I sat down with our President and Founder, Mr. Odwa Ntsika Mtembu about the importance and impact of youth volunteerism in South Africa. As part of World Merit global, World Merit South Africa is a Non- Profit Organisation that advocates for and implements the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, aimed towards creating an efficient and equitable society.
This article was originally published in World Merit South Africa's quarterly online publication. https://issuu.com/wmrsa/docs/world_merit_south_africa_q1_2019
You started volunteering from a young age and up to this age. What drove you to this path and has it impacted you personally?
I decided to volunteer my time with different stakeholders because I wanted to find a way of giving back to the community using the same knowledge and exposure that my own village has given me. It was also a great opportunity for me to interact with different stakeholders that were already within my career field or other disciplines and that gave me exposure to advance my knowledge, my actions and my network.
Since you co-founded and led World Merit South Africa, what impact have you seen and are you satisfied so far?
The impact is satisfactory but is not the best. There is always room for improvement and a greater impact. Which is why through World Merit, I’m advocating for partnerships and collaboration with different organisations, especially those led by young people. As much as one impact or activity might seem small, if they are combined through partnerships, the impact will be more than satisfactory if different stakeholders are involved.
What makes World Merit South Africa unique for our youth and why do you think they should participate?
We are building a world of merit where we don’t ask for their qualifications in terms of being a volunteer or a council member. It’s all about being a person of merit. The merit in this context is about getting rid of the idea that academics are the only requirement for employment or access to opportunities. There are people with knowledge and skills but who couldn’t complete their qualifications due to various reasons. It’s all about passion.
However, those with qualifications also work for our advantage in terms of creating the impact that we want to create. We go from policy, to creating a local impact, to engaging on local to global conferences and meetings, and higher-level political forums. We’re covering the entire spectrum so that when another stakeholder or a potential employer needs a flexible person or all-rounder who can debate or engage in policy-making- we’re those people.
The headquarters is going to be launching a talent bank which will make it easier for many organisations to simply go on our website and access a pool of young people.
There is a misconception that it is only those who have socio-economic-political resources who volunteer but studies prove otherwise, showing that in Africa, it is often the poor who dedicate their time and resources to the poor. How do we then resolve to motivate the youth from all backgrounds to dedicate their time to social causes? What other misconceptions about volunteering would you like to address?
Firstly, volunteers need to communicate clearly about the organisations and initiatives. The minute you break it down to people that it’s not for a certain profession, then people are able to participate. Secondly, people find volunteering as a waste of time because they do not get paid.
The benefits of volunteering go beyond monetary aspects. You get the connections and exposure. The ‘networth’ that you can build from volunteering is very amazing! Some now companies have even shifted into taking all the hours that people have used in volunteering to count them towards the years of experience.
Given South Africa’s economy and high youth unemployment, there is a need of skills. How does volunteering boost that gap and what kind of exposure can the youth experience after volunteering?
Most of the organisations that I know have a lot of training programs that are crafted into their strategies which allows everyone within that space to get some sort of training internally as well as externally. At the end of the day each volunteer is able to say that during their years of volunteering with a certain organisation, they’ve managed to get different skills and certification in the things they’ve taken part in. Some organisations open employment opportunities for their members through their different partnerships, and platforms like networking events.
What are the current challenges that your organisation including other Non-Profits face with volunteers and what are the relevant interventions to address them?
Common challenges are financial issues which we’ve been trying to resolve through potential sponsors. The other issue is commitment from volunteers themselves. People sometimes love the idea of volunteering and affiliating with different organisations but at a later stage complain that nothing is happening. Forgetting that they are the ones who should be driving the entire cause instead of waiting for someone else to make impact.
Sometimes it disadvantages them when they need recommendation letters to apply for other opportunities and maybe a report of progress made, which they cannot produce. That also hampers potential funding. Some people also have expectations that the NPO has to give them a stipend, cover their travelling expenses or just want to experience travelling opportunities. Most NPOs have tried their best to motivate people through training, access to opportunities and giving them ownership of projects within the organisation.
In conclusion what are your general comments?
The public sector needs to work together with society. That is the only way we are going to achieve things. People on the ground need to be included in decision-making and this is through NPOs.