On the 25thAugust last year, I attended the Annual Gandhi Memorial lecture with my parents, in Pietermaritzburg, my hometown. As I looked across the room of attendees, I experienced a “punch in the gut” moment: I realised that the majority of those in attendance were of my parent’s generation. A generation that despite the challenges of Apartheid had contributed to building families, a community, public institutions, businesses, industry and a city. A generation whose civic service I had seen result in a Pietermaritzburg that fought Apartheid and then a Pietermaritzburg that welcomed Tata Nelson Mandela in one of his first public addresses as a free man.

Where was my generation? What had we done? What were we doing?

I matriculated in 1993, in the same year that Tata Nelson Mandela led the journey to our democratic, free South Africa. We were that generation that started the exodus to Johannesburg, the generation that had international work opportunities, the generation that bought homes away from KwaZulu Natal, the generation that had opportunities that were built on the struggles of our freedom fighters and the hard work of our parents and their generation of disenfranchised South Africans.

My “punch in the gut moment” was one of realisation – that I had abandoned the place that gave me the opportunities to live a life of possibility. My gaze that night was turned to one of the few tables with people of my generation. I was determined to talk to them and in doing so that moment – created this moment – this moment when I want to share with you how one night of realisation can bring together people to realise the South Africa of our greatest dreams.

Since August last year, together, we have created our response to active citizenry, our contribution to Mandela Day, Everyday, our determination to realise Ubuntu in Our Lifetime©. We have dedicated the time, resources and intellect of our combined experiences to create a blueprint that will change Pietermaritzburg, and every second-tier city, reeling from the impact of our generation leaving for the Johannesburgs, Londons and Perths.

Today, the teams of Sustainability Truthing, Umzansi Youth in Business, and Lwembu Group wish to share our journey of honouring Madiba’s gift to us: Freedom. We have chosen to use our freedom to create a life for those who are yet to have the opportunity to choose their futures. We have dedicated our time to creating Ubuntu in Our Lifetime©, a model that embraces and catalyses the following principles:

1.    Activating Youth training, participation and ownership of South Africa Incorporated, at scale and pace:

We believe that while significant youth-targeted training has occurred in South Africa, this training has not been at the scale required for the Youth to influence South Africa incorporated.

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime embraces our truth that for the country to flourish, we need youth training, participation and ownership targeted at the scale and pace required to achieve the potential of South Africa Inc., as a domestic and internationally competitive economy. The training, participation and ownership of South Africa’s youth must happen at the scale and pace that matches the urgency of a restless and disenfranchised youth population.

Through Ubuntu in Our Lifetime, we wish to create enterprise models that are interconnected and supportive of innovative youth businesses that ultimately will form a response to the empowerment of Youth South Africans, as they embrace their economic birthright – the future potential of South Africa Incorporated.

2.    Developing a “three-generations” forward mindset through youth enterprise.

We want to eradicate terms like “black tax” and “permanently unemployable”. The term “black tax” has no place in a country where the majority of the population use their money to build homes for their parents and their own families.

We are fed-up of seeing graduates standing at traffic lights, holding up cardboard signs, pleading for jobs.

We believe that every leaking tap, every child using heating from a toxic paraffin-lamp or studying with a candle, every social housing scheme needing maintenance, every gutter that is not collecting rainwater, every pit latrine waiting to be replaced with a toilet – each of these has a plumber, electrician, welder, painter, and handyman sitting on a street corner, waiting for a job.

Through Ubuntu in Our Lifetime, we want to catalyse the creation of businesses that respond to the needs of the cultural compassion and innate Ubuntu of all South Africans. Businesses and enterprise that thinks forward to three generations. Three generations with who most people are able to empathise. Three generations forward mindset that changes the basic living conditions and overall opportunities that we leave for the next generation. We will create services that matter, we will create products that make life easier, and we will showcase talent so that our hardest working and brightest young people enjoy the dignity of being able to help someone else because they are not begging for jobs at traffic lights.

3.    Future-proof livelihoods by designing businesses that support abundant growth within the resources of the natural world.

We understand the need to manage our precious, and life-giving natural resources, while also mitigating and adapting to the current and future effects of climate change.

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime supports the innovative, affordable and necessary adoption of technology that protects the human and financial investment in enterprises that are susceptible to the effects of extreme weather and natural resource shortage.

We want to contribute to an enduring natural world by creating enterprises that prioritise the enormous opportunities offered by the $12 trillion (USD) opportunities offered by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.[1]

4.    Catalysing businesses and social enterprises that respond to the needs of young people, the poor and marginalised.

We are, have lived with, travelled among and empathetically traced the experiences of South Africa’s young, poor and marginalised. We believe that every South African is as wealthy as our poorest and most disenfranchised citizen.

South Africa will not prosper if the reality continues, that the poor spend more, in relative terms than the middle class (with access to supermarkets), for basic food. Rural, township and non-metropolitan areas are underserviced and almost unseen by the brands and life-improving quality “first world” products found in major cities. There is a particular perversion that we have observed, where poor people in most rural agricultural areas do not have access to fresh vegetables.

We see South Africa’s disproportionate Gini coefficient as an opportunity to create businesses that support the improvement of quality of lives of South Africa’s economically unliberated.

Perhaps the words of C.K. Prahalad best encapsulate our belief in his treatise, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid[2]:

“When the poor at the Bottom of the Pyramid are treated as consumers, they can reap the benefits of respect, choice, and self-esteem and have an opportunity to climb out of the poverty trap.”

“Democratization of commerce is based on everyone having the right to exercise their roles as micro consumers, micro-producers, micro-entrepreneurs, micro-investors, and micro-innovators. Access to information removes the first impediment to building this brave, new world. Information asymmetry has always been at the heart of poverty.” 

When the poor are converted into consumers, they get more than access to products and services. They acquire the dignity of attention and choices from the private sector that were previously reserved for the middle-class and rich.” 

South Africans cannot be dying from listeriosis, malnutrition and water-borne diseases in a country with abundant clean air, unutilised arable land and areas with consistent rainfall.

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime focuses on creating training, information sharing, services, products and jobs that speak to the improving lives of the majority of South Africans.

5.    Activate businesses that feed into a system of connected markets and supply chains.

All the partners and alliance partners of Ubuntu in Our Lifetime are entrepreneurs, we have experienced the basic supply chain challenges and debilitating market access blockages that comes with the move to running an independent business. Many of us have worked previously in large multinational companies, and are dismayed by the disparate efficiency, quality and cost of supply chain services available to small business. Furthermore, even with 15 years of pedigree corporate experience, we have seen how, as small business owners, we are excluded from decision and opportunity-filled networks.

We are acutely aware of how these challenges must be experienced by young South Africans who have not had the exposure to efficient supply chains and open market access, we know that experiencing these impacts on an emergent business kills hope and confidence.

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime has an intrinsic focus on creating competitive businesses that support the supply chain needs of small and emerging businesses.

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime is built on relationships and networks that bring markets, at scale, to entrepreneurs.

We don’t want to compete with the system that makes entrepreneurship difficult, we want to create a new system. We see every challenge faced by an entrepreneur as the opportunity for another entrepreneur to solve through enterprise.

6.    Connect to our country’s growth by establishing a youth culture as an intrinsic part of the realisation of our democracy.

All the partners and alliance partners of Ubuntu in our Lifetime experienced our formative adult years during the lifetime of a free Nelson Mandela, whose words hold true our motivation:

“With freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk has not ended yet.” – Nelson Mandela

Ubuntu in Our Lifetime is our celebration of the freedom we have to activate to fulfil our responsibility to our fledgling democracy.

We know that our democracy is only as strong as our collective, pursuant and shared vision where each of us sees and understands our role in creating space and choice for young people. A South Africa where young South Africans epitomise the character of future Nelson Mandela’s. Our democracy must reflect the future today. The future that is Ubuntu in Our Lifetime.

Our pledge for Mandela Day, Everyday.

I, with my team and partners, share this message today, as a message of how we wish to live every day, honouring the long walk to freedom of our greatest inspiration. Thank you Tata Madiba. We live every day to honour the freedom you and so many others gave us.

Footnotes:

[1]http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/blog/2017/8/25/More-than-philanthropy-SDGs-present-an-estimated-US-12-trillion-in-market-opportunities-for-private-sector-through-inclusive-business.html

[2]Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. CK Prahalad (2006)