Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and its partner entity, Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET), hosted a “Thought Lab Webinar” on 9 July on the value of youth development to society and the challenges programmes may experience in the present economic situation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Entitled Committing to our youth. Committing to our future, the event highlighted the role many CRET alumni and other young professionals are playing on the frontlines of the response to Covid-19.

‘’It powerfully demonstrates the future value to society of committing to the development of young people in the present, especially in an increasingly uncertain world,’’ the Foundation said. There is a sense that the Covid-19 pandemic is not the last of global pandemics, and other crises, like the climate crisis, confront humanity. In the same way that preparations needed to be made to anticipate the surge in Covid-19 infections, so too is the development of young people now society’s insurance for its future. This however is not to take away from the present lives of young people.

Young people and representatives from youth development organisations, the private sector, non-profit organisations and the media addressed a wide range of youth development issues at the Thought Lab.

Chaired by Mabutho Mthembu, chairperson of the Youth Managers Foundation, the panel included Phuti Mahenyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers SA and a Foundation trustee; Naka Hlagala, Project Coordinator at the Phembani Group; Christian Phephenyane, the Corporate Affairs and Human Capital executive at Pilanesberg Platinum Mine; CRET alumni Dineo Nono and Cyril Madiba; and Chantelle Oosthuizen, the Executive Director of CRET. Dr Tshepo Motsepe, the First Lady of South Africa, offered the closing remarks.

While the Thought Lab discussed youth in general terms, it recognised that young people possessed different levels of skills, aptitudes and access opportunities and had different needs. This needed to be taken into account in the development and implementation of interventions, and it was vital that the voices of young people were represented.

The need to continue support for youth development programmes, more so under the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic, was reaffirmed. Young people are among the most severely impacted, including in terms of the interruption of their studies and livelihood prospects, as well as their emotional wellbeing. Support however need not only take the form of financial support for companies experiencing constraints, panelists said. Coaching, mentorship, soft skills development, work-readiness training and job shadowing opportunities were among some of the in-kind support that corporates may offer. Not all corporates however had suffered losses due to Covid-19. Some sectors, like those offering online services, had improved their position and sought to do more through their CSI offerings.

In the context of Covid-19, immediate student needs included access to devices and data. However, while the pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital skills, this requires proficiency in basic skills like reading, which is a necessary and urgent development area. This holistic and historical perspective to positioning young people for opportunities spotlighted the importance of Early Childhood Development (ECD).

The Thought Lab decried the emphasis of support on young people who are “already doing well” and earmarked for tertiary study support, and not young people more greatly marginalised from opportunity and in need. In this context, alternative skills development routes also needed to be strengthened, including for artisans and other scarce skills.

Youth entrepreneurship too needed to be encouraged and supported, particularly through offsetting the high degree of off-shore procurement with greater, strategic local investment. Onerous regulations for the start-up of small businesses however needed to be eased.

The broader corporate sector was called on to draw on the mining industry’s experience of charters. It obligates the sector to invest in skills development as required by the industry and to account for the number of people that have been absorbed into employment as well as those supported to establish enterprises that may meet the industry’s procurement needs.

In her closing remarks, Dr Motsepe applauded the corporate sector for its recognition of “shared value”. Empowered youth are of direct value to the raison d’être and mission of corporates, including in terms of the need for skilled employees and clientele.

The webinar strengthened the partnership between youth development practitioners and the private sector in jointly engaging the challenges to continued youth development support.