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Empowering South Africa’s youth through green entrepreneurship

By Poovi Pillay, Executive Head: CSI at Nedbank

The unemployment crisis facing South African youth is a national emergency that demands innovative solutions. With a staggering 45.5% unemployment rate among young individuals aged 15–34 in the 1st quarter of 2024, compared with the national average of about 33%, it’s clear that traditional approaches are falling short. Factors like employers’ preference for experienced workers, rigid workplace structures, and limited access to quality education and training exacerbate this challenge.

However, within this crisis lies an opportunity for transformation. The emerging green economy offers a pathway to address both youth unemployment and environmental sustainability simultaneously. The role of corporate South Africa in helping to deliver these dual benefits cannot be overstated. Through strategically structured corporate and social investment (CSI) programmes, companies can play a vital role in bridging the gap between unemployment and sustainable livelihoods for our youth.

At Nedbank, we believe that by harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of our youth and aligning it with the principles of the green economy, we can create a more prosperous and sustainable future for all South Africans. To achieve this, our CSI Green Economy Strategy focuses on the 4 key pillars of waste, energy, water, and agriculture – all of which not only represent critical environmental challenges for South Africa, but also offer significant potential for job creation and economic growth. By supporting and investing in projects that address these areas, we’re creating opportunities for young people to develop valuable skills, obtain jobs, start businesses, and contribute to solving some of our country’s most pressing issues.

The 2 standout programmes supported by the Nedbank Foundation under this strategy are the KP Cares Programme and the Kusini Water Programme. Both programmes demonstrate how green initiatives can create immediate, sustainable income opportunities for unemployed youth.

KP Cares Programme: Powering youth employment through renewable energy

The ongoing energy crisis in South Africa presents a unique opportunity for youth empowerment. Through our partnership with KP Cares, we’re equipping young people in the rural parts of the Northern Cape and Free State with skills in the burgeoning renewable energy sector. KP Cares trains about 100 young individuals every year, sharing comprehensive knowledge of solar and renewable energy fundamentals. By the end of the year, these young individuals will be well-positioned for placement in solar companies as energy auditors or solar installers. This programme not only addresses youth unemployment but also contributes to South Africa’s energy transition, creating a win-win situation for youth, communities, and the environment.

Kusini Water Programme: Turning water scarcity into entrepreneurial opportunity

Water scarcity is another pressing issue in South Africa, particularly affecting rural and peri-urban areas. Our partnership with Kusini Water transforms this challenge into an entrepreneurial opportunity for unemployed youth. Through the Kusini Water Programme, young people receive comprehensive training on water hygiene and filtration technology. The programme then helps them to set up water kiosks in communities, using innovative filtration systems made from the shells of locally sourced macadamia nuts. The trained youth then get a chance to operate these kiosks where they sell clean, affordable drinking water to their communities. Each kiosk has the potential to generate up to R30 000 in monthly revenue. This provides a substantial income for young entrepreneurs – while also giving them the opportunity to address critical water access issues in their communities.

Programmes like KP Cares and Kusini demonstrate the immense potential of green entrepreneurship. They offer quick skills development and income-generating opportunities, addressing the urgent need for many young people to earn a living while contributing to sustainable development.

For Nedbank, the transition to a green economy is not just about environmental protection; it’s about reimagining our entire economic model to be more inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous for all. We encourage our youth to seize the opportunities that are available to them through the green economy projects supported not only by Nedbank, but also by many other forward-thinking South African businesses. If you are a young South African, know that the country needs your energy, innovation and commitment.

We urge the broader business community to consider how their CSI initiatives can support this vital transition. By working together we can create a future where economic growth and environmental stewardship go hand in hand, providing hope and opportunity for generations to come.

The time for action is now. Let’s work together to harness the power of green entrepreneurship and use the energy of our nation’s youth to build a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

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