One of the greatest overused and underrated social media discoveries has been the hashtag. It offers us a front row seat on all kinds of noteworthy events and happenings round the world, from the perspective of…well, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection. It allows us to show support for women with #MeToo; keeps us updated with inspiring quotes with #MondayMotivation, and help us sending thoughts and prayers with #PrayForParis. It surely is the fastest way to create awareness of, and rally support, for causes we deeply care about. I mean, how else are we to count our blessings without the help of #blessed?
But herein lies the danger: In our constant trends focused world, we are missing opportunities to help bring real and sustainable life-change to people in need right in our midst. Don’t get me wrong, social media solidarity through hashtags is a good place to start. But it’s a terrible place to stop, and then feel as if you’ve contributed in a meaningful way. And if our hashtag activism doesn’t lead to getting our hands dirty; if we can’t transform our 260 character tweets into R260 to contribute to change, we are fooling ourselves about our desires for a better South Africa. There’s an actual term for this sort of behavior: “Slacktivism”, referring to people who ae the loudest on social media in favour of a cause or idea, but are the least likely to volunteer their time or donate money to that cause.
In a book I read last year, “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz, she said, “People need more than inspiration to change the world. They also need systems, accountability, and clear measures of what work and what doesn’t”. This is the essence of what social entrepreneurship and social innovation should be about. That it’s not just about inspiring South Africans to dream better stories. It’s also about working together and putting processes in place to create a future South African story- one in which there’s opportunities for old and young, across all races and backgrounds, to live better stories.
My own story was changed dramatically because South African businesses believed in the critical role they play in helping to bring change in some of the country’s most pressing issues. While in prison in 2004, as a juvenile, I enrolled in a peer educators program, focusing on presenting and facilitating group discussions around HIV/AIDS amongst prisoners. It was funded by South African business. The confidence I built in that program inspired me to complete my matric in prison. Which then afforded me the opportunity to go study for a degree in theology- funded by South African business.
My passion to see underprivileged youth become part of the powerful future story of South Africa would not have been there if those opportunities had not come my way. Imagine how many stories like mine can be told to generations to come, because business- big or small- decided to make “giving back” not a Mandela Day project, but an integral part of their organization’s DNA.
The theme for this year’s Nation Builder In Good Company conference is: “South Africa Matters! They want to bring as many leaders, businessmen and women, change agents and entrepreneurs together, to listen, learn, and discuss WHY South Africa Matters; to challenge and inspire these people to use their skills and resources as vehicles for lasting change, not just a for a few hours of social media trending.
Solving our country’s social problems isn’t a contest to be won; it’s a forward-moving journey together, inviting as many other organizations and individuals to join in. because, believing that South Africa matters requires that we either become part of the solution, or forfeit the right to comment on the future of South Africa.
Ivor has been out of prison for 11 years. He is now a youth pastor working at St Paul’s United Church in Johannesburg. He will be participating in a panel discussion at Nation Builder’s In Good Company conference on 21 August.