Charlene Lackay, CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan Foundation, spoke to us about the organisation’s support for youth through non-profit partnerships that work to empower young people. She emphasised that it is vital for business to centre young people in their approaches to ensure a future for them.
How many youth programmes does the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation support through CSI funding?
We currently have six youth employment partners that we work with. They’re based in Gauteng, the Western the Cape, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Why have you chosen to support these programmes and these partner organisations?
In May 2018, we started the rollout of our youth employment focus after many months of deliberation and research into what is happening in this space of youth empowerment. It was after the #FeesMustFall movement. We could see a perfect storm brewing. There were, and still are, many spaces where corporate social investment funding could be applied effectively. To us, this was just the most pressing issue at the time – young people not in jobs, not in training, and not in employment. So we set out to offer skills to young people through non-profit partners, which would see them getting access to income-earning and/or job creation opportunities. Young people were not seeing their aspirations fulfilled, and we wanted to do something to change that. We sought out partners who we thought had the same values as us and who understood that broad-based support was required for young people to transition from learning to earning, from psychosocial to technical, soft skills, job placement and career management support. It is a big ask from any organisation, but we had to try.
What has been the Foundation’s approach to youth empowerment?
If I think back on when we were doing research on what a youth employment/empowerment strategy should look like, we held focus groups. We read a lot of what best practice looks like elsewhere in the world, but we wanted to hear the voices of young people. We’ve tried to put young people at the centre of everything that we do, so it is not just a strategy but something we live in and through everything we do. For example, when we were looking at new implementation agencies for financial literacy programmes – which are youth-focused by the way – we asked agencies to show us what they are doing as part of empowering young people to become economically active. We have the voices of highly qualified, skilled young people on our board that work in anthropology and social research, in STEM development for young girls, and who are entrepreneurs. Our volunteer programme which is largely skill-based volunteering is youth-focused. In everything we do, as much as possible, we ask ourselves, where is the young person in what we’re doing.
How do you measure success in these programmes?
Until now we have had a very hard measure of success – job placement, but we are learning to expand that, and the challenge of unemployment is so complex, answering it, needs measurement on various levels. So, you can’t just look at whether there is a job at the end of the programme intervention, but what kind of job is it; what kind of income does it generate; is there sustainability in that job placement; career mobility; well-being? Not all of these things are up to you or even the implementation partner, in this case, our NPOs. Five out of six programmes also have a financial education component. Until recently, we’ve been looking at knowledge transfer, understanding and cues that signal behavioural change. But this needs to be expanded to include the level of financial management of a person who has gone through training with our NPO partners, and has done the financial education courses, once they are in that job. Did it really have the impact we were hoping for?
How have the programmes been adapting during the lockdown?
All the programmes moved to distance learning where it was relevant and possible. Where needed enabled continuous learning, whether that was through providing data or devices. We provided R4.7m relief funding in total to our programme partners, as well as to the Red Cross, Unicef and some of the smaller NPOs we work with in our volunteers’ network.
You are currently undergoing a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process regarding the programmes, can you comment on why M&E is critical for programmes?
No matter how well you plan, things do go wrong and you need to understand why. All these things raised previously can only be answered through M&E. Also, because there is such pressure on funding, you need evidence to show what you’re achieving. I also think as CSI practitioners, we become emotionally invested in projects. It is natural when working in development. M&E is the pull we need to draw us back to a neutral place so we can assess our efforts objectively.