How one organisation is empowering the next generation of South Africa’s leaders

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers has empowered over 3 400 youth Activators across South Africa


ACTIVATE! Change Drivers has empowered over 3 400 youth Activators across South Africa in its bid to transform grassroots programmes aimed at upskilling the youth and creating meaningful change in their communities

The youth of South Africa need to have hope for the future in order to create a meaningful change in their lives and within their communities. This is the view of ACTIVATE! CEO, Chris Meintjes, who heads one of the most successful NPOs in South Africa aimed at empowering the youth.

He explains: “If you have hope for a better tomorrow, you change your mindset, attitude and behaviour. You are more likely not to engage in risky behaviour. The youth need to feel that tomorrow is better than today, so maybe they can see themselves as drivers of a better tomorrow.”

ACTIVATE! is part of the Siyashesha Leadership Incubator, an NPO that equips, connects and inspires young people while provoking conversation about national issues affecting the youth. The ACTIVATE! Change Drivers programme, was developed to help the youth around the country connect with each other and think critically about how they can become the change they want to see in the country.

“Our vision was to build a network of young leaders with the capacity to drive change for the public good across South Africa and that vision has remained steady since the day we embarked on this journey. We want to see this network of youth leaders become a powerful force for good. In order to do this, we need real impact in economic, social and political development. Through these three lenses of impact and the expression of a network that is connected and embarking on a journey of development and change, they would become the social, economic and political force this country needs for sustainable change,” explains Meintjes.

“Our mission is to build the capacity of these youth leaders—who we affectionately call Activators—to become leaders for public innovation so that they can catalyse connection points that give rise and support to growing the influence of a network of change drivers, as a new political, social and economic force,” explains Meintjes.

A movement of change

“It was around 2009/10 that we sat around the table and spoke about this idea. It was inspiring, but we realised we needed to do this project countrywide. We had to go to every province, to the communities in rural areas, and also to the cities to find these young people but we also needed it to be a long-term project. We needed to grow some critical mass around the network in the hopes that it would assist in the development of these youth and address the issues they face as young people within their communities,” he explains.

The learning methods and content of the ACTIVATE! programme are very different, as Meintjes outlines: “A lot of socio-emotional learning content was used that could address some of the building blocks that young people needed in order to shape their leadership and implement it in the work that they were doing.

“Learners would enter the programme for two or three single weeks—from weekend to weekend—and they’d go on this journey with us. After three modules, they would enter the network and be connected to each other. That resulted in programmatic development for year one (2012), where we trained 186 young people,” Meintjes says.

A nationwide network of youth leaders

As a grassroots organisation that developed nationally, Meintjes says that they discovered a lot about what makes networks tick; what gives value to individual members of networks; and how engagement, conversation and dialogue add value for young people. Funding came through a partnership within their stakeholder community, which gave ACTIVATE! more than five years to develop and implement this very important project. They also focussed on bringing in youthful trainers to connect with the youth, as this was a more effective model.

ACTIVATE! has offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, with teams working all over the country. “We have, at any given time, up to eight teams operating in various parts of the country, which makes managing the process, managing people and managing productivity quite difficult—this is something that we’re working on,” he says.

Creating social impact

Meintjes says that integrity is a word that resonates with him, and is a word that was taught to him by his father. He further explains how his life experiences over the years helped him to see things differently.

“It was a great opportunity for me when I was working, to start running projects that made a social impact. I was outsourcing my skills, but then those projects grew and I started to work with a consortium of sorts, and that consortium is really important.

“People like Margie Wellington-Smith and James Thomas, who were the founders of the Institute for Entrepreneurship, became my mentors and my trusted collaborators, showing integrity and wisdom for the developments here in South Africa. Dr David Harrison, whom I met when he was running LoveLife, is a very big part of our world and most probably the most important founder of this journey,” he says.

In conclusion, Meintjes states, “We are very innovative, flexible and agile, but we have some growing to do.

“Hopefully, in the years to come, we’ll achieve that.” 

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