Driving change: NERDAfrica’s advice for young people wanting to start social change initiatives
To grow economically, reduce inequality, and foster social solidarity so that we thrive as a nation, South Africa needs young leaders that will inspire innovation in both the public and private sectors. Tumelo Motaung is precisely such a young leader. Having participated in a variety of youth leadership initiatives, including Activate!, Tumelo started the Network of Entrepreneurs, Readers, and Designers in Africa (NERDAfrica) at the end of 2013. At its core NERDAfrica is a network of young people driving change on the African continent. As a service coordinating team, NERDAfrica tries to advance and support the work of other young people contributing to public innovation, social justice and civil society.
Drawing from her own experience starting NERDAfrica, in this article Tumelo shares her best advice for young who want to start initiatives for social change:
#1 Get started
When you have an idea that you would like to bring to life, the best and first thing you should do, is start. Many young people delay the starting process because they get stuck in the planning phase. Not everyone is able to put their ideas down on paper, which many funding and support institutions require. It is however important that you find a way to show everyone what it is you want to do.
#2 About the financing
How do you start when you can’t access finance to get the show on the road? Many young people get stuck because (1) they alter their ideas to suit funders, and (2) they wait too long for a response from funders and eventually grow despondent. Start with what you have, that’s the best way to make anything happen and convince investors that you are willing to work to make this dream a reality. Come up with a fundraising system to cover your basic costs; take a little out of your monthly budget, collect donations from family and friends. Getting creative will also help: When I was a young leader in the Wesley Guild (a Christian fellowship), Reverend Sethunya Motlhodi, our minister at the time, introduced us to the idea of “my shoe size”. Each time we met as a collective, each member was required to bring the equivalent of their shoe size in rands. These small contributions went a long way towards providing a financial base for the organisation. At NERDAfrica we have a membership structure where we charge members R200 annually and they get a number of discounts on our services and products.
#3 Get other people interested
The second thing to do is to get people interested in what you are doing. Social media platforms are a good way of getting people talking about what you are doing. Create a Facebook page, a twitter, Google plus and Instagram account, and post information relevant to your cause. Link these accounts so you don’t have to manage a number of accounts at the same time. Start topics that are linked to your work and get your audience engaged. However, be aware that an online presence and followership does not guarantee support. It may take a long while for people to start interacting with you. The key is to be relevant. I have liked many youth development pages on social media because this is my field of work, yet when you are inundated with posts about things that don’t talk to what the organisation/group claims to be doing, you lose interest.
#4 Be clear about what you are doing
Whatever you are doing, be clear about it. Have a clear focus on why you are doing what you are doing (mission), what you aim to achieve with your initiative (objectives) and how far you want to see it go (impact). It took us two years at NERDAfrica to define our mission and objectives crisply. Initially we were just testing the waters – and this is something everyone should do. Analyse your market, do some research, you don’t want to be working towards filling a gap that doesn’t exist. Know who your target market is, who the stakeholders in your project are, and who else is doing similar work. When I started the network, I wanted to bring young people together in the spheres of business, education, and the arts. I am passionate about these three spheres: I believe they can turn youth unemployment around if explored in an innovative way. It was only after two years working with many young people and youth groups on amazing initiatives, that I figured out how to go about the business model. We often try to be Jack’s of all trades, yet to make a difference, you need to find a niche and go into unexplored territory. For us this was finding ways to support young people and youth-based movements in Africa to be more connected, effective and accountable.
#5 Establish a brand
Once you know what you want to do, the next thing is to create your brand. Your brand needs to speak to who you are. You must stay true to this brand in everything you do. Aspects of our brand are visible in everything you do. People will eventually come to recognise and relate to your brand.
#6 Find a team
On larger projects you might need to collaborate with others. Finding a team that is dedicated to your cause can be difficult. It took me years to get to a point where I have people I can rely on to assist whenever hands are needed. Many youth programmes never take flight because of the dynamics of working in groups. People are often power hungry – some just want to see their CV’s boosted by a position on a board, but are not willing to do the work. Try your best to find other young people who are passionate about the issue you are addressing or the work that you do, and ask them to work together. Many minds are better than one. At NERDAfrica we encourage young people to work together to strengthen each other. In the early stages of launching your project it may be better to use organisations such as My Hands and Hearts to find assistance if you need volunteers. On this site you are able to stipulate the period you will need to work with a team, on what type of project, and whether you are able to remunerate them. We’ve used this platform many times to run our events and we’ve never been disappointed.
#7 Connect to stakeholders
After linking young people to other young people in their field, we help them to identify their stakeholders and create relationships with them. Stakeholders are often government departments and civil society organisations, but sometimes you might also find businesses and individuals who are willing to support projects. Once you get stakeholders on board you are able to access some of the resources you need. However, many people want to see what you’ve already done before they support you. So feature all the work that you do in a portfolio of evidence that you can share with stakeholders. Take pictures and videos, keep your social presence alive, get other people involved, have participants share their experiences with you and the rest of your network. A website is a great platform on which to put together this portfolio, but many young people cannot afford to own a website. We use a WordPress blog post format (WordPress.com). We created it to have all the features of a website and it works well on various types of technology (computer, tablet and mobile). The blog is free and it enables us to see where the people interested in our work are based, and what interests them the most.
#8 Know where to get information and resources
Keeping your project going takes a lot of work, and part of this is knowing where to find the information you need to stay relevant. We recently fell in love with For Good, a webpage linking people who want to do good, with those who need the resources. People place posts of what they have to give away and people who need these resources (furniture, clothing donations, books etc.) are able to connect and access these. Another platform we’ve been using for years is TED, an idea sharing platform where you can get insight on almost anything. If you work in education, you can view a dozen videos on how other people are dealing with the issue in their corners of the world for example. I have the app on my phone and whenever I’m feeling uninspired I watch a video – they go a long way towards expanding my thinking.
#9 Making it official
Formalising your project may not be necessary for quite a while, but it is important to get those processes going. Don’t be too occupied with registering your project as soon as you start, but once you get to that point, do whatever you can online. Deciding on a structure is important. Are you going to run your project as a Not-for-profit organisation (NPO) or as a company? Your mission and vision should inform this. As a social enterprise, I registered NERDAfrica as both a closed corporation and an NPO, but I could have also registered it as a Non Profit Company. The Department of Social Development allows for online registration of NPOs and you can do the same with your company at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). Soon after your structure is set up, you’ll need a bank account. You will have to find ways of making it easy for people to make payments for the services or products you provide. We recently bought a nifty little gadget from IKhokha. It works like a swipe machine and bookkeeper, but with your smart phone. A really great asset for us because we move around frequently and often need to register new members to the network.
#10 It’s all about passion
The thing about running a development project is passion. No matter how small, the key is to love what you are doing. NERDAfrica grew from my passion for what I love. It makes it easy for me to keep going because it does not feel like work. Some people start with a situation that concern them in their community and contribute to projects that are driven by other people. If that is you, pay attention because this provides you with a model to learn from. You need to be innovative though – in everything you do. Aim to be different, to make the situation better with a new approach.
In summary, just start, do what you love, use what you have, connect with people in your field, build relationships with stakeholders, set up your brand, and find inspiration all around you. And if you need help, you can always ask us at NERDAfrica.
At DGMT we are very excited about the work that young people are doing – especially those aimed at transforming our society to be a more equal and thriving space where all South African’s have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Perhaps you will also find the following resources useful in establishing and driving initiatives:
The DGMT commons: Where we share resources and information to assist in the legal establishment and governance of Non-Profit Organisations.
DGMT Growing Confidence: Step-by-step, easy to follow guidelines and resources to plan and design Monitoring and Evaluation systems (which means it is also very useful to help you design your programme in the first place – think Theory of Change).