ACTIVATE! kicked off its last series of Exchanges for the year in Klerksdorp, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Standerton on Saturday, 29 November 2014, under the theme of “What is Innovation and how can we use it to tackle social issues in South Africa?”

The ACTIVATE! Exchange is a quarterly discussion forum with the aim of drawing together young people and thought leaders from civil society as well as government and business to explore ways in which positive social change may be brought about in South Africa.

At the B&E Conference Centre Port Elizabeth, Exchange panelist Prince Charles – an Activator and sociology student at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University – made the bold statement that “if it does not benefit the poor, it is not innovation.”

Further comments on this topic included:

  • Innovation lies in the ability to see a problem differently and working through it to uncover the real underlying causes.
  • Do we necessarily need money to innovate?
  • Innovation is about improving something. But what are you improving it for – societal gain or private gain?
  • Innovation requires one to think outside the box meaning we have to think outside of ourselves.
  • Resistance to innovation is a platform for more innovation.

Once discussions around the definition was out of the way, facilitators introduced Icon Cards – one of the tools from the ACTIVATE! Innovation toolkit – that guests would be using to unpack the various social issues.  Icons cards enable participants to unpack information and ideas through the eyes and minds of iconic figures such as Ashley Kriel and Patrice Motsepe, to wear their shoes in specific situations and take on their personalities and their values.

Topics that came up included National Identity, Land Reform and Social Responsibility looking at whether businesses are acting as responsible citizens.

One topic consistent across the four Exchanges was education and dialogue became quite robust while navigating this territory. A few comments that emerged from group discussions around this issue included:

  • Our youth are not happy with the education in SA, particularly administration.
  • How can we address this apparent distrust in our [education] system?
  • How do we have equal opportunities if our education system is still low compared to other countries?

During discussions, the importance of being innovative with ideas was stressed. In the Western Cape, group discussions commenced with each group choosing a particular issue to tackle from various newspapers provided on the day. Some of the topics included how to deal with child abuse in communities, grant beneficiaries – particularly seniors – who were targeted by criminals and conned out of their social grants and finding solutions for teachers who complained that exam-markers are not competent.

Using the Icon Cards, groups were then tasked with looking at the issues in different ways and finding innovative solutions, such as educating young people who live with their grandparents to recognize scams to help protect seniors from being fleeced out of their pension.

The Innovation Tools used were well received by participants with many saying that it will help them tackle issues in other areas of their life as well.

Sesethu Gqomo, a panelist and Faculty Marketing Officer at the Engineering Department of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University said, “ACTIVATE! gave me the skills and tools that I never learnt in any classroom. They are applicable to young people across all faculties in any field.”

Ethu Ncanywa, a student at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University attending the Port Elizabeth Exchange said that the most exciting part of the Exchange was networking and being surrounded by people who come from different backgrounds.

Nelisa Ngqulana, Communications Manager at ACTIVATE!, says that the Exchanges are an opportunity to reflect on real problems.

“At the November Exchange, we aimed to ground the understanding of innovation in a broader way that encompasses creative ways to work with the issues that we face in our communities and come up with practical solutions,” she said. “I think we achieved that during our latest Exchange.”

Ngqulana attended the Klerksdorp Exchange and said that it is clear that the hunger for new ways of addressing challenges is there. Young people require support from thought leaders and experts in their communities to use these innovation tools to really contribute to meaningful change.

The one group used the Icon card to come up with a ‘movement’ called Edu-Afrika that aims to bring together stakeholders. Many stakeholders work in isolation. The aim of the movement would be to come together and channel efforts towards one direction – ‘re-igniting good quality education one school at a time.”

The Exchanges wrapped up with parting words from each panelist. Glenton de Kock, a panelist and Project Manager for the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber summed up the day’s discussions well when he stated that we should reinterpret our role in governance. “If you make a cross [when voting], you have the right to tell a councilor they are not doing their job,” he said.

In Cape Town, ACTIVATE! facilitator Ashley Roman concluded by saying, “These are not just ideas, but ideas that can bring social change. We should be using networks to have meaningful connections with each other.”

“The solutions are around us, they’ve always been. We just need to open our eyes and minds to the possibilities that we already have!”, said Lesego, an Activator from Zeerust.

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