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In South Africa this Week, Tomorrow’s World Leaders Usher in Hope for the Future

By Lydia Baldridge Meier

Yesterday, December 13, was the start of the World Festival of Youth and Students in Pretoria, South Africa, the largest youth festival in the world. More than 500 young people from around the world are gathering all this week, Dec. 13-21, to discuss social, political and economic issues that affect their generation. Youth represent a growing share of the population in many developing countries, particularly those like South Africa, where the adult population has been heavily affected by AIDS deaths.

South Africa’s National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) Executive Chairperson Andile Lungisa says that youth continue to be confronted with challenges of lack of access to education and skills development, and economic participation opportunities.

This makes me grateful for the work that Opportunity South Africa is doing. Based in Pietermaritzburg, on South Africa’s eastern coast, Opportunity has five branches providing economic opportunities to the marginalized.

In a country where racial distrust had led to the deterioration of the culture of loan repayment, Opportunity was determined to succeed. Relying on academic and industry experts to help design products based on the needs of our clients, Opportunity South Africanow offers micro- and small business loans and–very importantly–training to small business owners creating jobs and opportunities where there once were none.

These financial opportunities are empowering entrepreneurs like Beauty Zulu, who wanted to grow her tiny sewing business but repeatedly has been denied loans by big commercial banks. When she found Opportunity South Africa, they approved her for a no-collateral loan to buy extra sewing machines, enabling her to hire two people. Subsequent loans for more machines enabled Beauty’s small business to now support 23 employees, many of them formerly unemployed youth who are gaining training, job skills, and a paycheck.

Manfred Kuhn, CEO of Opportunity South Africa, is particularly proud of Beauty. He says, “This woman has truly benefited from the loan form OFSA. It is these clients that we are actively targeting as they can make the biggest impact on poverty alleviation in South Africa.”

If today’s leaders can listen to the ideas of tomorrow’s leaders at the World Youth Festival this week, and support smart solutions like microfinance, the future will be bright for the youth of South Africa and other nations.

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