“An Inventive System To Translate The Immense Social Capital
Of Africa’s Youth Into Financial Currency.”
A Job For Each One Of Us.
Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is a major challenge facing us in Africa, as well as in many countries across the world. The reason for this situation is the fact that we are living in a time where humankind is facing a major shift away from an economy based on subsistence farming and manual labour to a new economy based on knowledge, specialist skills and technology.
In developing regions such as Africa there is a huge gap between the skills which the market needs and the skills which people have.
So how can we overcome this ‘digital divide’, which is also visible as a social divide between people who have had access to education and training opportunities, and those who struggle to make a living from the land or from doing hard manual labour.
In the book, Young Africa – Policy Blueprint For A Continent Of Youth, author Reinhild Niebuhr describes a ‘COMMUNITY REWARDS’ system as an innovative way in which people who are unemployed – usually youth – can start preparing for the workplace by taking part in a voluntary work programme in their own communities. “Although I’ve had the privilege of attending university, most of the skills that I have used throughout my life to generate an income I have learnt through volunteerwork, temporary work or internships,” she explains.
While studying at the University of Pretoria she participated as a volunteer in producing a student newspaper. In this way she learnt to write articles, to meet deadlines and to work in a team to fill a page of the newspaper. Later, she was appointed as editor of a student newspaper and learnt how to run a team of fellow students, how to prepare the newspaper for print, how to sell advertising space and how to negotiate special printing prices with the local printing company.
When an opportunity arose to work as an ‘Au Pair‘ in Germany, she did a quick calculation which showed that her annual student fees as a full-time student at the university where higher than the cost of an air ticket and student fees at the University of South Africa (UNISA) – one of the world’s finest distance education institutions – combined. In addition, by living with a family in Germany and caring for the children, she could save on renting accommodation, paying for electricity and buying food, while earning enough pocket money to cover personal expenses. By giving up some personal freedom, she was able to have the life-changing experience of living and working in another country for a year!
She came back, completed her studies while using her typing skills honed at the student newspaper, to get a job as a clerk in her final year, which helped her pay for her last year of studies. She then moved on to do temporary secretarial work, which made it possible for her to travel to Germany again, and work as a journalism intern. During this time she came to the realisation that the biggest challenge for disadvantaged people in South Africa was the lack of jobs. She had wanted to become a journalist in order to report on the social injustices in her country at the time. But writing about problems was not the solution – she wanted to find a way to create jobs for people. “I had no idea about business, and the only thing I knew to do was to type and to produce newspapers,” says the serial entrepreneur.
So she returned back to South Africa to complete an Honours Degree, while working as a temp secretary to cover her living costs and started planning her first business venture: JUNK MAIL, South Africa’s first free ads paper. “I had seen the idea of a newspaper full of classified advertisements in Germany, and thought that this would be the kind of business that could create a lot of relatively low-skilled jobs: a call centre which people could call and typists could type advertisements and a distribution network to sell the advertising papers.” After one year of working 18 hours per day to get the JUNK MAIL started, a German publishing house offered to buy shares in the newspaper and the same company later took over the publication completely, with Reinhild moving on to her next business venture and eventually almost two decades of work in the development sector in Southern Africa. The advertising paper a couple of years ago was employing around 1000 people full-time, still serves as an excellent vehicle to encourage economic activity and has recently expanded to Nigeria.
Her own life experience proved that it was possible for a single young girl to make a substantial impact on job creation, just starting by doing volunteer work and using whichever skills she had learnt.
But she also realised through working with rural communities across Southern Africa that the biggest obstacle facing people caught in poverty, is the complete lack of family resources to have even just some support to stay alive while learning a productive skill. At the same time, it became very clear that handing out donations to people affects their self-worth and, despite all the good intentions of donors, this too often results in a mindset of dependency on the part of the beneficiary and there is never enough energy generated to break through the poverty cycle.
And that is where the idea for a ‘COMMUNITY REWARDS’ programme started: to raise funds to help give people a ‘hand up’, instead of a ‘hand-out’. By working with churches and charities across Africa to offer volunteer positions to unemployed youth, so that they can gain work experience, the Young Africa REWARDS programme then provides funding in the form of ‘COMMUNITY REWARDS’ to these volunteers, so that they may use the funds for basic living costs and to access further education and training and become better prepared for a job, or gain the experience needed to start an own business.
In this way, a donor gets a 3 x result from every dollar invested:
- The unemployed youth is able to get ready to become employed or generate an own income through an own enterprise
- The churches and charities get extra help to pursue their social development support work in the communities they serve AND
- The local economy grows, because of inflow of funds ‘on the ground’, when suddenly there are more young people who can buy food and pay for local services and training opportunities.
“When I wrote the book ‘Young Africa’, I was thinking that government should set up such a system of ‘COMMUNITY REWARDS’, because the software development costs to manage such a programme in a transparent and effective way would be huge. I worked hard to get the attention of the Minister of Social Development, Mr Zola Skweyiya, at the time. He loved the book, even wrote a very complimentary letter, but there was no further action,” remembers Reinhild. “I then decided to pilot my ideas on a small scale and moved with my husband, Nico den Oudsten, to a small rural village in Mpumalanga to help rescue an educational NGO. During this time I was able to get a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, an American donor organisation, to pilot the programme with 150 youth from 2007-2009 – but the manual administration of the REWARDS proved to be a big challenge.”
Still, the results she achieved convinced her that she was onto something good and in 2013 the couple moved back to Pretoria, so that Reinhild could be closer to software companies who might be able to assist in developing the technology required to manage such a ‘COMMUNITY REWARD’ programme on a massive scale across Africa.
During the past three years, she has found various software applications, each with a component of the system that she had in mind, and through the Young Africa initiative, she has been able to mobilise people and resources to interface these applications with the view to institute the COMMUNITY REWARDS programme.
“I am now ready to start approaching grantmakers locally and internationally, to provide the funding for the COMMUNITY REWARDS to the Young Africa FOUNDATION, so that the ball can start rolling,” says the social entrepreneur.
If you are in a position to contribute to the COMMUNITY REWARDS programme – either by donating funds for a youth volunteer to serve a church or charitable organisation anywhere in Africa, or by creating an internship position at your business, please contact Reinhild at firstname.lastname@example.org. “The software we are using makes it possible for us to account in a completely transparent manner for every cent! You will know exactly who received funding, what they used the funding for and what th eimpact on their life has been.”
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