Strong social networks within their communities is what is needed to stop young people engaging in risky behaviour, says Dr Cephas Mutami, social scientist at ACTIVATE! Change Drivers youth network.
More than 3,400 youth have been trained as change agents or ‘activators’ by Activate, a non-profit engaged in empowering the youth through programmes that include leadership skills, mentorship and access to the Activate youth network to leverage those skills and start businesses or projects to aid their communities.
In order to gain a better understanding of the socio-economic and political impact of youth social networks such as the one set up by Activate, Dr Mutami and his team analysed the role of the young activators in their network and established that social youth networks are a viable development strategy, particularly in countries such as South Africa, where development is still “uneven, fragile and difficult”.
“Young people, when capacitated with the right skills and knowledge, motivation and resources, are capable of initiating ripples of positive change in their local communities. Crucial to the development narrative is energising and supporting social networks for youth development to transform societies for the good of all,” Dr Mutami reiterates.
The research found that social programmes that reach young people and offer them a “positive outlook” for the future, help them avoid indulging in risky behaviour and pulls them out of unsafe environments – which is a key objective of Activate youth programmes. In fact, activators are also providing a voice for usually marginalised communities through their active citizenry activities.
The youth can be catalysts for social change in their communities if youth voices are integrated in public-decision making nationwide; instead of having an entire generation labelled as “victims” of a broken system. Youth development programmes needed to be strategic in their efforts to collaborate with the youth and drive change, Dr Mutami says.
The research reveals that the concept of social networks on the ground and their likely impact stems from three key concepts: centrality, cohesion and structural equivalence (patterns of connections).
Activate youth that have been through its programmes and remained within its social network, are running diversified businesses which are strategically anchored in addressing local community problems and issues. Funding is of course a huge problem for small business in South Africa and is the biggest challenge to youth entrepreneurs too.
“In terms of social force, activators are running career and educational support programmes in their communities. Most of the social initiatives of activators are targeting young people between 15 to 35 years, with a general local community target. The services offered by activators in their communities reflect the general challenges communities in South Africa face, especially in rural areas where government services are not visible,” reports Dr Mutami.
The Activate youth network teaches young people about self-identity, which empowers them to think about who they are as individuals and what they can do in their communities to change other people’s lives.
Overall, the study reveals that the Activate network has managed to positively impact South African communities, particularly at the local level. “Young people should not be seen as the problem, but as a critical mass for driving positive change in communities,” Dr Mutami adds.
From left: Activators Kay-Dee Dineo, Fatima Hoosain, Ongeziwe Jaca, Brian Qamata, Candice Collocott, Bhongolwethu Neo Sonti
ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.
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Facebook: ACTIVATE! Change Drivers