Youth at the eye of the innovation storm

By Action Setaka

Innovation has always been the foundation and centre of focus for ACTIVATE!. This innovation has been defined by ability to come with well thought and sustainable ideas to the problem of society. It is a concept which is now widely used by many Activators when they define who they are.

To me, social innovation means coming with new, sustainable solutions of society, collectively and multi sectoral with an aim of improving social and material conditions of our people. It is a concept which more or less seeks to minimise our dependency on government and the private sector. Social innovation means stopping to see our people as beneficiaries of projects but as partners and active role players in the fight against poverty, unemployment, poor education and many other social issues we are facing.

I believe that social innovation can assist young people in moving forward with their ideas and plans without necessarily relying on a 3rd party for operations and execution of their vision. If ideas and projects heavily or single handedly rely on 3rd parties in a form of private sector donors, they decide the direction and fate of your own projects and if decisions, direction and form are decided by them, your idea loses its innovative character and cannot qualify to be declared as innovative. Thinkers, activists and social entrepreneurs must therefore employ strategies and interventions which are sustainable and self-reliant. I’m not raising this because I’m hostile to donations, all I am stressing is that our solutions to social issues must be so sharp that donors and funders join us as equal partners towards our vision.

My ideal social innovation summit is a meeting of extraordinary minds, think tanks and doers which will save us from the demise of social activism through corporate social investments which is succeeding in silencing activism and customising activists ideas into pushing monopolistic corporate objectives. My ideal social innovation summit is the one which will prepare us to survive the scary 4th industrial revolution. This coming world of robots and apps needs social innovators that prepare young people to face and be active participants and role players (given that close to zero apps are in our African languages). The Summit must assist with the resurrection of our already dead languages, while schools are graveyards of our African Languages because of emphasis in science, maths and English, Technology or 4th industrial revolution is likely to be the tombstone of our African languages.  Innovative minds in literacy arena must come with ideas on saving ourselves from this possible catastrophe. My ideal social innovation summit is the one which will come with ideas of re-establishing lost relationship with the land while government is busy with amendments of the constitution. The Summit must present projects which will improve the economy and identity of our people prior and post land victory.

The gist of this article is that the  social innovation is not a role of a single sector, individuals, authorities or government to be precise, but it is a duty of all of us engineering ourselves toward economic growth, safe and healthy living in South Africa while not losing our identity. The anti-state and anti-private sector rhetoric can be politically correct and have nice soundbites, but it deepens our divisions and leaves us with contentment and comfortability in criticising, while neglecting our duty to transform lives. It is not easy, but we must find common ground and work together. Innovative thinking is one of the factors which can make this “equal partnerships” to be possible.

The ACTIVATE! Change drivers network is successfully linking different like-minded young people, influential sector leaders and entrepreneurs who support each other in bring lasting changes in South Africa. Through the Activators-led initiatives that our network is undertaking and is part of, social innovation has nicely played itself in these projects. I can make an example of Africa Mayibuye Economic Hub Accelerator led by Activator Tshepo Mabuya and  Lebohang Matlabe in the Free State, which assist prospective entrepreneurs with running and sustaining businesses without losing their African element. Dineo Moreki in North West assists young people with psychological support and basic needs throughout their schooling period to ensure that they are not defocused by social aspects in schools. These are examples of how social innovation is playing itself in the network.

So let’s all put our energies and passions on social innovation. Nothing about us, without us. It starts with us playing a leading  role…..masivumeni ukuthunywa.


Action Setaka is an Ambassador of the African Observatory for Science, Technology and innovation within the African Union Commission writes in his personal capacity.

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