What’s on my mind? Business should do more, more effectively.

As property owners and managers, we’re invested in a very concrete way in the places we operate. In effect, we’re rooted in the soil – we’ve literally laid foundations in these places. And so, it would be irresponsible not to make a difference in these locales and in the communities in which we do business. Are we doing enough? I think not.

With the changes in national government that we have seen in the past months, there is a new mood of confidence and optimism in the country. Our attitude seems to be that, as long as we’re attending another round of job summits, and we’re making profit and increasing distribution, all is right with the world, and everything is going to be fine. This is a reckless, foolish attitude to adopt.

In South Africa, our challenges are enormous and the holes are big. Not just the potholes, but the economic holes. The biggest hole we need to fill is unemployment. Depending who you ask, the unemployment stats range from 27% to 36%. Of these, 55% are under the age of 30. In other words, the very people who should be the drivers of our economy – young people in their mid-twenties and thirties – in fact make up more than half of the unemployed.

When more than a third of your population are not working, there must be serious structural problems that need to be overcome. Because this is a time bomb waiting to explode, and it’s on our doorstep. If we aren’t proactive, creative and collaborative enough, we’ll be reaping a whirlwind.

Our first step is to make a meaningful (not token) dent in unemployment. We could do this unilaterally, by increasing our workforce by 10%, even though we may have no need for additional staff. So, we’re looking at creating half a million jobs. We don’t need these people, but we’ll employ them anyway. Would it hurt our business to do this? Well, yes, it would make a difference to our bottom line, and, yes, business would bear the brunt of it, but where is our sense of responsibility? As business, we can sit back, take in a few interns, give money to a few feeding schemes, and feel good about ourselves. We’ve ticked some boxes, but we haven’t really taken responsibility.

There has to be some sacrifice, some give. On The Mentorship Challenge talk show, I have met some of the most remarkable young people who have carved themselves a path out of poverty, and who are now paying it forward to their communities. What interests me is that every single one of them is giving back, and this seems inbuilt in their very DNA. It’s part of their cultural inheritance – ubuntu, if you will – and something I see dramatically lacking in White communities.

When a young Black person achieves – and they may often be the first in their family to do so – they are expected to carry not just their immediate nuclear family on their back, but a whole host of extended family members. Theirs is a true burden of responsibility, and it sits on their shoulders from the first moment they graduate or walk into their new workplace. And yet they take on this considerable burden without complaint or resistance. Shouldn’t we all be doing the same?

The point is, we have to do painful things now in order to invest in our future. People are infinitely resilient, and are capable of surviving poverty, hardship, disease and famine, and global financial crises – and somehow emerging stronger and better for the experience.

We have to tap into and embrace this resilience, and discover it in ourselves. We need to fund more projects to employ the unemployed and the unemployable. Ideally, we need to come together as business and generate one sizeable, central fund, that can be utilised for job creation, skills development and education.

We need to focus on a shared future, and see the discretionary, and sometimes painful measures we need to take now as an investment in our collective future. And it should be an investment that we choose to make, rather than one imposed on us by government. As Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” It’s time now for us to build that door – a door to a better future for all.

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