2017 02 10 Unemployment, Poverty and Inequality

Written by Markus Mostert

10th February 2017

Unemployment, poverty and inequality. There seems to be general consensus that these three words succinctly summarises the essence of the challenges faced, not only by South Africans, but by nations across the globe. While some people may think that they might escape the negative effects of growing inequality, there is evidence that high levels of inequality are bad for the rich and the poor, and everyone in between. It engenders social problems that make everyone’s lives less good than they otherwise could be. It demands massive social costs from a society with regard to health care and other social problems. Increasing inequality is not good for individuals or for societies as a whole.

In a world polarized by ideology, religious conflicts, and vast degrees of inequality, education is often proposed as the ultimate solution, least of all, due to its commitment to an “academic mode of thinking” – that stance of systematic scepticism that looks for evidence and formulates testable hypotheses. For John Daniels, former Vice-Chancellor of the UK Open University, this academic mode of thinking, which he contrasts with an “ideological mode of thinking”, is among the most precious assets of humankind. James Paul Gee describes this mode of thinking as one in which people argue their position based on both evidence and a moral vision, where they have confronted people and texts who disagree with them and for which they themselves have searched for disconfirming evidence. Gee hopes that people would have also gone beyond evidence to form a considered vision of life and the world based on wisdom from the past and the present, including wisdom from outside their own local comfort zone. In addition, an academic mode of thinking would require people to remain open and committed to a public forum in which they will deal respectfully with opposing but well-considered viewpoints, in the hope that new and better ideas may emerge out of the clash of the old ones. So defined, education is a force for equality in the sense of making everyone count, giving every member of society a valued life and enabling everyone to fully participate in and contribute to our society, to learn how to learn, and to adapt to changing times.

Education, however, is not a quick-fix solution as the positive impact of education often only becomes visible after several generations. A child who goes to school might learn to read and write, for example. However, without any books or even magazines to read at home, and without parents who read with and for their children, this child would not have developed a social and emotional affiliation or affinity to reading, literacy or academic language, placing this child at a very high risk for failure in school. While more privileged parents tend to have sustained conversations with their children, poorer parents often do not, either because they are too busy with work or because they accept cultural norms that favour giving directions to children rather than having elaborate conversations with them. This situation may take generations to change.

In contrast, business has the potential to have a more direct positive impact on society, not least due to its ability to create employment through which the livelihoods of employees and their extended families are sustained. Although you do not have to be rich to do good, money can equally be a force for good. Business people can and does a great deal of good. Think Bill Gates. Think Richard Branson, who relates how the biggest charities in the world were started by rich men and women, even though some were begun with next to nothing. Harvard, the wealthiest college in America, is a charitable trust which started with a few books and just $ 350.

Closer to home. Given the vast level of unemployment in Grahamstown, reported to be between 70% and 80%, what can we as a business fraternity do to support the development of new business? One possibility is for businesses to become involved in supporting small businesses with investment, advice, mentorship and training, activities for which businesses can score “enterprise development” BEE points.

The Assumption Development Centre (ADC) in Joza, whom the GBF is proud to be associated with, presents businesspeople with an ideal opportunity to become involved, not by giving of their money, but through offering of their time. As part of their Socio-Economic Development Model, the ADC will be presenting a week-long entrepreneurship programme from 20 February onwards (offered by SocioNext and sponsored by the South African Breweries Foundation). The purpose of the entrepreneurship programme is to stimulate ideas for the development of small businesses in Joza and beyond. Thirty young people, all who have been selected from the ADC’s 2016 Thabiso Life Skills Programme, will participate in this course.

The success of this course is highly dependent on the availability of established business people to act as mentors for the budding entrepreneurs. While mentors will be provided with a course outline to get a feel of what is covered, mentors are invited to pay a visit to the Centre during the coursework section of course. The initial mentorship phase is envisaged to last for a period of 6 months, i.e. up to the end of August 2017, with a minimum of an hour per month of mentorship time expected.

Mentors are not required to tell participants what to do, but rather to coax them into thinking through their ideas by asking thought-provoking questions and challenging them to exceed their goals. In doing so, mentors would share their own experiences and help entrepreneurs uncover new opportunities. In addition, mentors may be able to assist the participants with networking opportunities by introducing them to potential business partners, suppliers or customers and prevent start-ups from repeating mistakes they have made earlier.

Interested business people who wish to become involved in mentoring are invited to contact Maso Nduna at maso@adcjoza.co.za or call him on 079 038 9253 or 046 637 1147.

“What’s wrong with the world today?” was reportedly asked of famous authors by The Times newspaper. In response one author simply replied, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton”. Unemployment, poverty and inequality? “Dear Sir, I am”.

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