Create new connections to opportunity for young people

Youth Capital

Youth Capital, launched in 2018, is a campaign that strives to transform the employment trajectory of a generation of young South Africans. Achieving this long-term goal will rely on the insights and actions of young people, as well as the buy-in of policy-makers, the private sector and civil society to create a conducive environment for young people to thrive. Youth Capital does this by building a body of knowledge that supports a national focus on key priorities for young people, and by engaging networks of young people through building partnerships with youth development organisations.

The disconnect

This explains why the project exists

Twenty million South Africans are under the age of 35. This youth bubble has the potential to transform South Africa’s economic and social reality. Notwithstanding the limitations created by an ineffective education system and an economy downtrodden by state capture and looting, young South Africans could be a major boon for the economy and could build a positive social trajectory for the country.

However, young people currently face a hostile and challenging society, with a lack of focused, innovative and effective action to support them. The country is missing out on young people’s potential to actively and positively shape the country.

There is a major disconnect in the youth space between research, young people and policy. Young people are rarely approached as a population group for whom there should be specific policy, programme and planning options to be pursued. Research on youth generally remains stuck in the academic world with little real influence on policy and programmes.

Young people who are actively seeking to drive public innovation have little access to the kind of information that could help them to reframe their issues and bring their experience to bear on critical challenges. Even when policymakers do focus on young people, it is often only when a specific youth policy process is underway, rather than built into ongoing policy and planning across all departments and all levels of government.

A large percentage of South African young people are not in employment, education or training (NEET). Of the entire NEET population, 9.1 million are between the ages of 15 and 34. The fact that they are out of training and education puts them at a significant disadvantage to their peers.


The majority of South Africans are stuck in an inequality trap with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Most are stuck in intergenerational loops of exclusion with few chances to escape. Breaking this cycle requires a fundamental change in life trajectories, starting in the womb.

Think of a Möbius strip – just one twist in the circle allows you to trace a completely different pattern. Instead of being stuck on the inside of a loop, you emerge on the outside. In the same way, escaping the inequality trap requires a fundamental twist to set South Africa on a new path.

The twist in thinking

This explains how the project approaches problems

The campaign produced an Action Plan, grounded in both young people’s experience of youth unemployment and the available evidence and research about their current challenges. The Action Plan prioritises 10 systemic challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that young South Africans have the skills, opportunities and support to become economically productive. It has three focus areas, namely shifting gears for education, transitions and jobs.  

Youth Capital believes in driving a collective, national agenda for youth employment in South Africa through a set of clear and common goals. While youth unemployment may seem insurmountable, by focusing on key levers – amplifying young voices and crowding in innovative solutions – we believe we can turn things around.

The trajectory change

This explains what the project is doing to make a difference

In an ecosystem with an ever-growing number of youth employment programmes, Youth Capital has developed an agenda – the Action Plan- which is reflective of the multidimensional challenges facing young people’s experience of building sustainable livelihoods for themselves. 

Youth Capital also plays the vital role of grounding recommendations in (1) strong research, (2) the voices of young people and (3) the experiences of youth development organisations. There is no other single organisation in South Africa that is pulling together all three of these elements to address the issue of youth unemployment. 

The campaign’s three main strategies are to:

  • Gather, simplify and disseminate information about a broad range of  systemic challenges;
  • Build an influential youth-led constituency whose experiential knowledge informs and shapes advocacy campaigns that raise awareness and promote action; and
  • Catalyse a tangible and meaningful shift around the systemic challenges preventing young people’s access to sustainable livelihoods.

Read more about our action plan on the Youth Capital website

Trying to change life trajectories is ambitious and profound. It requires us to radically influence the lives of individuals and to be part of changing the circumstances in which they live.

Helpful Resources

Useful Links

Read more: The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has published a fact sheet on NEETs. Read it here.

Act today: social connections have the power to shape the ambitions and careers of young people and unlock their economic opportunities. Get started in creating and nurturing social connections with young people, from expanding exposure for young people through sharing your platforms, resources and skills to collaboration. Read it here.

Learn more: Young people share their stories of unemployment and what can help them move forward – a partnership with Youth Capital, Eh!woza, and the ONE Campaign. Read it here

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