When three community foundations – the West Coast Community Foundation, Community Development Foundation for Western Cape (CDFWC) and Uluntu Community Foundation – came together for a two-day meeting in Cape Town back in July, it was something of an experiment. Not only did staff and board members come together from the three foundations – which are all current grantees of the GFCF under its Youth Civic Engagement Programme, but two of the community foundations also brought along some of their young partners, for whom this kind of a “peer learning” event was definitely a first.
For the WCCF group, many of who live in remote rural communities in South Africa’s Western Cape, travelling all the way to Cape Town – one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities – was itself of interest. And the fact that these were young adults (18 years and up) was another issue. CDFWC has tended to work with a younger age-group (it is young people aged 10-16 years that are most vulnerable to being preyed upon by drug lords and gangs) and so most of their participants were still at school. With age differences between the groups, and with one urban and the other rural – would they connect?
Reflecting on the event several months on staff of both CDFWC and WCCF both agreed that getting the two groups to connect was simply not something they needed to have worried about. A quick warm-up session at the start was all it took. The youth participants had, after all, come with serious intentions and a desire to be active participants in the meeting. In the words of one, “youth don’t want to be told what to do: [we want to be] engaged…and given a voice”. A common thread that came up throughout the peer exchange was that, too often, young people were consulted by different government and non-government agencies in a superficial “box-ticking” ways, but that not often enough did they feel that their concerns were really listened to and acted upon.
Over the course of the two days, many things were learnt and others affirmed: that programmes such as Photospeak (a programme of CDFCW now in its fourth year, where groups of young people are given the opportunity to observe and document their communities through the lens of a camera) or Youth Bank (which promotes leadership and decision-making around issues identified by young people) will invariably evolve differently in different contexts, even within the same country or province; that although there is no substitute for “just doing it” and learning through trial and error, the support and experiences of community foundation peers mean it isn’t always necessary to reinvent the wheel when developing new programmes; and perhaps most importantly, that there is a wealth of inspiring, committed and dedicated youth leaders in southern Africa, doing what they can, in whatever way they can, to make their society a more just and equitable one.
As a result of the peer exchange and of other activities supported by the GFCF grant, West Coast Community Foundation has developed its first youth-focused programme, which is now being rolled out. The Uluntu Community Foundation, meanwhile, is a new philanthropic institution based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, which sees young people as a key constituency: for staff and board members, the peer exchange was an opportunity to connect with, learn from and be encouraged by the experiences of their South African peers, something that can be so important when you are operating in such difficult circumstances back home.
For the GFCF, the event was part of a broader learning agenda aimed at building practice and strengthening learning networks among its Youth Civic Engagement grantee partners. Next on the agenda: a global learning event in Cluj, Romania in November which will bring together YCE partners from 19 countries.