Covid-19, May 19, 2020, 7:41 p.m.

Civil society and our youth in the era of Coronavirus

Author: ACTIVE! Change Drivers

The continuing prevalence and global spread of the novel coronavirus, is not only threatening the health of billions across the world; but is also threatening to disrupt human social interaction by radically redefining how human beings create ideas,

The continuing prevalence and global spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is not only threatening the health of billions across the world; but is also threatening to disrupt human social interaction by radically redefining how human beings create ideas, network and even how they engage in knowledge creation. What does this specifically mean for the youth of our country, already challenged by poverty, educational issues and high unemployment? What positive role can they play through this pandemic, to support society and to build their own dreams? Malusi Mazibuo, Network Support Portfolio Manager at ACTIVATE! Change Drivers considers the challenges.

 

For the past eight years at ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, we have seen the intangible magic of bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds, into one physical space where they can interact with different cultures and exchange experiences. Our programmes are built around the physical gathering and mobilisation of young people in order to affect change. This was informed by a strategy of equipping, connecting, inspiring and creating provocative platforms that provoke and spark change - a crucial part of the work done by Activate.

 

Activate’s programmes revolve around social interaction; which now raises many questions during this lockdown period - how do you provoke public debate during a health pandemic? how do you spark new ideas, dialogues and approaches when youth hubs are shut? The quick and obvious answer might be technology - but how do you use technology when there’s no access to connectivity?

 

The real critical question perhaps, should be how does South Africa’s biggest youth network with more than 4200 members from across the country, interrupt the Covid-19 virus from further entrenching the already existing social inequalities, whether they be around access to health care, technology or even economic participation?

 

Part of the answers to these difficult questions already lie within the Activate network itself, which is working towards building a social, economic and political force for public good. Youth mobilisation still exists despite the challenges of physical connection. The organisation had the foresight to plan and structure a network without physical interaction. This includes platforms like our online Market Place, blogs, webinars with thought leaders, WhatsApp group discussions and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter live chats, including video clips from young people expressing their opinions on various issues.

 

The approach of taking Activate programmes and putting them online might seem a quick viable solution, however it’s not the best solution for everyone because conversations for those who do not have access to resources have a different meaning. Resources dictate where those who lack them focus their energies and how. This is where collaboration and network support becomes a fundamental issue during lockdown because networks are about how we pull together the resources we have and make sure we create a conducive environment where we ensure equal access for everyone.

 

This means we have to change how we define and understand the concept of a conversation so that even those who do not have access, are made to feel that their contribution is part of the inputs to whatever issue is at hand, because a conversation without others is a monologue.

 

Covid-19 has without a doubt forced Activate and the network to move into a digital era, while trying to accommodate those who are forced to choose between buying bread or data. Perhaps the call to action should be to mobilise and continue the conversation of the reduction of data, while steps have also been taken by Activates partners to zero-rate certain educational sites and websites for young people.

 

Certainly, this is a new conversation that needs to be constantly reviewed and interrogated to see if online does serve the needs of networks such as Activate and other NGOs in South Africa.