PIP WHEATON

South Africa,

In reaction to great inequality and historical separation of different racial populations in South Africa, Pip works to create connections between young people across socio-economic and cultural divides. By encouraging empathy and building a greater level of understanding between different communities, Pip is laying a foundation for a new generation of change makers.

This profile below was prepared when Pip Wheaton was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.

INTRODUCTION

In reaction to great inequality and historical separation of different racial populations in South Africa, Pip works to create connections between young people across socio-economic and cultural divides. By encouraging empathy and building a greater level of understanding between different communities, Pip is laying a foundation for a new generation of change makers.




THE NEW IDEA

enke’s strategy is based on the three principles of connect, equip and inspire, which translate into a methodology that ensures participants emerge empowered within diversity and understand that another person’s problem is also their responsibility. 

Under the principle of ‘connect’, enke starts each program with an intensive “residential” program to catalyze a new network of peers and build empathy to unite young South Africans around a call to take action on social issues. Thus, the first step of the enke: Trailblazer Program is a week-long forum where about 125 learners are brought together from across the country. The learners are carefully selected from various schools ranging from wealthy private schools to under-resourced public schools in rural areas. The ideal ratio for each cohort is 10-20 percent from most well-resourced schools (private and well-resourced public schools e.g. “ex-Model C” schools), and 80-90 percent from under-resourced schools (rural, urban and peri-urban).  In addition, enke aims to recruit approximately 30 percent of participants from remote and rural communities. By providing and organizing the platform for peer interaction (the forum), enke is able to intentionally bring together young people across racial, economic and gender barriers and create social capital among people from various segments in society. After connecting, the learners are equipped with various skills through the training program. The training has two components – personal leadership development (emotional intelligence and contextual awareness) and the practical skills required for community action. All facilitators who deliver the training at forum are young people themselves, many of whom are alumni that have graduated from the program, further inspiring the current participants as role models and examples of youth change leaders. 

For the duration of the forum, participants are organized in diverse teams as they work through the personal development curriculum. Although the brief looks simple, it forces the participants to work across physical and emotional barriers, which ultimately facilitates a better understanding of oneself and of the skill of empathy. Further, participants are inspired to take action on social issues around them. Each participant is challenged to identify a problem in their community and to develop a practical solution for it. The program inspires the participants and supports them through the implementation of their projects. enke provides technical and emotional support through a structured trouble-shooting hotline and SMS reporting line. The participants are given nine months to implement and report back on their achievements and challenges at a celebration event (like a graduation) that is specifically organized for this purpose. The Trailblazer Program has three key components of Training, Action & Support, and Celebration that ensure that participants emerge from the program transformed into change agents for their communities. 

The Ignition Program is very similar to the Trailblazer Program but is designed for an older age group. The program ignites an entrepreneurial spirit in tertiary students that enables them to create social change, in turn increasing their work-relevant skills (and hence their employability) or, on occasion, to create their own employment opportunities and others. This is an extra-curricular six-month program that connects tertiary level students to diverse and active networks that inspire them towards entrepreneurial thinking and to become proactive leaders of change at work and in society at large. The goal is to ignite their passion and unlock their potential by using the resources at their disposal. “Igniters,” as they are called, are equipped with skills in leadership, project design and implementation, facilitation and other skills that complement their academic education. The participants are responsible for coming up with the projects they will be working on. The participants are also exposed to professional development opportunities through practical internships, volunteer placements and mentorship (from prominent business leaders). 

Since 2009, enke has run nine intakes of the Trailblazer Program and six intakes of the Ignition Program, reaching over 1,250 young people from all nine South African provinces. Skills development and empathy building are the focus of enke’s work but the organization has seen great success when it comes to the implementation of the participant’s ideas. The Trailblazer program has recorded an 81 percent conversion rate (metric for the implementation of ideas) and a 83 percent completion rate of the implemented ideas. The 2013 cohort of the Ignition Program brought together 80 youth from across 18 universities and colleges in South Africa. 

Pip is planning the program’s expansion, building around enke’s core business in order to broaden its impact. Examples of ideas in the pipeline include a year-round fund available to all alumni, to support the continuation of youth projects. Furthermore, enke is in the process of documenting the key trends that emerge from the program, best practices that can be shared more broadly as enke scales and findings that prove the effectiveness of enke’s model and other similar models of youth development. Not wanting to stop with South Africa, enke is already looking at expansion, with ideas for the next enke hubs in Africa being Namibia, Zambia and Botswana – to be opened in the next 5 years. enke’s alumni are of multiple nationalities already, having worked with youth from 12 countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe and the UK.




THE PROBLEM

South Africa is ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the world (World Bank, 2012). The Gini co-efficient is an international measure of economic inequality (with 100 being total inequality, 0 being most equal) and South Africa’s Gini co-efficient is currently 63.1. There is widespread knowledge of the country’s policies of racial inequality and segregation that were developed during the Apartheid era. However, there is less understanding that since the end of Apartheid in 1994, socio-economic inequality in South Africa has been increasing. This is compounded by the increasing cultural and geographic stratification of socio-economic groups.

This situation is made more remarkable in light of South Africa’s incredible racial and cultural diversity. This scenario, combined with the increasing inequality, creates strong divides in society that are expressed as limited interaction between different groups, and a focus on the differences between groups’ lifestyles, practices, beliefs and attitudes rather than on the commonalities or the richness of diversity. For example, children normally attend schools that are within the vicinity of their communities (for multiple reasons) and, in the communities that are largely homogenous, this provides little opportunity for interaction with counterparts from other backgrounds even though such diversity could greatly enrich their experiences and knowledge. With this limited level of social interaction from an early age, there is a lack of mutual experience, understanding and appreciation of the social challenges that these various groups of young people face in their daily lives. This has resulted in low levels of connection across society. Most young people grow up oblivious to the real, lived experience of fellow citizens from different backgrounds: for example, the difference between the experiences of rural and urban life; the differences between cultural practices within and across racial backgrounds, religious beliefs and more. 

With young people making up 58.5 percent of South Africa’s population, they are crucial to the country’s transformation. Inequality goes on to negatively impact educational performance and access to further educational opportunities, creating an ever-worsening cycle of poverty and increasing stratification. Also, the current education system in South Africa focuses more on the hard skills and less on the social and emotional skills that prepare learners to face the social challenges in the world. Reports indicate that today’s youth lack social and emotional skills on top of their academic education to build social capital and create a generation of people that will make a difference beyond just being ‘employable’ (University World News, 2013). This is particularly true for empathy and other non-cognitive (socio-emotional) skills. Therefore, most learners come out of the education system without being sensitized to the needs of others or empowered with confidence use resources around them to effectively to influence change in their communities. Although the South African curriculum now incorporates life skills as part of the education system, this merely provides information on life outside the classroom and does not necessarily expose the learners to the realities of others and the necessary leadership skills to build the self-confidence needed to interact with others and take action. Indeed, teamwork, as a skill, is rarely contemplated as part of most life skills and conventional education in South Africa. 

Furthermore, the education system does not provide learners with practical experiences in community action to give them the ability to act on the social challenges facing their communities and not just wait for the authorities or someone else to provide solutions for them. Thus, the education system is increasingly putting an exclusive focus on test results, teaching youth to rote learn rather than proactively ask questions and problem solve. This does little to improve employment prospects, and sets up the student to simply follow instructions rather  someone who identifies and creates opportunities. Consequentially, South Africa is creating a generation that is systematically disenfranchised. Except for those at the top socio-economic level of an increasingly stratified and unequal country, there are limited opportunities available to youth, across all boundaries, to interact, learn from each other and take action for themselves. 

Programs that attempt to tackle this issue usually cater to specific constituencies and focus on uplifting these young people from their current conditions. This approach shows results for these specific constituencies but does not address the two underlying barriers that prevent all youth in South Africa from truly interacting: the development of empathy skills and the single culture or constituent approach to youth development. Young people with empathic skills must be brought together in a truly multi-cultural environment so that they can collectively address the country’s problems.




THE STRATEGY

enke’s strategy is based on the three principles of connect, equip and inspire, which translate into a methodology that ensures participants emerge empowered within diversity and understand that another person’s problem is also their responsibility. 

Under the principle of ‘connect’, enke starts each program with an intensive “residential” program to catalyze a new network of peers and build empathy to unite young South Africans around a call to take action on social issues. Thus, the first step of the enke: Trailblazer Program is a week-long forum where about 125 learners are brought together from across the country. The learners are carefully selected from various schools ranging from wealthy private schools to under-resourced public schools in rural areas. The ideal ratio for each cohort is 10-20 percent from most well-resourced schools (private and well-resourced public schools e.g. “ex-Model C” schools), and 80-90 percent from under-resourced schools (rural, urban and peri-urban). In addition, enke aims to recruit approximately 30 percent of participants from remote and rural communities. By providing and organizing the platform for peer interaction (the forum), enke is able to intentionally bring together young people across racial, economic and gender barriers and create social capital among people from various segments in society. After connecting, the learners are equipped with various skills through the training program. The training has two components – personal leadership development (emotional intelligence and contextual awareness) and the practical skills required for community action. All facilitators who deliver the training at forum are young people themselves, many of whom are alumni that have graduated from the program, further inspiring the current participants as role models and examples of youth change leaders. 

For the duration of the forum, participants are organized in diverse teams as they work through the personal development curriculum. Although the brief looks simple, it forces the participants to work across physical and emotional barriers, which ultimately facilitates a better understanding of oneself and of the skill of empathy. Further, participants are inspired to take action on social issues around them. Each participant is challenged to identify a problem in their community and to develop a practical solution for it. The program inspires the participants and supports them through the implementation of their projects. enke provides technical and emotional support through a structured trouble-shooting hotline and SMS reporting line. The participants are given nine months to implement and report back on their achievements and challenges at a celebration event (like a graduation) that is specifically organized for this purpose. The Trailblazer Program has three key components of Training, Action & Support, and Celebration that ensure that participants emerge from the program transformed into change agents for their communities. 

The Ignition Program is very similar to the Trailblazer Program but is designed for an older age group. The program ignites an entrepreneurial spirit in tertiary students that enables them to create social change, in turn increasing their work-relevant skills (and hence their employability) or, on occasion, to create their own employment opportunities and others. This is an extra-curricular six-month program that connects tertiary level students to diverse and active networks that inspire them towards entrepreneurial thinking and to become proactive leaders of change at work and in society at large. The goal is to ignite their passion and unlock their potential by using the resources at their disposal. “Igniters,” as they are called, are equipped with skills in leadership, project design and implementation, facilitation and other skills that complement their academic education. The participants are responsible for coming up with the projects they will be working on. The participants are also exposed to professional development opportunities through practical internships, volunteer placements and mentorship (from prominent business leaders). 

Since 2009, enke has run nine intakes of the Trailblazer Program and six intakes of the Ignition Program, reaching over 1,250 young people from all nine South African provinces. Skills development and empathy building are the focus of enke’s work but the organization has seen great success when it comes to the implementation of the participant’s ideas. The Trailblazer program has recorded an 81 percent conversion rate (metric for the implementation of ideas) and a 83 percent completion rate of the implemented ideas. The 2013 cohort of the Ignition Program brought together 80 youth from across 18 universities and colleges in South Africa. 

Pip is planning the program’s expansion, building around enke’s core business in order to broaden its impact. Examples of ideas in the pipeline include a year-round fund available to all alumni, to support the continuation of youth projects. Furthermore, enke is in the process of documenting the key trends that emerge from the program, best practices that can be shared more broadly as enke scales and findings that prove the effectiveness of enke’s model and other similar models of youth development. Not wanting to stop with South Africa, enke is already looking at expansion, with ideas for the next enke hubs in Africa being Namibia, Zambia and Botswana – to be opened in the next 5 years. enke’s alumni are of multiple nationalities already, having worked with youth from 12 countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe and the UK.




THE PERSON

Pip grew up on a farm in a remote, rural community in Australia where her parents were farmers. Droughts, floods and fires were everyday challenges that threatened the farming business and this drove a desire to understand climate change and to seek out ways to minimize the associated risks.  Her goal after finishing university was to work for the United Nations (UN) and fill a position on climate change issues in Bangladesh. However, she failed to get this job and so decided to move to South Africa instead to gain exposure to development issues more broadly in a different context before reapplying to her dream job at the UN.

In South Africa, Pip joined a team that was volunteering in schools and spearheaded a partnership with a peer education program that worked in the rural and township schools of KwaZulu-Natal. It was then, working with high school learners from disadvantaged communities that Pip realized the disconnection that existed between youth from different socio-economic backgrounds. She also realized that young people were unaware about the social challenges that existed outside their communities. Pip quickly understood that young people lacked practical change making skills and thus found it difficult to find and implement solutions to the social issues they saw.

Pip also recognised that as an Australian she was an outsider to the South African context and, as such, she would not neatly fit into any of the historically charged racial constituencies.  While this was obviously a limitation because she did not have first-hand understanding of the challenges of identity in the same way, she was determined to turn it into an advantage. Pip decided to develop a model that would train and build up young people to be able to deliver enke’s programs, and to create enough flexibility in the content that these youth volunteer corps would make it context-specific.  Being an outsider also allowed Pip to work across different groups, connecting youth from different backgrounds and build social capital amongst them with the vision of creating a generation of connected, empathetic social change makers. Pip ran the first pilot of the program in July 2009, and registered enke: Make Your Mark in December 2010.  In less than 4 years, she managed to expand operations across all nine South African provinces. With South Africa as her new home, Pip is consolidating the model and scaling it to other countries in Southern Africa.




RELATED: