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Kasthuri Soni | 8 November 2023

South Africa, like many countries, grapples with the formidable challenge of youth unemployment. Harambee’s aim is to address that challenge.

It’s a crisis with far-reaching consequences, not only for the individuals whose dreams are put on hold, but for the nation as a whole. With 8,8-million young South Africans excluded from participation in the economy, unable to secure jobs or earning opportunities or gain the skills they need to thrive, there is a danger of long-term unemployment.

As Harambee, we are confident that youth unemployment is not an insurmountable challenge; rather, it is an opportunity to harness the untapped potential of our young people. Our conviction was reaffirmed recently at the Solutions Exchange Conference, a leadership gathering which we co-convened with The Presidency and Business Unity South Africa, where over 300 prominent leaders from government, business, and civil society shared invaluable insights and explored strategies to advance youth livelihoods, together.

Getting all stakeholders working in the same direction, as was evident on the day, is the only way we’ll be able to reduce the likelihood of new labour market entrants between the ages of 18 and 34 becoming youth who are not engaged in employment, education, or training.

Breaking the barriers to inclusion

The employment pathways in the South African economy are far from linear, leading young people to “zigzag” along their journey without a clear transition strategy between different paths. This often results in discontinuous education and employment, which could lead to youth becoming disengaged.

The well-known structural barriers, including unequal access to education and the practical cost constraints of jobseeking and accessing labour market entry points, have plagued our system for years.

Confronting the broken systems that young people must navigate demands a comprehensive, coordinated approach that unlocks opportunities for South Africa’s youth by addressing inherent structural barriers. The crux of this transformation lies in partnerships that span government, business, and civil society.

A glimmer of hope

Over the past 12 years, Harambee, together with our partners from across sectors, has enabled one million young South Africans to access earning opportunities. Simply put, public-private partnerships work and are starting to drive meaningful change.

In recent years, a powerful partnership ecosystem has emerged, one that recognises the immense promise held by the country’s younger population and keeps young people at the centre of developing sustainable solutions. This partnership, by its very design, strives towards a society where every young person has a clear path to advancement, be it through education, training, work experience, youth service, employment or entrepreneurship.

The narrative is one of collaboration, innovation, and resilience, centred on the principle of collective action, acknowledging that the scale, depth and complexity of the challenge are too significant to be solved by any single actor in the ecosystem.

What inroads have been made?

The partnership ecosystem is championed by initiatives such as the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, launched in 2020.

At the core of this initiative is the National Pathway Management Network (NPMN), a strategic national network of public, private and social sector partners that is coordinated by Harambee and that provides young people with free access to learning and earning opportunities. Described as a “network of networks”, it is a place where resources and opportunities converge, offering young people a visible pathway into the labour market.

The NPMN is enabled by SA Youth, an innovative zero-rated multichannel digital platform ( that connects work seekers to employers at no cost, creating an effective and seamless experience for young people, regardless of where they register. This model and integrated platform provide a single-entry point for work seekers that gives them visibility and access to various opportunities and support services from partners within the NPMN – for free!

Furthermore, the platform uses geomapping capabilities to match job seekers to local opportunities in close proximity to where they reside, saving young people untold amounts in transportation costs.

Employers partnering with SA Youth can load their entry-level jobs on to the system to reach a national database of millions of young individuals. Presently, over 3,7 million jobseekers have been actively supported through the network, alongside almost 1,700 employer partner organisations.

The path forward

With economic growth expected to expand by a mere 0.3% in 2023, the formal economy cannot generate jobs at a pace sufficient to absorb the countless young people excluded from economic participation. That’s why we must empower young people to grow their employability, be productively engaged and sustainably earn income through various opportunities.

The need for large-scale public-private partnerships has never been greater and more urgent – to unlock the potential of young people and accelerate their economic inclusion.

The Solutions Exchange Conference enabled us to recommit to the shared objective of unlocking the next million earning opportunities for young people and, importantly, discuss the best modalities to do so.

Together we can have a transformative impact on the lives of young South Africans and shift the prospects of a future generation, keeping their voices at the heart of everything that we do.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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