16 July 2007

For SAGE, It Starts At Home

Since Youth Venture is new in South Africa, our reach doesn’t yet extend to Cape Town. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing young people creating change, which is the point of this global movement. You don’t have to be a YV team to create change; the reality is, we want every person to join in by taking an active role in their own life and in the life of their “world,” whether that is defined as their street, neighborhood, city, country or the whole planet!

With this in mind Erin and I connected with an organization called SAGE that also works with you to support entrepreneurial initiative on a global level. Erin, by the way, is my incredible travel buddy who started her own venture in the US last year as part of NYU’s “Be A Changemaker” Challenge and is now working in the Youth Venture “Jozi” office while studying abroad in South Africa.

While I had heard of SAGE, I had no idea the teams we were going to meet were not only national known, but internationally recognized as well. Our first stop was Serapta Secondary School, where Giovanni, Liezelle, Colette, Bianca, Lacille, Tatum, Chevonne, Brendan and Jarroo had developed a blanket drive for the homeless that brought in more than 1000 blankets a semester, a food drive for the homeless that mobilized the entire school and community, a peer mentor program that had been institutionalized at their high school and was now spreading to other schools in South Africa and a Female Empowerment Organization called GEM that is now forming chapters in multiple countries around the world. The founders were all between the ages of 15 and 18.

What made speaking with them so interesting as that because internet penetration is abysmal in South Africa (only one of the kids even had an email address) their concept of the global scope of what they’re doing and how their project fits into a larger movement was nonexistent, which meant I got to share something entirely new while inviting them to apply for additional support from Youth Venture. Never a bad thing. This, of course, all happened after we talked about Justin Timberlake and what it’s like to grow up near Hollywood.

In search of more SAGE, we continued on to Bellville South High School. Actually, we mistakenly went to Bellville High School (we have yet to get anywhere without making at least one wrong turn. The South Africans call traffic signals robots and while they can’t tell you the names of streets, they can tell you how many “robots” there are at the sixth street off of highway N2, which is not very useful). At Bellville High School lost and looking for directions, the Assistant Principal (clearly incredibly bored) took the opportunity to draw the most detailed map I had ever seen to help us find our way. Thirty minutes later (now 20 minutes late) we were back in the Benz on our way.

Thankfully, Roselere, Robyn, Daniel, Tanya and Ernest weren’t mad that we were late, despite the fact that we interrupted “production” on their new line of bookmarks and candle holders made entirely of recycled materials. In fact, these entrepreneurs design, develop and build more than a dozen “goods” that are then sold in the community at a responsible price, using the money raised to fight social problems in their communities. This now-international social company has revitalized the community and the school while offering a creative outlet for teens who have too much time on their hands and find themselves slipping into bad habits, like drug use and having unprotected sex.

This powerhouse LLP aint’ no bake sale – they finished fourth in the world at SAGE’s annual project competition, held last year in Shanghai, China (which meant we had lots to talk about, as I lived there for the better part of a year). “The first place team was from California,” Tanya told me. “Kanye West produced a commercial for them. We did everything on our own, so we’re pretty proud of our fourth place.” So was I. There model is a shining example of how income generation isn’t a bad thing, and can instead help forward the social goals of an organization. Now in it’s third production year, the SAGE kids are stepping it up a notch. They’ll be expanding their product line and opening a second workshop in the fall. They’re also 16.

By the end of the day we had recruited another ten teams, able to offer vision, strategy and financial support to help them take their dream and do something with it. What I found most interesting is that they’re all students at public schools coming from poor families and yet, they’re still incredibly passionate about their education and their social initiatives. I asked what kept them going and all fourteen of them said the same thing – supportive parents. The real question then, is how society can help those young people who don’t have that foundation at home. No child chooses where they’re born and who their parents will be, but does that mean that if they pull a bad straw, they don’t deserve the same chance to make something of themselves? I don’t think so, which I why I believe we as a global society need to work harder to support children and youth to offer the “back-up” they need in life if someone isn’t (or can’t) offer it at home. That’s my challenge for the day – find a way to at least partially offset the void left by absent parents. In the meantime, just be in awe of what these kids are doing. I am.

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