By: KayDee Dineo Mashile
Before you expect others to invest in you, you need to be willing to invest in yourself.
Activator, Tlotliso May
One of the biggest issues in South Africa is the issue of unemployment along with the challenges that emanate from it. Equally, young people have arguably never been more involved in the business sector than the current generation of youth are. One can argue that these two facts feed into each other. With so many unemployed youths, and even more so now due to the recent COVID 19-related job losses, young people need to be a part of job creation. Networks such as Youth Capital and ACTIVATE! Change Drivers are proof of the proactive action and economic participation of the youth. It was upon joining the ACTIVATE! network that I too found the courage to leave formal employment in pursuit of creating employment for my unemployed peers. And I am only one of thousands of young entrepreneurs and aspiring and active employers. While young people primary seek assistance with finances and resources from government, we have managed to build and sustain income generating businesses without much external support. In Tlotliso’s words, we invested in ourselves through hard work, learning and collaboration. All of which served us well, until the pandemic hit. With an issue that no one ever anticipated and/or prescribed a solution to, it is all of our responsibility to redefine business practices in a global epidemic that calls for isolated living and online interaction.
While many have said that young people should use this time to invest into gaining a skill and growing in at least one area on their business, which one should definitely do if they have the time and resources, I believe that we need to do more than pick up a new skill. Especially if they have at least one other employee whose livelihood depends on the job they provide. With the current unemployment rate among the youth, we cannot afford to have more people lose their income generating ventures. While the government, in partnership with various stakeholders, managed to grant some small businesses with a relief fund of up to R10 000.00 to assist with overhead expenses, the fund basket was emptied only a week or two after it was opened. This, unfortunately, leaving many small businesses with no hopes of being funded. While the funds may have benefited the recipients in March, these kinds of relief efforts are not sustainable and cannot possibly stretch wide enough to help everyone. The question then becomes one of finding sustainable solutions not only while we remain in quarantine but how we are to adapt to the new normal that awaits us on the other side.
To this effect, the ACTIVATE! Youth Economic Participation (YEP) sector recently hosted a virtual event across the ACTIVATE! social media pages. This event had various speakers come onto the live stream to share on various business solutions such as Forex Trading and other online business solutions. The event hoped to change the narrative by doing something positive and provide the youth with assistance to overcome the current economic challenges caused by the pandemic. As part of the event, a virtual pitching den was opened where Activator entrepreneurs were given the platform to pitch their businesses in a minute, live on the ACTIVATE! social media pages. This not only gave them the opportunity to take part in the event but to also market their businesses while staying at home. These include book-selling, radio, forex trading and many other businesses that are able to continue providing services during the quarantine period.
As it has been said, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the whole world into the fourth industrial revolution. However, various essential business models have yet to be digitalised. In recent news, we saw farming communities in the Eastern Cape report that they needed labourers to harvest their produce. Another farmer from the US spoke on the glitches in food production because of the middlemen who are perhaps not considered essential, this being packaging services, transport and other service providers. At this point, food and medical services are deemed to be the most essential of services, yet even those have yet to be fully digitalised. While the traditional practice of entrepreneurs is to identify a need and produce a business solution for the identified need, there is no guarantee that there will continue to be a place for many human-oriented businesses regardless of the need, even when they “open the outside” again.
Perhaps what we need to look into is investing in business counselling and refocusing currently existing businesses to speak to current needs of the consumers. In 2018, ACTIVATE! hosted the first ever Social Innovation Summit which showcased 50 social innovations at the South African Innovation Summit in Cape Town. This has been held annually ever since. This not only proves that the business ventures young people invent are in response to actual needs and are impactful in society. However, we now have the task of figuring out how we can continue supporting socially beneficial services and products without contravening the social distancing regulations. This, I believe, calls for government, the private sector, NGOs and civil society to come together and forge solutions that look beyond the lockdown to what entrepreneurship will look like in the near post-COVID 19 future. Perhaps this calls for an investment into a virtual business summit consisting of various individuals who are running businesses at different levels to determine the realistic and attainable low-cost, collaborative solutions that are necessary to either maintain or convert income generating models into ones that can continue to do so even in the face of the pandemic.