SA can empower more youth in the social sector


The social sector is an important part of the economy that focuses on activities to benefit and support society. This includes providing or improving essential social elements such as education, healthcare, water and sanitation, poverty alleviation, safety and protection of vulnerable people, and many more aspects of society that all play a vital role in human development.

However, despite its importance, the social sector is an area we often overlook when advising young people on potential careers. Poverty and unemployment are rampant in South Africa, and it is important to upskill the youth to boost the economy.



Young people in Africa hold the key to a transformed social sector

Given that Africa has the youngest population in the world, with more than 60% of Africans younger than 25 years, the resource pool of youth as social sector participants is massive. Ultimately, it is imperative to build a digitally savvy social-sector workforce to enable the good work being done by social development organisations and to achieve the multiplier effects and economies of scale that are required to meet the growing, increasingly diverse needs of society. And purpose-driven, tech-aware young people hold the key.



The impact of Covid has accelerated the need to rebuild and uplift communities

Our history has left us with many social challenges, inequalities and deep poverty levels that plague our society. South Africa's social sector has a vital role in helping to support, rebuild and empower large parts of the population. The impact of Covid, which affected the most vulnerable members of our society most severely, highlighted the urgency of rebuilding and uplifting individuals and communities. 



The challenge: Attracting young people to work in the sector

It will take a massive mobilisation of resources to deliver the services and solutions required – not only financial, but most importantly, human resources. While budgets and funding are essential, the work of the social sector is ultimately done by people. Unfortunately, attracting people to do the work 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 or less prestigious than most private-sector positions while earning less. While it is true that social sector salaries may not match those of high-paying opportunities in, for instance, the IT or financial services sectors, the overall rewards of a position in the social sector extend far beyond monthly take-home pay.



Working in the social sector makes a meaningful, lasting contribution to society

It is these rewards that make the general reluctance by young South Africans to work in the social sector somewhat puzzling. It is well-documented that young people, particularly 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 currently exists in the social sector, there is a real opportunity for young people to achieve their career goals while at the same time making a meaningful, lasting positive impact on society.



Digital innovation is needed urgently

Another widespread misconception about social-sector employment that discourages young South Africans from entering the sector is the idea that it is ‘technology-poor'. This perception is understandable, but incorrect. 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. It is 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.



Huge opportunities for young entrepreneurs to make their mark and benefit society

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.

While Covid has been a significant social crisis, it has also demonstrated 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 social delivery substantially – for the benefit of the sector and all its beneficiaries.



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