2015 has been a difficult year. It seems that at every juncture a new challenge rises to our attention. As load shedding started to subside, we were introduced to the increasing likelihood of water shedding. Just as the auditor general report entrenched a realisation that irregular government spending was now becoming the norm at levels of over R25 billion, we then face the prospect of a nuclear investment stretching toward a trillion Rand. Each success in the court that brings back some sense of order to the running of important national institutions is then met with yet another example of chronic lack of governance, most recently the reckless board interference at SAA. And through all this, one measure has been stubbornly consistent. Despite huge attention, a raft of initiatives and plans, South Africa has not been able to shift its unemployment rate from its unacceptable level of 25%. And looking forward it’s difficult to imagine this changing when according to the Global Entrepreneurial Monitor released earlier this year South Africa’s level of entrepreneurship has plummeted by around 30% to a level of 7% of the adult population, way less than our African peers and about two thirds less than an economy of our stage and size should rightly expect.
The greater challenge with all this battering is that is starts to extinguish that most precious commodity – the flame of hope. We can endure almost anything when there is still hope for the future. This year has been tough on hope.
Yet there is one very strong remedy for this hopelessness and that is to have insight into the potential of youth. At the Foundation we have a privileged position. We have a unique window into the enormous potential and energy of youth. In a week’s time we will be hosting the final selection camp of 2015 bringing to a close our year-long mission to find around 100 of the most entrepreneurial youth in the country. We do this with the conviction, as described by Timmons, that “entrepreneurship is not just about innovation or creativity. It is also about fostering an ingenious human spirit for improving mankind”
Selection starts with the processing of nearly 2 000 application forms. On reading through these documents with applicants describing their inspiring and powerfully-held dreams and explaining some of the extraordinary achievements they have already undertaken, hope starts to return. These submissions provide a unique glimpse into the future and it is a future that is filled with possibility. From every corner of the country, from crowded cities to rural communities, these ambassadors of change, a real rainbow nation group, describe a new way, a way fueled by imagination and focused on solutions rather than problems. A way that opens the door to improving humankind.
Beyond the global recognition in fields as diverse as debating, sport and international olympiads, it is the deep-felt passion about shaping the future that is most impressive. As in years before, there is a consistent thread through the thousands of answers that the status quo must change. Interestingly, there is no word about politics or any suggested reliance on government to provide the solution. It is clear that this group at least appreciates its own agency over change and is not afraid to do things differently. Hope explodes off almost every page.
The list of enterprises in which the applicants have been involved touches all aspects of society from media, nutrition, retail and IT to education, creating secondary markets in children products or even beauty projects. One young lady had started her own non-profit which raised R100k for conservation by the age of 11. Another had used multimedia to challenge societal norms of young learners. One had started a recording studio and yet another had founded a hybrid social network which facilitates communication across video, song and photography. But even more powerful than these initiatives is our complete confidence, after 10 years in this work, that these pursuits will lead to real future endeavour. The video below shows how this initial entrepreneurial energy gets harnessed at the next stage of university.
After each year’s selection, I am reminded of something Mr. Allan Gray often says – “We should have great confidence in the ability of youth.” Indeed we underestimate them at our peril. As we come to the end of 2015, I can’t help but think that he is right. And as always, I can’t help but be optimistic about what the future holds when the potential of these young citizens is realised. I have hope.