DGMT participates in Towards Carnegie III

CarnegieThe Towards Carnegie 3 conference  took place in Cape Town from the 3rd – 7th September to bring attention to the causes and dimensions of persistent inequality in South Africa, and consider policies and actions aimed at significantly reducing inequality and poverty in both the short- and long-term. bring. It provided a platform for sharing and debate amongst academic researchers, government and practitioners and sought to move towards new ways of considering poverty and inequality, focusing less on describing the problems, and more on practical strategies to overcome them. It aims to generate ideas around priorities for research within South African universities as part of a longer Carnegie III process which, it is hoped, will culminate in a major conference two or three years from now.

Three papers emanating from DGMT were presented at the conference: the state of early childhood development in South Africa, the use of mobile information technology to connect young people to opportunity and the role of foundations in transformation. DGMT funded projects also featured prominently at the Carnegie 3 Conference on Poverty and Inequality held this week in Cape Town.  Papers presented included Career Planet, Activate!, Ilifa labantwana, Nal’ibali, Umthombo Youth Development Trust.  A number of people noted that DGMT was on the ‘solution-oriented’ side of the conference.

Angela Biden, from DGMT’s Education portfolio was there, and shares her impressions below.

Towards Carnegie III

It’s not often that we have the time to stop; time to stop and explore where we’re going collectively. On its best side, South Africa has continued to surprise even the biggest sceptics with its ability to maintain relative stability and  economic calm through stormy financial periods and a larger-than –life World Cup. Yet poverty and inequality, continue to threaten every aspect of the social and economic well-being of the vast majority of South Africans. The reality is as stark as the gini coefficient. Although so much is already being done; the rift between the top 20% and the bottom 80% of the population isn’t getting any smaller.

The Carnegie process is a metaphor for the power of South Africans to engender significant change. Our history is punctuated with two previous Carnegie Conferences. The first Carnegie Inquiry took place around the time of the Great Depression. The second took place in the 80s and both conferences sought unity between theory and policy in order to pave the way to an answer. What has changed is the focus of these conferences. Carnegie III marks the first which is inclusive and places equality at its core. Now, so many years after the establishment of our iconic and proudly South African constitutional Democracy, the spotlight, at last, falls on poverty and inequality.

In their droves, the sociologists, the activists, the teachers, lecturers, the academic purists, the economists, the students and a beautiful long list of movers and shakers arrived at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, to put theory and practice in the ring for a fight for the truth. It was truly awe inspiring to see so many fascinating minds hard at work over the problem.  Working hard to improve the lives of all; working hard to try to understand how this seemingly unobtainable goal keeps eluding us. This legged abundance of information was united toward a collective effort, for one week, which I hope will mark important paradigm shifts in how South Africans address questions of poverty and inequality. Carnegie has united forces before to turn theory into action; and the unity between all present, government, university and mense was tangible.

The presentations on Education ranged from topics around the significance of multilingualism in the early years, to extensive social participation model schools – which work – and the importance of pleasures as simple as reading and playing sport in creating happy people; people happy enough to high-five Maslow and become their dreams.

The presentation of papers on Social Cohesion explored aspects of the prevalence of violence which is perpetuating a helpless situation and on the lighter side, presented the Citizen’s Movement for Radical Social Change, which hopes to unite and empower citizens to act collectively for the common good. Subject2citizen wrist bands were donned by many after this inspiring talk.

The unemployment sessions were a little more data heavy, but were nonetheless filled with surprising potential future paths for employment creation. It is always saddening to face the figures – to have the data prove that increasing exports might do more bad than good in terms of employment creation and that causality is indefinable between private sector growth and employment growth. However, a case study by PLAAS of a man with nothing, now farming some 1400 head of cattle plants the seed for the vision of a vibrant, self-creating South African economy. Not formal, nor informal, but simply the product of people who are sufficiently empowered to create their livelihoods.

The acknowledgement of the impossibility of finding a ‘right’ answer, of being able to necessarily understand ‘the problem’ from the bird’s eye view and then to apply the answer on the ground was also a common theme. Every article and case study showed a different community, a different place, a different time. With such radically difference circumstances for every South African, the challenge before us is indeed great.  The conflict of interests between Capitalism and the strive for equality, was also raised more than once. Lower the pay of the rich, up the pay of the poor was the anti-capitalist banner; while on the other side, arguments were made that no minimum wage was the answer. It seemed generally accepted that research and policy, don’t connect wirelessly to the attainment of Equality and that ‘appreciative approaches’, which use indigenous knowledge and ask questions rather than arriving with a barrage of answers for problems so endemic, we couldn’t begin to understand; were promoted.

A final aspect which featured on several platforms was the propostition that what South Africa really needs, is a coordination exercise. Entry level game theory paints a picture of the potential win-or-lose aspects of coordinating, or failing to do so and the gains are indeed great; if we can get it right. There is no question that unity is something we should apply, especially as it is one of the primary goals we all hope to achieve.

Through it all, everyone present was able to develop a richer and deeper understanding of South African development; her people; her problems and her incredible capacity to adapt. It was a great week, of listening, talking, sharing stories and so was a really powerful expression of the beautiful beaded South African tapestry.

The conference was a tour de force; I was moved, inspired and most of all, I learnt. It is sad to realise, that after all this time, we haven’t even begun. The reality is truly sobering. But at the same time, this gathering of energies toward a unified effort is indeed, a celebration. If we can find a way to translate more effectively what we all know so well, into actual practice, it is then that the future will be bright.

Angela Biden

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