Youth leadership needs new approach

“The youth lack inspiration and motivation, both from within and above” said Dr Thea van der Westhuizen, adacemic at teh University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A stronger entrepreneurial environment among the youth is the most powerful vehicle with which to create economic activity and calm frustrations of unemployment and lack of skills development.

Currently, the unemployment rate for youth between the ages of 15 and 24 is 58 percent – the sixth-highest in the world. We cannot solve existing problems with old thinking – an entirely new approach to development is needed to break the work crisis among the young.

Last Saturday, while addressing the One Young World Summit in Ottawa, – an annual summit bringing together 1 400 young leaders from 196 countries – outgoing public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela emphasised the importance of inspired leadership.

“Part of what we need in terms of the trouble we have today, is re-imagining the world. The world we want to live in – where there is joy, where there is peace, where everyone thrives. I would say that it calls for a win-win paradigm. “We’ve been told that you must lose for me to win, I don’t think so,” Madonsela said.

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen was recently awarded a doctorate in Leadership Studies for her research on how to build youth leadership in South Africa.

As part of her research, Van der Westhuizen founded Shape – South Africa’s first systemic action learning and action research (Salar) project. The project uses innovative education systems to build the entrepreneurial and leadership capacity of young South Africans.

As part of the results, Van der Westhuizen distinguishes between reactive and generative thought. Reactive creativity refers to solution development based on past and current experiences. Generative creativity, however, requires a process of deep listening and mindfulness to create new thoughts, perspectives and solutions.

Holistic education

In its training, Shape uses an innovative social technology to go beyond “head knowledge” education and integrate methods of heart knowledge (reflection, observation and collaboration) and hand knowledge (practical applications and experience) to build a more holistic education of creative thought and better reflect the human experience in leadership.

Through continuous research and an additional programme next year, Shape aims to develop a social technology that can be replicated in universities and other higher education institutions.

South Africa faces a crisis of systems. Solutions based in head knowledge and reactive thought will not create change of sufficient depth. Individuals need to be inspired before they can be taught; only through inspiration can repetitive habits be broken and new solution development emerge.

Van der Westhuizen’s research suggests that the youth in South Africa lack Individual Entrepreneurial Orientation (IEO) – defined as the processes, practices and decision-making activities in relation to risk taking, innovativeness and proactivity. Linked to this is a lack of Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy (ESE) – the individual’s belief in their ability to take entrepreneurial action.

Both IEO and ESE need to be stimulated for the South African youth to break its dependency on institutions, government and fixed employment.

The entrepreneurial deficiency among youth is partly caused by poor access to financial support, a lack of anchor investors and inadequate education and training. However, the stronger factors are emotionally orientated and these are the least addressed by development programmes.

South Africans exhibit a prominent fear of failure that derives from social stigmatisation of risk, low self-motivation and unrealistic expectations of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Young people are taught that success is a stable job.

The youth lack inspiration and motivation, both from within and above. They also face a void of sufficient guidance from mentors.

Developing entrepreneurial self-confidence and capacity breaks the pattern of dependency and allows young people to create a future for themselves.