Working in the social sector is seen as a lesser job. Poverty and unemployment are rampant in South Africa and it is important to upskill the youth to boost the economy.
Noxolo Hlongwane, Head of Philanthropy at Nedbank Private Wealth
The social sector is an important part of the economy that focuses on activities aimed at benefitting and supporting 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.
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, a digitally savvy social sector workforce is imperative 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 and increasingly diverse needs of society. And purpose-driven, tech-aware young people hold the key.
With the many social challenges, inequalities and deep poverty levels that plague our society as a result of our history, South Africa's social sector has a vital role to play in helping support, rebuild and empower large parts of the population. The impact of Covid-19, which the most vulnerable members of our society are experiencing most acutely, highlights the urgency of rebuilding and uplifting individuals and communities.
Delivering the services and solutions required to enable sustainable social development requires a massive mobilisation of resources – 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, less prestigious or less paid than most private sector positions. However, while it is true that social sector salaries may not match those of high-paying opportunities in, for instance, the information technology or financial services sectors, the overall rewards of a position in the social sector extend far beyond monthly take-home pay.
It is these rewards that make the general reluctance by young South Africans to work in the country's social sector somewhat puzzling. It is 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 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 and lasting positive impact on society.
Another widespread misconception about social sector employment preventing young South Africans from entering the sector is the idea that it is 'technology-poor'. While this perception is understandable, it is 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, 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. While Covid-19 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 the social delivery space substantially – for the benefit of the sector and all its beneficiaries.
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