The importance of Youth Day

Nadine Kater, Head of ACCA SA is an Afro-optimist. Passionate about youth development and mentoring young South Africans, Nadine urges leaders in business in South Africa to commit to mentoring a young South African.

The youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Since the youth constitute such an important sector of society, it is not surprising that many countries worldwide recognise and celebrate their youth. International Youth Day, endorsed by the UN General Assembly on 17th December 1999 is celebrated on the 12th August. However, individual countries worldwide celebrate on different days. Taiwan celebrates Youth Day on 29th March, Angola on 14th April, Mainland China on 4 May, and South Africa on 16th June.

Celebrations in South Africa are quite distinct from celebrations elsewhere in the world. In South Africa, Youth Day commemorates the Soweto Student uprisings on 16th June 1976 and the role that the youth played in South Africa’s liberation; it also honours and remembers those, who lost their lives on that fateful day.

The youth are under pressure globally, primarily as a result of record levels of youth unemployment. Unemployment globally in the 15-34 age group is at 12.4%. This is expected to rise. In South Africa, a staggering 72% of the unemployed are under the age of 34.

While some may question whether the youth have reason to celebrate, I believe South Africans of all ages have good reason to celebrate. Perhaps one of the most important lessons learnt from June 16th 1976 is that the youth did not wait for their parents to change their future; the youth took control of their future. They need to do so again.

I am not inciting the youth to riot because of high levels of unemployment. I am, however, urging them to be proactive, to think out of the box, to show leadership and assist in finding solutions to curb high levels of unemployment in the country, particularly among the youth.

Experience worldwide shows that the world is awash with talented, innovative young people. We only have to think of the founders of Dropbox, Tumblr, Propertuity, Archimedes Alliance, BrickStix and dotloop. All of these highly successful companies were founded by entrepreneurs in the 9-35 years age group.

South Africa too is awash with talent. Well-known entrepreneurs include Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Thwaite and the Ubuntu Foundation), Yossi Hasson (SYNAQ), Justin Stanford (4Di Group), Ludwick Marishane (Yeigo Communications) and Ashley Uys (Medical Diagnostics). There are, however, countless others. Sizewe Nzima, founder of Iyeza Express, is my favourite example. Finding a niche, using bicycles to deliver chronic medicines from hospitals and clinics to patients in the Western Cape is sheer brilliance.

Experience worldwide also shows that most successful people have mentors. Prime examples include Bill Gates, mentored by Warren Buffet; Mahatma Gandhi mentored by Dadabhai Naoroji; Oprah Winfrey, mentored by her fourth grade teacher, Mary Duncan; and Bob Dylan, mentored by Woody Guthrie. Even Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) and Harry Potter had mentors; they were mentored by Obi-wan Ben Kenobi and Professor Dumbledore, respectively.

As parents, teachers, business and government, we need to encourage the youth in South Africa to become entrepreneurs. This will boost economic growth; it is also a sure-fire way of creating employment and a sustainable future for our youth.

However, young entrepreneurs need mentors. Mentors are individuals with a wealth of life and work experience. They are good listeners; they are accessible; they guide their mentees based on their personal experience and lessons learnt; they criticise constructively and assist their mentee to improve; mentors are successful themselves; mentors value the opinions of others; mentors are willing to share their success. Many ACCA members have already committed to mentoring others. Will June 2013 be the month in which you commit to mentor a young South African?

Nadine Kater

Head of ACCA SA

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