The next generation of hope

The next generation of hope - by Becky Lim, year 10 MLC work experience student

As students come to the pointy end of school, where grades actually start to matter and afternoons are spent studying instead of watching Modern Family reruns, we find ourselves faced with a question. A question students struggle with, generation after generation. Where am I going? Not to get overly philosophical but we’ve just spent majority of our lives sitting in classrooms, listening to teachers, moving when the bells tell us to and being wherever our timetable tells us to be. Suddenly, people expect us to make choices that seem like they’re about to determine the rest of our lives. A choice that sees me sitting at a desk day in day out for about 60 years, before I retire and ultimately die. Considering that I have only just started to drive, I can’t legally drink alcohol or be called an adult, this is a daunting choice and seems unfairly important. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to change the world. I had no idea what shape or form this would present itself in but whether it be stopping climate change, fighting poverty, gender stereotypes, human rights or animal rights, I knew it had to change and I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for it to happen.

When my school’s work experience week was announced, I realised that I had to figure out what form, ‘changing the world,’ would take when it came to an actual job in the workplace. After multiple google searches of, ‘jobs that change the world,’ I decided that charities and not-for-profits were probably my best bet. I searched and called and searched and called but I was faced only with rejection each time. As the deadline loomed before me and as my friends found placements after a single call, I became less and less hopeful for the perfect placement. Eventually, I fell into the world of YGAP, and at last I had found my knight in shining armour.

As I combed through the YGAP website, I could have laughed at how perfect it seemed to be. I saw that it was a group of young and passionate people who were trying to change the world, one entrepreneur at a time. It seems important to note now that while my father is a doctor he is a business man at heart. From a young age, we watched Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank together, I read autobiographies of famous entrepreneurs and I was always, always reminded that the, ‘Lim way,’ was, “not I can’t but how can I?” As far as inspiring mottos go, I’m aware that it’s pretty lame, but it has driven me to find a way to do whatever I wanted to do, no matter how hard it seemed or how long it took. YGAP was young, passion-filled, entrepreneurial and, best of all, it was pioneering sustainable change.

As a student, I can confirm that the word sustainable is one of those big words that have been thrown around a lot recently, just like respect and leadership, without people really understanding the full extent of its meaning. To me, to be sustainable is to have a practice that you can continue or sustain, for years or for society to practice for thousands of years. Unfortunately, we are a fundamentally unsustainable society, the way we live our lives and the practices we have are not something we can continue for much longer. Cutting sleep in order to finish work every night isn’t sustainable, extreme dieting practices aren’t sustainable, our fashion industry isn’t sustainable and of course, the way we interact with the environment isn’t sustainable. More and more, we are seeing people moving towards sustainable practices in order to alleviate poverty, looking towards education and grass root organisations. Just like they say, give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Over my time with YGAP, I have realised that this is one of the most unique aspects of their model, empowering the potential within other maybe less privileged change makers and allowing them to create permanent solutions to local problems, all across the globe.

At the moment the world is coming to a breaking point as we realise that there is only so far we can fall before you stop seeing the way out. People under the age of 30 make up over 50% of the world’s population, we are an invaluable resource that society continues to discard. This is why we need companies like YGAP more than ever. They are showing that being young does not equate being clueless or naïve but means that they have no shortage of passion and hope and determination and a vision for a better world. A vision where every child wakes up and has breakfast, and they all go to school with a packed lunch in their bags. They come home and play outside with their friends because they’re happy and free and safe. A vision where there is no place you go where you can hear the cries of hungry children and the silent weeping of mothers who give up their and the hard work of fathers who do not get paid enough for a bed to sleep in when they come home. I may be young, people may say I don’t understand or that I am only a dreamer, but I know that this is a world in which I believe, a world that I will fight for. So, do not worry, it is not only Y-generation against poverty.

I am not a do-gooder. I am a business woman.

I am not a do-gooder. I am a business woman - Divya Vasant, Founder of Amazi Beauty

I suppose at first glance this is a bit of a weird distinction to make let alone to feel strongly about. But I feel strongly that success should be about meritocracy rather than inherited advantage, and creating platforms that address this is not charitable.

It’s not the work of a do-gooder. That makes it sound like its something that’s just a nice thing to do or a feel-good-side project. It’s not. It’s the way things should be.

The structure of the South African economy was created to support a drastic asymmetry where the majority of the population were used to extract value for a minority. This structure was established in colonialism and entrenched during apartheid.

The provision of infrastructure, education, employment opportunities, ability to own land and assets, wealth creation were all built in favour of a minority, not the majority.

It seems my wanting to pioneer a business founded on the principles of inclusivity makes me a “do-gooder” and not “a serious business person”.

The thing is, I’m not a do-gooder! I really am not. Most “serious business people” have not had to interrogate the asymmetry in access to opportunity and wealth because they’ve been on the side that receives. Interrogating it doesn’t make me do-gooder.

The construct of our economy is fundamentally skewed. 10% of the South African population own 90-95% of our country’s asset base. 40% of the population own the remaining 5-10%. 50% of the population have no meaningful assets, no measurable wealth and no means to create wealth.

If we had to hold industry accountable for the inherited benefit created by the entrenched socio-economic asymmetry, are we questioning capitalism and tampering with market forces?

Capitalism isn’t necessarily about unfair benefit.

If everyone has the same starting point then capitalism says that intrinsic strength, intelligence, work ethic, dedication etc. determine merit and in turn the allocation of additional gains is merit-based. However, if starting points differ then gains are not distributed according to merit but on extrinsic pre-conditions such as wealth (accumulated advantage).

I believe that inclusivity is not about charity. It is not a nice thing to do on the side. It is not a feel-good project.  Labelling it that is an attempt to diminish its importance in our economic narrative.

I am the founder of Amazi Beauty, a nail and beauty brand crafted on the principles of inclusivity which we cultivate through two distinct arms: a non-profit and a for-profit.

Our non-profit arm, through a partnership with The Clothing Bank (a global leader in Enterprise Development), founded a training academy that recruits young women that have been deemed “unemployable” and guides them through a carefully crafted 4-6 month training journey.

The goal of this academy is to begin to address the lack of opportunity that has set the starting point for so many women so far back that the do not have the ability to be competitive in the formal economy, have a successful career and create wealth for themselves and their families.

The heart of the training journey is the restoration of self-belief in women who have otherwise been forgotten by our economy. A combination of counselling, coaching, soft skill development and positive reinforcement in parallel with the technical training holistically develop and ready our trainees for a successful career as a professional.

Only the graduates of our Academy are offered employment in our Amazi nail and beauty salons (we do not want to recycle already existing employment but create new employment opportunities).

Our nail and beauty salons are housed in our for-profit arm. The business is exposed to the same dynamics that challenge any service-based business. Our technicians’ performance is industry competitive and importantly their career development is based on merit. We continue our soft-skill development, coaching and mentoring in our stores because we understand that the restoration of self-belief is not something accomplished in 4-6 months. It is also pivotal to underpinning the technician’s progression within the brand.

Amazi offers a platform of opportunities to grow our technicians into future store managers, future educators and trainers, future store owners and ultimately equity holders within the brand. Our belief is that a lack of opportunity does not mean there is a lack of talent – merely a starting point that is further back than it should have been.

At its heart, the brand was founded and structured to be inclusive. It’s inclusive in creating employment, progression and wealth for its employees.

Importantly, it is also inclusive in catering quality product and service that is affordable to the majority of South Africans.

Product and service provision in South African has been carefully crafted over decades to thoughtfully provide to the minority of the population because the construct of our economy makes it easy to.

Why apply deep thinking to how to cater for the majority of the population when the simplest solution would be to take the product or service crafted for the minority, strip out a few expensive bits and voila – a cheap product or service that the majority can now afford. Problem solved, no need to question the fundamental flaw in our economy.

Amazi takes the opposite view. We’re building an offering that brings quality beauty products and services to as wide a market as possible by making what we do affordable and accessible. That means we’re really putting in thought into building a value chain that thinks about affordability without compromising on quality.

We’re only at the beginning of exploring what it means to build an inclusive business but I know what we learn, build and think about are important contributions to the economic narrative that we simply cannot afford not to have in this country.