6 June 2020
A part of me thinks of all problems as talent problems. With every big problem South African society faces, this part of me always imagines how different things would be if we had our most talented and most ambitious people working on that problem.
South Africa, being the most unequal country in the world, is in dire need of talent on the frontlines of serving under served communities and creating Africa-first solutions. Solutions informed by our life experiences and a contextual understanding of the problems we are facing. Problems like digital inequality, lack of financial inclusion, lack of access to legal advise, land pollution etc. disproportionately affect underserved communities.
Unfortunately right now, South Africa's most talented and ambitious people are held back by grotesquely underfunded public schools and lack of access to economic upliftment opportunities. Those that make it through underfunded public schools are encouraged to join prestigious corporates, or top academic institutions and solve "first word problems" they do not have any personal connection to. Their contribution to solving problems they care about is reduced to sending a little money home each month.
It is commonly stated that the rich only get richer because they have the best people working for them, yet somehow for underserved communities "saving" a few of the best and having them send a little money home seems to be the best we can come up with. There seems to be a common consensus that underserved communities are charity cases, and can only be 'saved' through "mentoring" programmes and donations - but not through having the best talent working to solve their problems like the rich. In fact the framing is such that a lot of ambitious and talented youths from underserved communities are taken away to create value for the rich and middle class folk.
While I do not have a holistic solution to this problem and do not think one exists, I am greatly inspired by initiatives like Entrepreneur First that "hire" ambitious and talented people and helps them solve a problem they care about through creating a startup, and Helium Grants a micro-grant ($1k - $5k USD) that funded individuals who doing work they are passionate about in their field to help communities they care about, or indie hackers a community for developers who are looking to independently solve problems they care about and earn a living from it.
As we empower youths I hope we empower them enough not to just leave and send a little money home from 'the other side', but to come back, solve problems they care about using the skills they've acquired - and be able to make a living from it. Because having talented people with contextual understanding work really hard to solve your problems trumps having a little money to buy cookie cutter solutions and simply get by.