Thulani Masebenza: “Our purpose is to become one of the most transformational youth-led movements in the country”

How to build a career when we are young South African with weak socio-economic conditions and thus exposed to mass unemployment? This is the challenge which intends to take up Youth Aspiring Thinkers, led by Thulani Masebenza, which aims to enable disadvantaged high school students to take part in various programmes offered by the organisation, in order to open up positive prospects for their future

Feat-Y: What leads you to the foundation of Young Aspiring Thinkers?

Thulani Masebenza: Founded in 2019, Young Aspiring Thinkers is a Non – Profit Organization which aims to serve the purpose of providing young South African high school learners with the skills to unlock their future careers and tackle the challenge of youth unemployment. Our purpose is to become one of the most transformational youth-led movements in the country. We started Young Aspiring Thinkers with the vision of improving career choices for learners in under-priviledged high schools in South Africa, who do not have the support they require to make career choices and decisions. We offer skills to learners in high schools in South Africa. We want to make great decisions, because too many learners only want to study careers such as Accounting, Law, Medicine or Engineering because they’re not exposed to other careers in high school. So, we’ve decided to start this organisation to fix this problem.

Feat-Y: Is it related to a failure of the South African government regarding education?

T.M: Yes. I would say part of that is correct. I think there is not enough after school programs for learners in these schools, as well as resources to help learners with future career choices. This is really important because of the socio-economic environment these learners find themselves in, there is not enough resources to help these learners get to the next phase of their learning journey. South Africa also has a high youth unemployment rate of 64%, we don’t only need to create more jobs but also help learners align the skills which they have with careers they can excel in. This is why upskilling learners and teaching them about emerging careers is so important, as there are new opportunities opening up in fields such as technology. 

Feat-Y: What type of programmes do you propose and which goals are they aiming to?

T.M: So, the first part of our programme is a career exposure programme. When we get a lot of young professionals in various careers, from social media managers to football coaches, to people working in data science. And we get them to do a career exposure event at the school. We get about 30 young professionals on the day and we have roughly a hundred learners. They go through an interactive discussion with the learners on how they got into their specific field, what degree they studied to get into that field and what the day-to-day tasks of their job entails. This is an unique way of exposing learners to various careers as they chat with young people. Once we have completed these career exposure sessions we give the learners applications for our flagship Illuminate Programme, which runs for 6-months and focuses on career guidance as well as leadership development. The programme is run in collaboration with Münster School of Business (MSB), FH Münster is one of the leading Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany. With 2,500 students and 48 full-time professors. This really adds value to the learners as the last part of the programme is a social project, where they have to solve a problem which they have seen in their community using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework. This means learners are getting plenty of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, group work and presentation skills which will help them in their journey. At the end of the programme learners present their solutions to a judging panel and receive a certificate for their participation. 

Feat-Y: Who could join your programmes and what kind of conditions they have to fulfil to be accepted?

T.M: We look for learners that are between 17 and 18 years old and want to grow themselves to reach their future careers as well as, want to solve problems in South Africa. So, we’re looking for learners that are dedicated to growing themselves and improving this country in some impactful way.

Feat-Y: Do you have an idea of the number of schools and students who attended your programmes? What is their feedback?

T.M: We have worked with over 600 learners and currently work closely with Olievenhoutbosch Secondary School, the feedback from the learners is great. They really like what is done now and many of them still want to be involved with Young Aspiring Thinkers as alumni. Many of them still contact us and update us on how university is going and their other achievements. 

Feat-Y: How do you imagine the future of Young aspiring thinkers?

T.M: We want to eventually reach the goal of impacting the ten thousand learners’ lives by 2030 and becoming one of the most transformative youth-led organisations in the country. 

Interview by Jonathan Baudoin