip believes that young people need to be empowered to be able to identify resources around them and use them to solve various challenges (even at a small scale), not only in their communities and societies but also in other communities that are culturally and socially different from their own.
enke runs a program called the ‘Trailblazer Program’ that targets learners from age fifteen to twenty from different social classes across all provinces in South Africa. These learners are brought together at a forum where they are strategically divided into diverse teams to provide maximum interaction and exchange. Each participant is challenged to identify social problems in their communities and design practical solutions to address them – either on their own or together with other “Trailblazers”. These ideas become what are called Community Action Projects (CAPs). Participants are also encouraged to find ways that they can work together across their different communities and societies. After nine months, the learners are called back to an award ceremony where they exchange stories – challenges and successes – from running their CAPs and are rewarded for significant efforts.
enke’s second program, the Ignition Program, targets young people between the ages of eighteen and thirty who are enrolled in tertiary education or study. These young people are trained to realize their potential and instilled with the spirit of entrepreneurship to inspire them to take action and create possibilities. Participants commit to a six-month action-oriented program where they gain practical skills in leadership, self-development and entrepreneurial skills to complement their tertiary education, as well as building work-relevant skills that improve their employability.
enke’s programs are designed to empower youth to identify their own opportunities and to connect the dots rather than relying on other people to provide opportunities for them. This is achieved by developing social and emotional skills that unlock value in their networks, teaches them to learn from failure (skills such as reflection and self-compassion), to creatively problem solve and innovate and to persevere through difficulty (resilience). In turn, this increases their sense of agency.
Since 2009, enke has worked with over 1,250 young individuals through the two programs. The ripple effect can be seen by the impact of the projects started by the participants – both in terms of number of people who benefit from the youth-led social change, and the other young people that Trailblazers and Igniters recruit to be part of their teams when they return home to run their Community Action Projects (CAPs). These young people go on to impact thousands more in communities across the country through these projects. In 2013 alone, the 232 participants in the Trailblazer Program directly impacted over 7,000 individuals across South Africa. Examples of successful projects include Ponty, which addresses high university dropout rates by using the university’s existing infrastructure. The project flags students that are struggling and counsel them via mobile text messaging. Another example is a duo from a rural area in Limpopo province, TK and Maja, who developed a peer-tutoring program, which increased the pass rate of 2009 matric class from 61 percent to 97 percent. Another Trailblazer, Mihle, decided to rebuild a destroyed road in his rural Eastern Cape village, recruiting some of the unemployed men in the community to help him restore the main access route.
Now that she has proved the model in South Africa and has engaged learners from all nine provinces, Pip is planning to scale out first within South Africa and then beyond to countries like Malawi, Lesotho and Namibia. Pip has identified that young people in these countries show similar lack of agency to create social change and is confident that enke’s model would be relevant in these settings.