Hub provides hope to township youth

It is my privilege to help set up an incubation Hub at the Sozo Foundation.

This promises to add serious momentum to employment, new jobs and new businesses. Here is the background story to the Sozo Foundation.

In South Africa, the global pandemic has exacerbated the youth unemployment crisis.

The country faced the highest youth unemployment rate globally, even before 2020, with 68.3% of young people between 15 and 24 years old unemployed (Stats SA, 2020).

With over 60% of the SA population under the age of 35, there is a significant lack of job opportunities in impoverished communities such as the Cape Flats, an area of high crime, violence, substance addiction, neglect, trauma and abuse all playing out within a systemic culture of gangsterism.

Securing a basic entry-level job becomes challenging with limited education and no formal skills training.

It becomes nearly impossible for youth living on the Cape Flats as only 25% of them finish their high school senior certification.

Without service delivery stakeholders like the Sozo Foundation, young people become trapped in a cycle of unemployment and poverty deprivation, with little to no hope for their future.

In response to this context and with a heart of unconditional love, the Sozo Foundation opened the doors of its first single shipping container classroom in 2011.

From these humble beginnings, their 12-student cohort quickly grew, and they built a beautiful state-of-the-art education centre in 2015 right in the heart of Vrygrond.

Brick by brick, with only local community members onsite, this beacon of light is a second home to more than 150 students six days a week. It stands boldly as a symbol of “proudly made-in-Vrygrond”.

Sozo aims to set these young people on a pathway to dignified employment.

The Sozo Centre has recently also become the first Vrygrond community-based high school senior certificate academy via an online General Education Diploma (GED) school programme, giving many young people a second chance at obtaining that coveted senior certificate.

Sozo also questioned what they could do regarding the vast numbers of youth dropping out of the formal education system and being solicited into local gangs.

As a response, Sozo’s Skills Development Programme was launched in 2016 to provide a safe, creative and vibrant training space for unemployed youth.

Sozo delivers a holistic service inclusive of artisanal trade skills.

Youth exit the programme after one year, equipped and empowered with the social, vocational and job readiness skills to enter the job market confidently.

Sozo’s vocational skills schools include coding, construction, coffee barista, artisan bakery, hairdressing and cosmetology.

Sozo targets youth not in education, employment or formal training (NEET).

In addition, their highly trained professional team of social workers provide the psycho-social support that these students so desperately require.

Sozo’s monitoring and evaluation process has shown the year-on-year average for successful job placements and remaining in jobs 12 months after placement at an inspiring 82%.

Sozo is a growing, innovative and pioneering organisation that employs 65 staff members, with more than 80% of those staff representing the local community.

Sozo also generates income through various social enterprises, including a home renovations business, a mobile coffee venture and most recently, a furniture-making enterprise. These initiatives also provide much-needed job shadowing opportunities, internships and, in many cases, youth employment opportunities within the organisation.

Their brand-new Entrepreneurship Incubation Hub, aptly named “Genesis”, meaning origin, beginning or new birth, is another innovative step towards their fight against youth unemployment.

For the past 12 years, the Sozo tribe has been developing a model that instils empowering beliefs such as hope, positivity and second chances.

What makes this youth organisation uniquely different is its macro view of micro problems. Ask anyone in their tribe, and they will quickly correct you if you suggest they “keep kids busy and off the streets”.

Sozo has recognised that a generation of young moms and dads are raising children in a culture of unemployment.

If such a trend continues, the macro effect is a generation growing up without the act of “work” modelled as “normal” behaviour, which would be an actual state of disaster.

Sozo’s focused approach to creating pathways to youth employment is a micro model, focusing on each young person. They aim to cause a ripple effect to shift an entire community’s generational culture to prevent a systemic poverty culture from taking root.

They do this through multi interventions delivered by a community of youth practitioners operating in the various safe spaces within the community they have created.

Their highest value is the golden strand that connects everyone and everything they do. It resides at the core of every Sozonite, doing everything with a heart of unconditional love.

The young people’s passion, perseverance, grit and resilience inspire Sozo staff to return to work after each riot, gang shooting, taxi violence incident and even total shutdown.

The passion of the youth is the new gold rush of 21st century South Africa.

When speaking about Sozo’s new entrepreneurship incubator programme, CEO and co-founder Anton Cuyler, says: “These young people have shown us they are not only willing to work toward becoming future employees, but also to become future youth employers”.

I am massively encouraged to continue in the enterprise development space when I see these beacons of hope and purpose. May you experience the same.

● Steve Reid has started his own business in support of entrepreneurs, leaders and incubators and may be contacted at stevereid1406@gmail.com

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