The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) hosted the Knowledge Network seminar under the theme ‘Increasing Youth Volunteering in South African Civil Society’, from 24-25 January 2012 in Benoni, east of Johannesburg. The event was attended by approximately 100 delegates from civil society organisations, student-led organisations and funding institutions, among others.
Thulani Tshefuta, chairperson of the South African Youth Council, emphasised the need to balance ‘voluntarism’ and ‘volunteerism’ among the youth. He explained the importance of valuing both concepts; voluntarism being the actual work contributed in helping communities, and volunteerism being the empowerment of the volunteers in order to sustain and motivate them to keep practising it.
Government and civil society should begin to encourage, motivate and emphasise the significance of volunteering to the youth, which can also reduce unemployment, one of the development challenges affecting young people in the country. While government and CSOs have already introduced initiatives aimed at encouraging voluntarism, the need to continue instilling and sustaining the culture of volunteering is visible.
The question however is, what role does volunteering play and how can one benefit from it.
Volunteering provides a platform for youth to give back to communities. It also provides an opportunity for them to attain the necessary skills and experience in preparation for their careers.
One of the unique features of this seminar was the introduction of the ‘Open Space Technology’, a methodology used to conduct the seminar. With this methodology, participants are involved in creating the ‘agenda wall’ and leading group discussions. Based on the main theme, participants were encouraged to introduce sub-themes relevant to their development needs. This approach provided a platform to contribute, learn and share ideas and experiences of how civil society and government could increase youth volunteering opportunities in South Africa.
Some of the topics discussed by the groups focused on motivating youth to volunteer, the use of information communication technology to promote volunteering, bridging the gap between rural and urban youth, using volunteers to transform communities, developing a policy on volunteering as well as the relationship between volunteering and employment.
Volunteering should also be about the willingness to give back to communities and a way of uplifting them.
However, the provision of incentives, when available, is one way of empowering volunteers. In support of the need to increase volunteer programmes, Tshefuta recommended that volunteers should be awarded certificates of acknowledgement signed by officials of volunteer bodies after they have accumulated a certain number of hours of work.
The seminar coincided with the launch of Cooperation between the Flemish Government and NYDA, ‘Promoting and Up-Scaling Youth Volunteering in Civil Society Organisations in South Africa’. Speaking during the launch, NYDA deputy chairperson, Yeshern Pillay, explained that, “Youth engagement in a community can be beneficial not only to the future of an individual, but to community advancement as well.”
In line with the NYDA’s vision, South Africa should work towards creating the number of volunteer-involving opportunities and increase the number of young people involved in volunteer work.
Below are some of the speeches presented at the launch of the Cooperation between the Flemish Government and NYDA ‘Promoting and Up-scaling Youth Volunteering in Civil Society Organisations in South Africa,’ which coincided with the Knowledge Network seminar.
- Yeshern Pillay (NYDA Deputy Chairperson);
- Jan Vanhee (Flemish government representative);
- Bram Vermeiren (Flemish civil society representative and Director of Steunpunt Jeugd vzw).
- Phumla Pearl Mhlanga is an intern at SANGONeT.