Social Innovation- Making Ubuntu Fashionable

By Anele Gcwabe

In a world where there is a new buzz word every day, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of using trendy words. We often find ourselves going to extremes, overusing this “up-to-date’’ jargon in an attempt to remain current, we end up neglecting the essence behind these “new” words. In every space where prominent business owners and young people meet, you are guaranteed to hear the terms ‘Social entrepreneurship’, ‘Innovation’, ‘Social innovation’ and ‘Social change’. I cannot help but wonder how social innovation will ever work as a tool for social change when the jargon around this ideology repels the layman.

South Africa is fortunate because she has ACTIVATE! Change Drivers to make certain that we do not replace the heart with “meaningless” jargon. Let’s talk about Social Innovation.

Social Innovation can be described as a fresh way to solve a social problem. This solution is considered to be more effective, efficient; sustainable and generally useful to all members of the society. The core of social innovation is that it seeks to add value to society as a whole rather than just grow the profits of private individuals.  So, social innovation is ‘Ubuntu’ on steroids. Yes, steroids. Let me explain. In exactly the same way gym junkies use steroids to enhance muscle build up, social entrepreneurs combine the African model of ‘Ubuntu’ with the capitalist business model to fix social ills and earn an income while doing that. A combination of Ubuntu and entrepreneurship breeds social innovation. Using business as a force for good. Taking the village to market. Moving from ‘I’ to ‘We’. Taking small steps to global change. I could write a book.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is bringing ‘Ubuntu’ back (in exactly the same way Justin Timberlake brought sexy back) by hosting South Africa’s first ever Social Innovations Summit (SIS). After attending the South African Innovations Summit (SAIS) in 2017, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is partnering with SAIS to host the Social Innovations Summit within the Innovations Summit in September 2018.

Imagine a colourful assemblage of young and old in stimulating conversations about capitalism, global inequality and the role of business in society. Imagine a space where the leaders of tomorrow are sending a clear message to the business and political leaders of today.  Imagine a space where the business and political leaders of today are listening to the leaders of tomorrow. It sounds like magic, but it’s really just going back to the basics- unifying the community through the sharing of innovative (in simpler terms, ground-breaking) ideas.

You might be reading this and thinking that SAIS and ACTIVATE! Change Drivers are duplicating efforts by having a Social Innovation Summit within an Innovations Summit. I mean, it’s the same thing right? Wrong. Allow me to simplify it for you. The SAIS focuses on commercial innovation while ACTIVATE’s SIS will focus on social innovation. Although certain goals of these two innovation models overlap, commercial and social innovation often have very different goals. Innovation, on its own, may be very successful in a profit-making context but lacks the ability to address extreme social challenges. Using commercial innovation to address social issues would not only be a waste of resources, it would also break the trust between the enterprises and its consumers. Social innovation is fuelled by trust and social capital. These are two materials that are not easy to buy.

You can view commercial innovation and social innovation as twin sisters. One sister is very good with numbers and seeks to push profit-driven success at a large scale. The other sister is more concerned with how and where she can create the most impact in decreasing inequality and helping those who are in need of support. I’ll be a social innovator for a moment and give you an example that will highlight the difference between these two sisters.

Think of Gog’ uFlo’s orphanage down the road. Gogo saw that there were a lot of orphaned children in her community. Because of the absence of adult supervision and poverty, these orphans grow up to be criminals and drug addicts. Gog’ uFlo decides to open up her home to these young kids so that they can have a sense of belonging and adult supervision so that they don’t feel obligated to turn to crime and drugs for survival. Gogo gets funding from the local municipality to help feed these orphans, she’s a social innovator. Sis’ Thembi, the commercial innovator would have failed at solving this problem because she would have simply seen a market where she could make a profit and expected the orphans to pay rent. Both these women were innovative because they came up with solutions to a problem, the difference is that one is profit driven and the other is impact driven…

For the strength of our community, ACTIVATE! Brings South Africa the Social Innovations Summit!

ACTIVATE! leading Social Innovation

Often innovation is associated with technology and the “for-profit” sector. However, in the ACTIVATE! Network there are many young people (Activators), who use innovative approaches in addressing South Africa’s most pressing challenges.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, in partnership with the SA Innovation Summit, offers a platform for nurturing, developing and showcasing social impact through the first ever Social Innovation Summit. This summit within a summit, hosted by ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, is a platform for social entrepreneurs to demonstrate how taking an innovative approach to overcoming problems can change their communities for the public good.

The Activators who will be showcasing at this year’s summit are just a few members of a network of more than 2500 young people who are using innovative thinking to overcome social ills like unemployment, a lack of skills development, substance abuse and financial barriers to accessing higher education, among a myriad of other social ills.

Meet Social Entrepreneur, Xolisile Malgas

One Activator who exhibited at the 2017 Innovation Summit, Xolisile Malgas from the Eastern Cape founded Mwanga Youth Development Fund. He developed a financial model, the R1 Campaign to overcome financial barriers to accessing higher education while teaching emotional intelligence, financial literacy and developing a savings culture among young learners aged 13-24. The idea is that if a child saves R1 a day from the time they’re in grade 8, by the time they finish grade 12 they would have saved over R100k for tuition fees.

With the aim of overcoming financial illiteracy, Mwanga Youth Development Fund aims to get youth actively involved in the development of a household budget, setting them up for future financial decision making, and directly impacting their socio-economic conditions. Some of the connections Xolisile made at the 2017 Innovation Summit include:

  • Mentorship from Hashveer Singh (ManUp Industries) who also became a non-executive board member of Mwanga. Singh guides strategic thinking for Mwanga and is helping them move into the digital space.
  • Kutlwanong, Centre for Maths, Science and Technology in Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape has partnered with Mwanga to provide emotional intelligence training to learners.
  • Kedge, provides tools to Mwanga to ascertain how they would function in 2030 and what the political, societal and economic impact would be. Mwanga was also offered a 5-day training course in Stellenbosch with The Futures School.

Check out Xolisile’s profile below and stay tuned for more #SISFlashback2017 news from the Social Innovation Summit! 



ACTIVATE! is a network of 2 500 young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skill, sense of self and spark to innovatively address tough challenges and find creative solutions that can reshape our society.

On social media:

Twitter: @ActivateZA

Facebook: ACTIVATE! Change Drivers

Instagram: Activate_za


Social Innovation Summit (SIS) @ The SA Innovation Summit

Members of the ACTIVATE! Network have developed innovative solutions to tackle various social issues in their communities. Social innovators and entrepreneurs will converge at the Cape Town Stadium from 12-14 September 2018 alongside other delegates to showcase their innovative ideas and initiatives while providing a social innovation edge to the summit.

ACTIVATE! was part of the SA Innovation Summit in 2017 and saw it as a great opportunity to bring members of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Network to this platform to engage with top innovators from various industries. Some of the focus areas these young inspiring leaders will showcase under include, but are not limited to:

  • Youth Economic Participation
  • Health
  • Literacy
  • Interconnectedness and Inclusivity
  • Active Citizenship

For further details about the Social Innovation Summit, please email communications@localhost


ACTIVATE! is a network of 2 500 young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skill, sense of self and spark to innovatively address tough challenges and find creative solutions that can reshape our society.

On social media:

Twitter: @ActivateZA

Facebook: ACTIVATE! Change Drivers

Instagram: Activate_za

Hein Scheepers – Guidy Worx

Guidy Worx

George, Western Cape

Hein Scheepers

084 7878 033


IG: Ras_Hein

Twitter: Ras_Hein

Guidy Worx provides a platform for under-exposed Artists in the Western Cape by organising arts-based events, such as concerts, exhibitions, open mic sessions and festivals. The project works to mainstream arts and arts-based community development, with the belief that art is one of the most potent tools to transform human consciousness, and make people aware of social issues, while creating solutions to overcome social deprivation.


Duane Kok – Students Lead

Students Lead

Pietermaritzburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal

Duane Kok


Facebook: studentslead  

Students Lead recognises the issue of low academic performance and the lack of career development guidance for vulnerable youth in grades 9-12. The organisation addresses this gap by running after-school support programmes where youth have access to Academic Coaches who facilitate further learning in various school subjects. Through workshops and mentorship, the flagship program (operational since 2014), has been developed to provide exam support for grade 12’s during their National Senior Certificate Exams.  

Aloma Malgas – Rea Thusa

Rea Thusa

Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Aloma Malgas


Rea Thusa is an NPO operating in a community where substance abuse, crime and a lack of infrastructure leave youth vulnerable and without direction. The organisation seeks to address this problem by providing youth with educational support, hope and guidance through campaigns, fun fares and various community events. It is the hope that by providing youth with resources and support, their minds will be unlocked to realise their dreams and make a change in their community.


Bulumko Gana – Genius at Work

Genius At Work

Gugulethu, Cape Town, Western Cape

Bulumko Gana


FB: Bulumko Stifler Gana

IG: bulumkogana

With the aim of combating youth unemployment by providing capacity building for content creation, Genius At Work introduces Photography and videography as an extramural activity to youth ages 13-18, living and attending school in the townships of Cape Town, who can later enter into the Creative industry as a career. By equipping students with digital marketing skills, they will be encouraged to take up Google and Facebook exams as a means of employability in the digital world, and gain skills that will better their lives.