How can South Africa’s young people find innovative tools for not just every day challenges, social transformation in a country that’s going through a phase of transition?

This was the question asked of a group of more than 20 Activators as they gathered at Athlone’s YMCA this past Saturday, using every day scenarios as case studies and within a set time coming up with novel solutions.

Despite Eskom’s loadshedding schedule affecting the audio visual component of the Exchange, participants remained enthusiastic.

Facilitators Ashley Roman and Gray Macguire ensured that the participants were well briefed and those time limits on discussions were strictly adhered to.

Five different groups of Activators were tasked with going through newspapers, placed on their tables and choosing one case study where they could apply innovative tools to bring about social transformation in not just a particular community but universally.

Before any discussion could start, group members introduced themselves to one another. At the table where this reporter was seated, Dumisa Thetiwe spoke about a project he had started in the Eastern Cape and the difficulties he had encountered.

Cathy Achilles, who was celebrating her birthday, along with Keith Knoop, Wande Madikane and Lizerine Mashaba made up the rest of the group.

Mashaba who used crowdfunding to build an orphanage in Khayelitsha encouraged Thethiwe who was struggling with funding his project.

Madikane, who works for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation says it starts recruiting students in Grade 6, and followed through with them, checking on their academic performance right through high school.

“The application process is quite lengthy…academic (performance) plays a role but we’re looking for students who are thinking, we want to know their thought processes and whether they’ve got potential (to go further),” said Madikane.

So stringent was the selection criteria, Madikane says only 100 of the over 4000 applicants are accepted into the programme each year.

“And through the application process we can assess students. We’re looking at whether they are active in their communities, whether they play sports. Successful applicants have to be active in the programme, you can’t be receiving funds and then just chill,” says Madikane.

He says their monitoring was quite effective, and that between 70 to 80% of those participating in the programme for high school students would eventually be part of the tertiary programme.

Madikane says the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation programme in high schools was specifically targeting disadvantaged youngsters.

After the participants at the table had introduced themselves, Roman started the conversation by stressing the importance of innovative ideas.

After a short adjournment for tea, and a music interlude, participants picked up the newspapers on their tables, identifying a challenging issue they thought could use some innovative solutions.

Going through the People’s Post community newspaper, the group narrowed down two subjects. Expanded Public Works Programme workers in Manenberg complaining over their remuneration, and residents in an Athlone complaining that CCTV cameras, erected to fight crime, were instead an intrusive nuisance and invaded their privacy. Eventually the group settled on the former subject by means of a vote.

After deliberating for over 20 minutes, the groups presented their solutions to the packed YMCA hall.

Group 1: Chose to tackle the issue of housing developments which was isolated from economic opportunities. They argued that decentralized economic activities had to be encouraged by the authorities to spur developments in communities.

Group 2: They tackled the issue of how communities could deal with child abuse in their midst. And their solution was quite innovative, using safe houses within the communities which were colour-coded. This meant that children who suffered one or the other form of abuse could seek support within their communities by going to homes where they would receive the most appropriate assistance.

Group 3: EPWP workers in Manenberg had complained that they were short-changed when it came to their wages by contractors. Although this had been happening for months, the workers only started complaining towards the end of the year as the contractors were preparing to shut down for the holidays. The solution that the group came up with was the workers needed to participate more actively in the planning and implementation of EPWP projects in their communities.

Group 4: Tried to find a solution for teachers who were complaining about the selection, and competence of exam markers. Amongst the complaints from teachers were that these markers lacked an understanding of South Africa’s education system. The group suggested that teachers had to be part of the decision-making process on the appointment of markers. They also argued that there had to be a measure of transparency by the Department of Education, so that their decisions could be digested and decoded by teachers.

Group 5: Looked at the issues of grant beneficiaries, especially pensioners who were being targeted by crooks, fleecing them of their social grants. Their solution was to empower youngsters, who often lived with their grandparents to help them and ward off crooks. This would be done by using role-playing to educate grant beneficiaries, and through this using “fresh innovative ideas” on how the whole process worked.

Group 5’s ideas on using role-play were chosen by the audience as the best innovative tool in combating a real problem.

Roman said afterwards: “These are not just ideas but ideas that can bring social change. We should be using networks to have meaningful connections with each other”.

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