Innovation from the ACTIVATE! network

The one thing that connects Activators is their drive to contribute meaningfully towards addressing many of the challenges that face South Africa. Activators are inspired youth who want to see their ideas come alive and make a difference for themselves and those around them. It is this state of mind that makes one realise that the network is no stranger to innovate. Driving change is one of the pillars of public innovation.

The network is rich with ideas in various stages of development. Many of us are still reeling from the energy and inspiration of the recent ACTIVATE! Innovation Showcase held in Magaliesberg during January.

Here we explore a couple of ideas from within the ACTIVATE! and how these are changing the communities they are in.

What’s in a lunchbox?

Many of us have fond memories of carrying our lunchboxes to school and the excitement of finding out what was in them. The reality for many learners in Bafokeng Primary School in Gauteng is that they have to rely on the government-sponsored lunch to make it through their school day. For many, this may even be the only meal they have for the day. There is definitely a clear link between education and good nutrition. But why was Bafokeng Primary School experiencing a low turnout on the feeding scheme. And they couldn’t figure out why. Activator, Tebello Rampo, managed to connect the dots. Learners were ashamed of being seen collecting the free lunch even though they really needed it. That’s when she decided to work on the idea of a lunchbox that would be branded with the school for every learner in the school.

Rampo’s Lunchbox was one of the winning projects from the 2012 ACTIVATE! Innovation Showcase. Lunch Box was launched during June 2013.

Postbox hotspots

Every city in South Africa has its fair share of housing issues, the biggest being the continuing rise of informal settlements. By design such living spaces are “informal”, meaning many don’t have recognisable street names or numbers. This creates a challenge of connecting people with information. Enter Mpumi Mali’s idea – PVC postboxes that would suit this environment.

“I noticed that many people weren’t receiving their mail as most of it would end up lying on the street being kicked about by children”, says Mali.

During the process of getting this project on the ground, Mali and his partners made another realisation that with Wi-fi technology taking centre stage in cities and townships, these postboxes could contribute  towards making internet access easily distributed via collaboration with corporate and government agencies.

“Our ultimate goal is seeing this project touching every city and townships, contributing towards decreasing youth unemployment and being endorsed by people on the ground. We wish to also go beyond SA borders”, explains Mali.

Shaping ideas that work

Sometimes when a challenge or problem forms part of our daily life, it becomes difficult to ‘see’ it differently. We end up stuck in a cycle of looking for solutions within the problem and never really get anywhere. This cycle is something that many young change drivers are confronted with in their journey of finding solutions for challenges faced by their communities.

 “The innovation tools that are introduced to Activators during train aim to open up ways of thinking. The tools stimulate unexpected ways of looking at situations and coming up with ways of looking at problems and finding solutions we have never thought of before. If we aim to address the problems we have been living with for decades, our current way of thinking won’t do it, we must cultivate new ideas.”, says Landy Wright, Programme Director

The ACTIVATE! Innovation Toolkit

A number of innovation tools have been developed for the ACTIVATE! programme. These innovation tools are designed to enhance and amplify thinking processes, to spark creative conversations, to open up new insights into old problems and to explore innovative solutions to challenges we face in South Africa. 

Here we explore some of the innovation tools Activators are exposed to during their residential training:

Archetypes –The Archetype cards contain short stories about archetypal characters – characters that represent a particular way of acting and thinking. The cards don’t tell you the names of these characters. Nor do they tell you what they look like. Each archetype is represented by a hat they might wear. This is because archetypes are not specific people, but characters you meet over and over again in stories (and in life). You’re familiar with these characters without having to know much about them. You expect them to behave in a certain way. You can use these archetypes to help you think of different ways of dealing with a challenge. Knowing about Archetypes allows you to be mindful of how you are thinking. Are you thinking like a politician, a headmaster, a business woman, an NGO worker, an artist or a satirist? How do your inner archetypes expand or limit your ways of thinking? The more you are aware of Archetypes, the more you can liberate your thinking and the more solutions you can create.

Concept cards Often when we are confronted by a problem or a situation we make an instant judgement and jump to an instant solution or conclusion. The introduction of Concept Card provides Activators with an opportunity to examine a problem or situation through different frames of reference and perspectives. The Concepts cards aim to guide our thinking about challenges that we face. During the training the example of a figure and ground card is used. The card highlights the fact that our minds are hardwired to notice the foreground issues first and not the seemingly unimportant background issues. (We notice the figure first before the ground)  But what if the background issues are the primary issues when addressing that particular challenge? That specific object card has thus enabled the mind to consider all issues when moving to a solution, both the foreground as well as the background issues, which we might have been totally overlooked before. 

Washline – a visual way of presenting ideas by literally plotting every aspect of a project idea and ‘hanging it on a wash line’. Although the Washline comes across as a linier planning tool, new ideas and steps can be added and the project plan amended and modified simply by shifting the items on the wash-line.

Object cards – using everyday objects to unpack project ideas. This encourages creative and in-depth, critical thinking. The object cards are images of everyday objects, simply things around us that we know well. But when you apply them to problem solving and solutions creation you will see these very same objects can very powerful tools for innovative thinking because they can help you break out of your usual way of thinking and see new possibilities. The cards are there to help externalise thinking by helping to focus on something outside of the mind, for example, a hosepipe in a discussion about education can be seen as being a tool where teachers pass information through to learners. This then encourages a debate about the analogy this illustrates. The idea of teaching simply being a way of ‘piping’ information from one end to another in a very linear manner. This means you can handle that thoughts can be handled like objects on a table, rather than struggling with the foggy thoughts that sometimes appear to be in our minds. Once you’ve established the habit of seeing common objects as tools to think with, you’ll start to see the whole world as your own thinking tool box.

Icon cards – The Icon cards have descriptions of iconic people. These are real people who, through their words and actions, demonstrate ways of being in the world. Some have overcome tremendous difficulties. Some have acted in unexpected ways to show great moral character. Some have contributed knowledge that has allowed us to learn more about ourselves and our universe than we had ever imagined. All of them have at least one unique and powerful lesson we can learn. These icon cards help develop the habit of recognising remarkable traits of iconic people, not just a source of inspiration, but a potential tool to think with. For example, Nelson Mandela is known changed the course of history by encouraging reconciliation. One could then can turn this into a question by asking, ‘how can an act of reconciliation help solve a problem?’

 “The feedback we get from Activators is always so positive and many find the tools relevant to their work, whether it be running their own project or in their jobs. For example, the wash-line method helps to identify “blind spots” during planning.”, says Lauren Daniels, Training Programme Officer.

As ACTIVATE! trainers, we believe that it is possible to learn how to innovate and that public innovation is a critical component in addressing the entrenched, divisions in SA.

How ideas have changed the world

It is often said that ‘everything begins as an idea’.

Edward de Bono says, “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”

However, ideas that are never developed remain simply as dreams that reside in their owner’s heads. That where the word ‘innovation’ comes in. How are ideas turned into innovation? According to the Business, to be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable (at an economical cost’ and must satisfy an specific need. The process of innovation requires imagination, creativity and initiative.

Let’s have a look at 5 African ideas and innovations that have changed the world:

iCow app

Small-scale dairy farmers in remote areas don’t have access to valuable information about latest prices of milk or cattle, and they may not keep accurate records of important details such as their cows’ gestation periods or their livestock’s lineage – often resulting in inbreeding and disease. Kenyan farmer Su Kahumbu created iCow, an an app that works on the type of basic mobile phones farmers own. Each animal is registered with the service, which then sends SMS reminders to the farmer about milking schedules, immunisation dates and tips about nutrition and breeding or information about local vets or artificial insemination providers.


Ubuntu is a Nguni word that means ‘humanness’. In its most basic definition, Ubuntu simply states: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” It’s both a straightforward and really complicated ideology. On a deeper level, Ubuntu means individuals need other people to survive, to thrive, and to be fulfilled. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.”


While the Kenyan mobile company, Safaricom, didn’t invent money transferred, but it showed the world how to do it right. In 2007, Safaricom launched M-Pesa, Africa’s first SMS-based money transfer service. A simple yet ingenious idea, M-Pesa (for mobile, and Pesa-a Swahili word for money) lets users deposit, transfer and withdraw funds via text message. 

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

Over 25,000 Ugandan children were pushed into violent atrocities during a civil war that lasted 22 years, often killing their own families. The majority were left with severe post-traumatic stress disorder – with symptoms  such as depression, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, hostility from their former communities has left countless child soldiers alienated, making PTSD a longer and lonelier battle.

NET encourages these Ugandan children to use storytelling as a way of dealing with their trauma. A survey has shown that 80% of those who have gone through the therapy show clinical improvement


Nollywood (Nigeria’s film and video industry) is the world’s largest producer of movies. The industry produces at least 3,000 movies a year. In 2007, Nollywood procuded 1 687 feature films. That’s more movies than were made in India and the United States combined. In a country that has suffered from decades of corruption and a failure to translate significant oil wealth into a higher standard of living for the majority of people, this homegrown enterprise has brought Nigeria a new sort of attention.

Innovation = a change in thinking

The dictionary definition of the word innovation can be broadly understood as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs. It can further be understood as finding a new solution to a problem, and one that has not been done before.

As Activators, we all are faced with different challenges and as individuals, we have different passions. The issue, however, is finding the link between innovation and problem solving skills.

Some would argue that innovation cannot be acquired, rather it is something an individual either naturally possesses or not. However, to be innovative does not require a special “gift”, it merely needs a change in thinking, taking your mind to places it has been before or simply thinking “out of the box”.

Innovative thinking challenges the individual to explore the unseen, the unheard of solution that at times may seem very eccentric, but that is often what makes the difference.

I always thought of myself as an innovative thinker, sometimes needing guidance on the thought process, but generally an innovative thinker. I think that this is probably what attracted me to ACTIVATE!. During the residential training, I found myself in a space in which I could where my mind could explore and with the help of my colleagues discuss and work through ideas to fine tune them to a point where these ideas scream “INNOVATION”.

This is also where the idea of the Community Street Sports League was born.

The idea for the Sports League was to organise a Street Sports League, specifically for communities ravished by gangsterism and substance abuse. Matches take place on the street to attract community attention and build community ownership. Each community enters teams for each sport in a typical league system.

The streets of these communities are usually used for criminal activities and other social ills. Through this project, we look to use the streets in a positive manner to build community ownership, build on the sporting talents on the community and show a united front against these social ills.

Due to my extensive involvement in crime prevention, drug awareness and rehabilitation and possessing a keen interest in gang violence and the dynamics of gangs, I would often use the platforms provided by the ACTIVATE! team to passionately discuss and explore these topics. These discussions would often continue at the dinner table and one evening myself and my colleagues unintentionally started brainstorming solutions to the social problems many South African communities face.

We realised that one of the biggest problems associated to all these issues was the lack of community involvement in addressing these issues, as well as a serious lack of community ownership in taking back their streets.

In the past, numerous such as organisations the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) and Qibla attempted in addressing these challenges and issues, but often they were associated with violence and vigilantism and sometimes such violence even meant innocent civilians being injured or killed in the process.

The innovation aspect of the idea came in when I challenged myself to find a peaceful, non-violent solution to address the issues of gangsterism and drugs and also the serious problem of a lack of community ownership. Many thought that there were no peaceful solutions available to them.

Fortunately, with this particular project I feel confidence it its ability to start changing mindsets of the community as well as combating social ills, and using sport as a tool to do so.

Make your voice count

“Make your mark”, “Let your voice be heard”, “The future is in your hands”, and these are the words that are echoing on every radio station, billboard and TV advertisement. Yes, election time is upon us once again.  

This year’s elections are more than ever focused on the youth vote with all political parties excited and optimistic with the large youth turn out for the final registration weekend held on 8 and 9 February 2014. The IEC has recorded more than 24 million voters on its rolls, with a huge percentage of those registered young people between 18 and 35.

The interest that young people have taken in this years’ elections and the active way in which they are participating in community projects and, some even coming up with their own initiatives to raise awareness and make other youths conscious of what the elections really mean, is worth noting.

The feeling amongst others is that they are being “used” by the political parties and once they have been voted into power none of the promises that have been made out in each manifesto will be honored. This draws to the point that many youngsters do not understand their power and their responsibility as voters. There was a sit in at the Durban City Hall recently that was organised by a youth organisation. Here people were educated on their rights as voters and their responsibility to ensure that the party they will vote into power was held accountable for their doings. They also had a peaceful “Anti-Corruption” picket. This event raised awareness and also gave those who weren’t really sure of the whole thing a broader picture of how things work. The event was followed by a live viewing of the President’s 2014 State Of The Nations Address, this put into perspective what had been discussed and pinpointed exactly what the government should be held accountable for.

For those who feel that they have no voice or that their voice is too little to be heard, there are other avenues and structures that are in place and should be utilised at grass root level. It is as simple as attending a ward committee meeting. Here you can sit in a meeting in your community with people that live around you and listen to proposed future developments in your community and other problems that community members may have. This forum also gives one a chance to actively engage the ward committee and the councilor and hold them accountable for milestones that have not been reached. Indirectl, you will also be holding the government responsible. Another way, in which the youth can actively add their voice is to form youth clubs where the youth of a particular area can discuss issues directly affecting them and appoint a representative to forward these issues to the local councilor. This would be effective as many voices are heard better than one.

The onus is one those who know better to educate and enlighten those who seem to be apathetic because their apathy could be led by the fact that they do not fully understand how they are affected or how to engage their voices when it comes to the elections and accountability. It is in YOUR hands.

To vote or not to vote?

Join a live debate hosted by Live Magazine SA as they launch their Voting Is Power Campaign aims to capture the attitudes of young South Africans to democracy and the upcoming election.

Taking place at JoziHub in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 11 March, the youth debate will feature a panel of thought-leaders and influencers including DJ and 5FM presenter DJ Fresh, comedian Kagiso Lediga and other young leaders.

Other young people will also join in via Google Hangouts from 88mph in Cape Town, the Steve Biko Foundation, Ginsberg in King William’s Town.

Click here to book your seat in Cape Town, Johannesburg or King William’s Town.

Young Migrants

Migrancy and immigration are two highly contentious and divisive concepts in modern democratic societies. In Western Europe and North America, migrancy is a national debate, which in certain instances has become an important election decider. South Africa as a young democracy is no exception to this sensitive topic. The apartheid past has engineered a complex type of internal migration which is unique because it was purely socially engineered, due to large separate development, many people, mostly young; had to migrate and settle in areas of development seeking employment. This type of migration could be categorised as pseudo-urbanisation; meaning people are moving into cities due to poverty, however cities not designed to accommodate such large influxes.

Migrancy first and foremost can be simply defined as a condition or phenomenon of habitual movement from one place of residence to another. In an African and South African context migrancy and economics are inseparable. Migrants in most cases are young people who are economically active, who establish themselves in a foreign nation/culture on a temporary basis, and commute between the two societies. Friction is common with such movements, particularly in homogenous societies like South Africa, xenophobia and violence being the common feature of these conflicts.

As a means of addressing this challenge, it is important to first and foremost to view young migrants as an identity, a counter-culture and a society rather than a group of foreign nationals. Furthermore mainstream society needs to be educated about the value of migrants in society, the amount of contribution they make to the economies they participate in; good examples in this regard are cities like New York, which is known as the city of migrants. South African society need to be socialised to embrace cosmopolitanism; an ideology that regards all human groups as belonging to a single community; a concept which is very similar to the ideal of Ubuntu. Young migrants are not in competition with the indigenous population, but are vital in the creation of dynamic and progressive societies.

Nothing for us without us

Youth in South Africa and the rest of Africa need to begin defining what Youth Service means to them and what the broader aim of youth service programmes should be in addressing the high levels of unemployment in Africa. As the main beneficiaries and participants of National Youth Service (NYS) programmes youth need to begin defining and owning NYS programmes and directing the resources injected into them to address their own challenges.

 Youth in Africa have been labelled a ‘Youth bulge’ in the academic circles due to the fact that they are causing a challenge to governments who have to address and find solutions to the high levels of unemployment facing Africa today. The question of whether the large number of youth in Africa today and tomorrow is a burden or an opportunity to African states is one that is yet to be answered.

For those who don’t know what National Youth Service is, NYS can be broadly defined as  “an organised period of substantial engagement and contribution to the local, national, or world community, recognised and valued by society, with minimal monetary compensation to the participant” (Sherraden 2001;2)

National Youth Service programmes such as the South Africa’s National Youth Service, the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps and other youth service related programmes such as lov Life, City Year South Africa, NARYSEC and many others were represented at the “National Youth Service, Employability, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Livelihoods” Learning Forum that was held at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 25th and 26th November 2013.

The two hosts of the forum were Volunteer & Service Enquiry Southern Africa (VOSESA) whose mission is to ‘support the growth of knowledge about civic service and volunteering in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region through research, publishing and evidence based advocacy as well as Innovations In Civic Participation (ICP) an American based organisation involved in promoting sustainable development and social change in the youth civic engagement space.

The main aim of the learning forum was to draw upon and share the research and learnings of NYS programmes from African countries across the continent.  19 African, 2 European and 2 Northern American countries were represented on the day which made for a very interesting mix of culture, experience, language and opinion.

Though the learning forum covered a broad range of topics and conversations such as ‘What can NYS do for Youth entrepreneurship?’, ‘How can NYS prepared young people for employment?’, ‘Private sectors role in enhancing youth employability through NYS’ and ‘How can NYS prepare young people to build their livelihoods when they are unemployed?’, the key focus areas of the forum was the need for strategies for strengthening youth employability, entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods through NYS.   

One of the highlights of the forum was a research paper that has been compiled by Carrie Bodley-Bond and Karena Cronin based on a study done by Carrie, Karena, Mariatu Fonnah, Dr. Tinashe Pfigu, Susan Stroud and Marie Trellu-Kane on National Youth Service in Sub-Saharan Africa countries. This research gives youth of Africa and Southern African opportunity to learn about what programmes on the continent are like and what promised practices can be promoted in making youth service programmes more effective.

As a young person who had the opportunity to attend the event and represent the Serve Is Organisation of which I am a member I feel it is very important that youth in Africa begin participating in programmes not just as beneficiaries but as advisers, designers, and as advocators for change in programmes where they feel that programmes are not addressing the root of youth related challenges; If the challenges of youth are unemployment, creating sustainable livelihoods and the need for great support in entrepreneurial activities then youth today must demand that the focus of programmes both private and public begin addressing this need. Above and beyond that the mainstreaming of such programmes must become a priority to ensure that local, rural and urban youth begin benefiting from such programmes aim to have a ‘one size fits all approach’ which ignores the fact that youth are a diverse group.

The happenings in North Africa during the ‘Arab Spring’ reflect quite clearly what happens when the voices of youth are not heard or listened to and the learning forum in itself represents the first step in bringing attention to the need for YS to begin developing and addressing African Youths pressing needs and challenges which will not just be fixed with short term solutions that do not empower youth themselves to solve their own issues.

The youth represented at the forum took a resolution to begin mainstreaming the conversation on what national youth service is and have taken it upon themselves to encourage other youth to join the conversation. To join this movement of Youth seeking to understand, define and own the ideology of youth service follow me on @Smnukwa, or send me an email on

“Nothing for us without us” – African Youth Service and Beyond

Sherraden M (2001) Youth Service as a strong policy (CSD Working Paper). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

ACTIVATE! takes action for 2014

The Innovation Showcase was more than just a gathering of 350 Activators from across the country. It was also an opportunity to plan a course of tangible action around pertinent issues that the network can put its weight behind for this year. So, Activators each had time to discuss, plot and work around 7 areas of concern to come up with campaigns and initiatives.

Here’s the breakdown of the campaigns in no particular order: 

  1. Preserving our environmental issue: this group of Activators proposes that national expos must be co-ordinated throughout the year around four themes: re-purpose, re-use, recycle and reduce. Watch their campaign video here.
  2.  Redefining South African history, redefining a collective AfriKan identity. The action: when filling in forms, Activators are encouraged to not choose black, white, coloured rather to add ‘Afrikan”. #iamafrikan is the hashtag to use and follow to support this campaign. They also have a Facebook Page which provides more information about their campaign. At an appointed date and time, all Activators are asked to please help by sending ‘please call me’s to Mac Maharaj’ with the words ‘I am Afrikan’. Please click here to read our facilitators’ perspective on this group’s discussion. Watch their campaign video here.
  3.  Gender and sexuality to highlight the brutal violation many South Africans face because of their gender and/or sexual orientation. The campaign will be in 3 phases: 1. Print t-shirts with #justbecause I am gay/lesbian doesn’t mean….2. Go into malls and do freeze mobs. Co-ordinated across provinces by Activators 3. YouTube video montages. First freeze mob will happen on 01 March 2013. Please email
  4.  Education – focusing on schools and restoring pride in the physical facilities where learning takes place – on 16 June 2014, Activators across the country will arrange to clean up, plant and brighten up schools in an effort to restore pride in our schools.  Watch their campaign video here.
  5.  The A! campaign is about Accountability and Action. Its main aim is to inspire young people to challenge the status quo under the theme “I have power”. One of their first actions will be a sit in outside parliament on the opening day of parliament (13 February). As well as placing Activators at voting stations to encourage young people to understand the power of their vote.
    “I have power, you have power, we have power”; “My vote is my power”; “Know your councillor”; “Imagine a country where your vote is an employment contract”; “Nothing for us without us” – These are some of the statements that echo the sentiments of the A! campaign. Watch their campaign video here
  6.  The ACTIVATE! fund: Activators are creating fund that will help them finance each others’ social initiatives. The aim is to raise R100 000 by the next showcase. Watch their campaign video here.
  7. Substance abuse – fun without drugs. Youth need to say I am fine without drugs. They must challenge and change the status quo. Activators are encouraged to live by this motto and pass it on in their projects. Watch their campaign video here.

Activators campaign on redefining race

A vast majority of social development programmes in developing countries are aimed at shifting mindsets, which consequently will lead to a change in behaviour if the intervention is deemed to be “successful”. The vision of ACTIVATE! Change Drivers finds itself squarely in this position. Being in a development and more specifically, a training space for young leaders, it becomes imperative to examine why mindsets need shifting and maybe more importantly why we hold “these” mindsets to begin with.

It is an incredible thing to witness young, powerful leaders coalesce around a conversation that is central to understanding of the underlying ‘mind sets’ that we hold as a nation. An urgent conversation that unearths something often buried in our national discourse. A conversation that speaks to the core of our experience of history and the imprints it has left in our minds, hearts and bodies.

This is what happened when 70 Activators at the innovation showcase came together to begin a conversation that jump started a campaign that explores the “Real History of South Africa”. A diverse range of participants representing many different cultures and sub cultures gathered to define what is missing, what is needed and what they want to say about South African history as we understand it today.

Digging into the Conversation

The heart of the discussion that emerged was streaked by the fingerprints of both our Colonial and Apartheid pasts. We opened up a space that acknowledged that we have the opportunity to re- write history: the true story of our country. On the surface we were talking about writing the real history of SA but at the core of our discussion, we were talking about race, our oppressive and violent history, the woundedness Apartheid left behind, a need to heal as a country, the need to tell our stories in our own way, the need to challenge inherited representations of our cultures and build a collective identity.

There was a burning desire to engage questions and frustrations that do not rest. To speak out and salvage parts of ourselves left disorientated in the passing of time. This was a historical reclaiming of self, a remembering of that which has been dismembered and a desire to pull the missing threads of history into our future imagined ideal world. This gathering acknowledged that “even though the rain has come, the dusty traces still remain on ancient faces” ; even though we say we are free as South Africans there is so much that holds us hostage. The resounding claim that the young leaders made that day was that we need to go back and take stock of ourselves and what we lost along the way in order to authentically move forward.

Renee Hector Kannemeyer and I, Injairu Kulundu had the pleasure of facilitating this conversation that steered the participants into the heart of things left unsaid in this country. It was a beautiful, and intense space to hold and instead of a gentle facilitation, we took a directive approach to facilitating this very critical and emotional space. There was a soul connection between us and we directed this powerful space for 70 dynamic and passionate young people. We held the space tightly as we moved in and out of a facilitation and co- facilitation space, leading and supporting the group. The momentum was fast and directive, yet attentive to the very powerful stories and contributions made by each participant. We needed to be connected or else the specific out-comes of this delicate emotional and potentially volatile space would be severely compromised. We understood the implications of selecting this specific topic and were both drawn to facilitating this space. On a subconscious level we connected with each other as we moved into a shared purpose, passion and urgency. This created a soul connection of mind will and emotion a connection that ensured that it remained a productive and safe place for Activators to share.

We started by saying that this could potentially be an emotional space and that it is important that we listen with respect without judgement as we all have a story to tell and that our stories were equally important.

The discipline and focus it takes to engage a topic that is at once politically flagrant and personally sensitive was demonstrated by the Activators as they collectively created a space where each person’s input could be valued. The way in which people listened to each other demonstrated a maturity that seemed to acknowledge that there are many different identities present in this country and each identity has a different question and challenge they hold with regard to identity in this country. Activators took the space we provided to share their own story, the story of their people. Although some participants drew pictures, most participants expressed themselves in text. We gathered all the text and harvested common threads to craft a collective story.

One Activator spoke of the need for us to acknowledge that the San were the first people in South Africa. Another Activator shared the following: “I know that the stories captured in our history books, is not the true history of the Xhosa people. The challenge is that I do not know what the true history of the Xhosa people is. The deep sadness displayed in that reflection was profound. The urgency to find out what that story was, was shared by many activators in the group. What was powerful about the space was the Activators paused and took time out to reflect on who we are and where we came from and deconstruct some of the complexities of our colonial and apartheid identities.

Understanding the campaign

After establishing a sense of what everyone felt was important we were left with the daunting task of trying to synergise these concerns into a campaign that could thematically capture what we wanted to say. All of the ideas presented could carry with it a campaign of its own- how then were we to find something that could invite the rest of South Africa to participate in this conversation? What vehicle could we use to jump start this conversation? The multiplicity of voices present having this one conversation made one thing clear. Despite the different background we come from, despite our different experiences of apartheid, we are bound by the fact that we belong to this land. This strange place we have come to occupy is our home. We are South Africans- but this sentiment did not feel like it was enough. The mere word African was so grossly misconstrued by the apartheid regime that we felt like we needed to reclaim this word. The central anthem of our campaign then became “ WE are Afrikans!”

Introducing the Campaign

Our flagship campaign is designed to reclaim this position of ‘Africaness’ and imbue it with a sense of power and pride long eroded because of our painful history. It is a defiance campaign that responds directly to the act of racial classification engineered by the Apartheid regime.

Apartheid fostered deep racial stereotypes and the belief that cultures should not mix but that they should “develop separately along their own lines”. These lines were usually drawn starkly by the Apartheid government. Still till today our identities are often based on these classifications. Not often are we fully aware of the political, historical and social impact this has had on us. By referring to people as “ Blacks”, Coloureds”, “ Indians” when we describe people in our every day speech, as well as during self -classification, we are perpetuating the racial categories of Apartheid South Africa and consciously or unconsciously entrenching racial prejudice. We are continuing to reinforce intergroup dynamics and social practices which were crucial in highlighting our differences rather than our similarities during the past regime and does not promote national unity (Alexander, N 2006).

We all participate in the continuation of this process through everyday forms institutionalised racial classification. When asked to fill in registration forms at banks, universities or in government institutions they always always ask us to clarify ourselves racially. Our campaign asks us to rethink these moments of racial classification and to respond in a defiant way. When they ask you whether you are Black, White, Coloured, Indian tick none of these. There is a block that says ‘other’ that has always fascinated me- what does it mean to be other in this context. This campaign gives us the perfect opportunity to respond yes we are other- We are Afrikans! Next time you are confronted with this choice- choose other and write Afrikan next to it.

Reflections on the Showcase

The 2014 ACTIVATE! Innovation Showcase was a resounding success with over 340 delegates coming together to celebrate their shared identity, the roles they are playing as young leaders, to share their projects and innovations and also to welcome in the latest graduates to the network.

The event added more fire to the growing shared identity of Activators from different corners of South African society from poor to rich communities, from graduates of top universities to school leavers, across all races, languages and cultures.

“The most rewarding part of the experience for me was seeing this ACTIVATE! network demonstrate an emerging solidarity, shared identity and singular voice as leaders who want a better life for themselves, their communities and their country, all in the spirit of nation building.”, says Chris Meintjes, CEO of ACTIVATE!

Click here to read Activator, Lionel Kgatla, perspective of the showcase.