Bongani Chinkanda
Bongani Chinkanda

How brands are targeting youth challenges

by Bongani Chinkanda. It’s only the first quarter of 2020 and already South Africa and the world at large are stressing out big time, what with our recession and a fast-spreading coronavirus. How do we offer a glimmer of hope?

by Bongani Chinkanda. It’s only the first quarter of 2020 and already South Africa and the world at large are stressing out big time, what with our recession and a fast-spreading coronavirus [COVID-19] that has everyone running for cover in a bid to stay healthy – and alive. Here at home, we were presented with the State of the Nation Address and the Budget speech last month. Both have tried to offer us glimmers of hope, but it’s clear that our economy is in crisis.

Whew, we’re in freefall. Time to stop, take a breath… now we can relook at the problems with rational minds and define them – from brands actively making a difference, experts offering excellent advice on how to change the status quo; or inspiring people who stand out from the rabble.

1. South Africa: Gender-based Violence

The scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) has reached alarming levels. Every week, news headlines scream of women and children suffering at the hands of violent men. Our country’s statistics are frightening: a woman is murdered every three hours; police receive over 100 cases of reported rape every day; hundreds of children are kidnapped or go missing every year, many of whom are later found dead; and an estimated half a million cases of domestic violence are reported annually.

Following last year’s #TotalShutdown protest marches by gender activists, who called on government and big business to play an active role in addressing the crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged R1.6 billion to fund programmes tackling crimes against women and children, declaring: “This is war.”

Corporations are also acting to fight GBV. Vodacom has set a fine example in championing the rights of women and children. As early as 2014, it launched a GBV campaign aimed at helping “the triple Cs”: customers, colleagues and communities. It partnered with the Department of Social Development to launch a call centre managed by social workers. In December 2016, a Skype capability was launched at the call centre to give access to the victims of GBV from the deaf community.

In addition, Vodacom has partnered with government to provide digital literacy to victims of GBV. It has spent R2.5 million to deploy computers and train more than 1 300 survivors of violence. And this year, Vodacom is working on two projects: Firstly, it is working with Vodafone to introduce a mobile app, which will serve as a risk assessment tool for users to determine if they are in an abusive relationship so they can seek help. And secondly, to intensify the fight against woman and child abuse, Vodacom also plans to introduce Nokaneng: an app that provides women and girls (as well as men and boys) with a safe space for information, support and advice on GBV. The app, which is already available in Lesotho, has features that include information on GBV, services and rights, as well as protection tools such as a sound alarm and emergency SMS. The app creates a safe space for conversations, support and advice from counsellors. Wow, what an example Vodacom has set.

In September last year, Unilever tea brand Joko launched its initiative, called #EndDomesticSilence, in partnership with People Opposing Women Abuse. The campaign is designed to support victims of violence to end their silence by providing them with information and tools to help them speak out; and provide funding for more safe spaces for women to access. Absa has launched the #StoptoStart initiative as part of its fight against GBV. This entails working with a non-profit organisation, Growing Up Without A Father Foundation. Through its sponsorship of the Absa Premiership, the bank aims to ensure that young boys receive the basic building blocks they need to be the positive change in their communities. The initiative aims to equip them with a sense of self-worth, honour and the belief that violence is never the solution.

I love each of these campaigns. Corporates are using their brand identity to target specific areas in which they can reach out and offer help to their respective target markets.

2. Unemployment vs Economic Empowerment

A few weeks ago, Statistics South Africa released the unemployment figures for the last quarter of 2019. Unemployment remained at 29.1%, while youth unemployment stood at 58.1%. Delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa called this a national crisis and unveiled a five-year intervention plan to drive employability. I am listing the six priority actions that he specifically targeted for the youth:

  • Offering work-readiness training through online platforms connecting job seekers to potential employers.
  • Providing shorter, more flexible courses for specific skills required by employers in fast-growing sectors such as agriculture, technology and tourism.
  • Expanding the Youth Employment Service, a business-led partnership with government which provides interns with paid work opportunities.
  • Supporting entrepreneurship opportunities in townships through small business incubation centres.
  • Establishing the Presidential Youth Service Programme, which will provide an income to young people willing to do community work and contribute to nation-building,
  • Setting aside 1% of the national budget to finance a youth employment initiative.

These initiatives cover the need to upskill young people, but what about helping them at the job search stage? Enter Uber and start-up company Trusted Interns. A month before the SONA, they announced a joint venture whereby Uber would help financially struggling first-time job seekers by offering them free rides to help them get to and from interviews. Through its #GiveTheYouthAchance campaign, Trusted Interns secured these rides. Uber donated R10 000 in free rides and pledged to match a further R10 000 in public donations.

Then there’s Tshepo 1Million, a youth empowerment initiative designed to break down barriers to enable young people to participate in the economy. Launched in 2014, Tshepo 1Million offers youths skills training, places them in jobs and develops those with a flair for entrepreneurship. It has received support from companies like Microsoft SA, Coca-Cola and Hollard. Since implementation, about 460 000 young people have benefited from the programme.

In August last year, the youth-oriented cellphone network operator Trace Mobile launched a training initiative to tackle unemployment. This is in keeping with the company’s brand identity – it defines itself as “a lifestyle network created by the youth for the youth”. The initiative is designed to employ and upskill youth, regardless of their education and work experience. Candidates aged 18 to 25 are selected to participate in its skills development programme, which provides them with training in sales, marketing and activations. After the programme, graduates become ‘Trace Troops’ and are stationed within Trace Mobile as salaried employees.

Again, we see from these examples how different companies are using their respective brand identities to activate the youth market and integrate them into the labour market. First steps they may be, but it shows creative, out-of-the-box thinking, which can only lead to more activations.

3. Africa: Is Education Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

In a word, no. But the situation can be turned around. As things stand, Africa has low levels of literacy compared with the Global North. This is worrying, given that ours is the youngest continent on the planet and that the future – in the form of technology – is already upon us. But the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) can prove to be the great equaliser. That’s because digital platforms are disrupting education as we know it, transforming teaching as well as the way we think about learning.

In an article posted on the website of the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cathy Smith, the MD of software company SAP Africa, writes: “Right now, we’re at a tipping point in Africa’s development. We’re hurtling headlong into 4IR, which has the potential to turbocharge the socio-economic development of the entire African continent. We’ve got the youngest continent in the world, with 60% of Africa’s 1.25 billion people under the age of 25. If we make the right decisions in the next few years, we could pave a bold new path of African prosperity. In Africa, 4IR’s potential is limitless.”

I love the optimism, and she goes on to make a convincing argument. But how do we make education relevant for the continent’s youth and prepare them for the jobs of the future?

Collaboration is crucial as governments can’t make it happen on their own. Corporates, NGOs and civil society will have to design an Africa-focused education policy that considers skills required for 21st-century learning. These include communication, problem solving, analytical abilities, critical thinking and the integration of robotics and automation into various subjects. Equally important for this new type of learning is an emphasis on human aspects like creativity and flexibility. For this overhaul of the school curriculum to happen, access to digital platforms is essential.

While technology-enabled hubs are being set up in various countries through public-private partnerships, this is not happening fast enough. Fewer than 1% of African children leave school with basic coding knowledge and in many countries, access to fast and reliable internet is lacking. This is tragic, given the plethora of free open online courses that are available. Another critical factor in getting young Africans up to speed with 4IR is the need for countries to retrain their teachers and equip them with tech-savvy skills while also giving them the resources required to impart their knowledge. Without these preparatory actions, education will be stuck in the past.

By extension, what’s also needed to propel a revised education system is inclusivity. Technology needs to be harnessed to bridge the social and economic divide in order to ensure equal education for rural and urban learners alike. We cannot afford to leave people behind and risk even worse inequality. This is what makes 4IR so promising: it is all about offering equal opportunity. It works for people in every field, from agriculture to industry to healthcare and, yes, education. It is the great adapter, the great democratiser.

Six of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa; we can add to this number by prioritising digital transformation at school level. But we need to hurry and implement these competencies now. And why not get the youth to give their input in the new policy? Look at gaming. Once dismissed as child’s play, it has become one of the most lucrative activities in the youth market. It tests reflexes, visualisation and problem-solving skills, and the world’s top gamers, youngsters all, earn megabucks. Let’s incorporate their suggestions in the mix too; they’ve proven that they have the smarts.


Bongani Chinkanda is the CEO of HDI Youth Marketeers, part of TBWA\. He is a strong believer in solving client business problems, specialising in the youth and mass markets, and is passionate about bringing big ideas to the people. Bongani worked in trade and shopper marketing for companies including Unilever, BP, Kraft Foods and Kimberly Clark from 2003 until 2008 before embarking on a career in advertising. HDI’s footprint in Africa, includes Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

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