With South Africa's history and the many social challenges, inequalities and deep poverty levels that still plague our society as a result of apartheid, the country's social sector has an absolutely vital role to play in helping to support, rebuild and empower large parts of the population. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
With South Africa's history and the many social challenges, inequalities and deep poverty levels that still plague our society as a result of apartheid, the country's social sector has an absolutely vital role to play in helping to support, rebuild and empower large parts of the population. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Social sector offers compelling opportunities for SA’s youth

By Noxolo Hlongwane Time of article published Jul 15, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – The social sector is an important part of the economy, where activity is undertaken for the purpose of benefiting and supporting society. 

It includes activity aimed at providing or improving essential social elements such as education, health care, water and sanitation, poverty alleviation, safety and protection of vulnerable people and many more aspects of society that play a vital role in human development. 

Given that Africa has the youngest population in the world, with more than 60 percent of Africans younger than 25, the resource pool of youth as social sector participants is massive.

Ultimately, a digitally savvy social sector workforce is imperative to enable the good work being done by social development organisations to achieve the multiplier effects and economies of scale that are required to meet the growing and increasingly diverse needs of society. And purpose-driven, tech-aware young people hold the key.

With South Africa's history, and the many social challenges, inequalities and deep poverty levels that still plague our society as a result of apartheid, the country's social sector has an absolutely vital role to play in helping to support, rebuild and empower large parts of the population. 

The urgency required in the rebuilding and uplifting of these individuals and communities has been significantly highlighted by the impact of Covid-19, which was felt most acutely by the most vulnerable members of our society.  

Obviously, delivering the services and solutions required to enable such sustainable social development requires the massive mobilisation of resources, not just financial, but most importantly, human. 

Although budgets and funding are obviously essential, the work of the social sector is ultimately done by people. Attracting people to do the work that needs to be done remains one of the sector's most significant challenges. Much of this has to do with the misconception that jobs in the social sector are less important, less prestigious or less well-paid than most private sector positions. 

Although it is true that social sector salaries may not be able to match those of high-paying opportunities in, for instance, the IT or financial services realms, the overall rewards of a position in the social sector extend far beyond monthly take-home pay. And it is these rewards that make the general silence by young South Africans to work in the country's social sector somewhat puzzling. 

It’s a well-documented fact that young people, and particularly the so-called millennials, prioritise purpose and personal development over monetary gain when considering work opportunities. Given this desire for purpose and self-actualisation, coupled with the huge skills gap and need for fresh and innovative thinking that exists within the social sector, there is a real opportunity for young people to achieve their career goals, while at the same time having a meaningful and lasting positive impact on society.

Another widespread misconception regarding social sector employment that is limiting young South Africans from entering the sector is the mistaken idea that it is “technology-poor”. Although the perception is understandable, it is actually incorrect, and the social sector today offers extensive opportunities for young professionals to combine their love of all things digital with the means to make a positive difference in the world. 

In fact, digital innovation is one of the most pressing requirements of the social sector today as it represents the only viable way in which sector participants will be able to meet the steadily growing social needs of society and ensure that its most vulnerable members are not left behind as the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses. 

It is also worth noting that the opportunities for youth in the social sector are not only in employment. As has been seen in many industries in the private sector, notably financial services, there is significant potential for transformative disruption in the social sector. 

Although Covid-19 has been a significant social crisis, it has also demonstrated just what is possible through the application of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking delivered through cutting-edge technology. There is a need, and immense opportunity, for young entrepreneurs to come up with new social sustainability models that can redefine and enhance the social delivery space substantially – for the benefit of the sector and all its beneficiaries.

Noxolo Hlongwane is the head of philanthropy: Nedbank Private Wealth.

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