According to Activate! project manager Janet Jobson, South African’s are certainly not averse to doing a “lot of complaining and a lot of protesting”. But however active we may be in our protest, Jobson feels that the social transformation of South Africa still requires a significant shift “from being angry and active to actually being effective”
Activate!, the flagship project of the DG Murray Trust’s Leadership for a Winning Nation Portfolio, may well go some way towards that end.
Activate! aims to recruit, train and mentor 5,000 young South African future leaders from a range of different backgrounds within the next five years at bases in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Jobson says that Activate!’s primary focus is to help the thousands of young South Africans, particularly in marginalized areas, who are “trying their damndest” to “do something”.
Activate! is a way for them to better channel their energies through a connected network and a more positive and open environment for both “public innovation” and young leadership, one that also sidesteps the often exclusive, patriarchal and nepotistic business and government sector models and avenues. “You don’t have to have excelled to be part of Activate!” Jobson says, “you just have to show that you’re passionate and committed.”
This admissions policy is crucial to Activate!’s overall philosophy. As a result of what Jobson calls the “realities of South Africa”, many South Africans do not have access to the information, education or finances to subsequently get the required qualifications for important positions in either business or government. Activate! is trying to create a “broader range” of future leaders that can help reach and spread information and innovation beyond the borders of small elite and privileged groups.
With this in mind, Jobson feels that Activate! is a significant move towards creating a “space” where all young South Africans, whether middle class white UCT graduates or high school drop outs from Masiphumele, can share in the “cross-pollination” of ideas and opinions “across the divides”. This begins within the first three days of the programme, during which time all the different activators are kept in a boarding house together and all have to share their stories with the rest of the group. This initiation period, Jobson says, is what “binds the group together.”
Although still in its infancy, Activate!’s reach has already been significant. Throughout Youth Month (June), the Sunday Times ran articles written by different members of Activate! from across the country. All of the four stories published were written by people who have often known what Jobson calls, a “brutal history”; young South Africans who have lived with the daily realities of township life, including rape, poverty and violence. For example, Tshekiso, a former gang member who has served two jail sentences, did not even have enough money to buy the Sunday Times on the day his article was published.
Yet the reception has been almost unanimously positive and the letters of support have streamed in from all over, with some supportive readers openly admitting to being from “affluent societies” far from the reality of the authors. One such reader said they had been “moved to tears” by Tshekiso’s “honesty and will to overcome”. Jobson says she has “basically become an answering machine” since the articles were published, with constant calls from all kinds of South Africans wanting to help in any way they can, including offering to pay for furthering the authors’ studies or giving them employment opportunities. Jobson adds that Activate! has also been well-received at government level.
But for all the attention they have garnered, Jobson warns that the Activator’s individual stories must not come to be seen as exceptions or standout cases from a young generation that is often referred to as “lost” or, worse still, as a “ticking time bomb”. Jobson says that all young people need to feel and be told that “there is a possibility that they can get somewhere in their lives” and can “make a difference” through increased connectedness and a broader space for public innovation. The perceived lack of possibility, hope or opportunity for young South Africans, can, according to Jobson, explain a lot of the nation’s most pressing social issues.
“There is nobody else really at the moment who is pushing the agenda”, she says. “That has to change.” Activate has not only given a voice to young South Africans with the potential to facilitate this change, it has also shown that the rest of us are ready to listen to them.
In conjunction with this article, Supernews will also be publishing edited excerpts of the four articles written by the Activators for the Sunday Times.
Image: Activate! project manager, Janet Jobson. Photographer: Marcus Viljoen
To find out more about Activate! visit www.activateleadership.co.za