To better understand the realities of how municipalities (do or don’t) work, it is important to gain an understanding of how the youth feel in their community.
The Codebridge Youth Hubs (CBY), is a youth-led platform for learning, innovation and collaboration that focuses on introducing and advancing the relationship of both government and citizens through the use of civic technology. Members are able to communicate with one another through the hub about political, societal and municipal issues that they are experiencing. Through these discussions hub members become more informed and further engaged with societal happenings. Through seminars and discussions, the youth hub members discuss what it means to be a youth actor in South Africa, and what can be done to affect change within their community. This interaction is integral in youth public engagement as it not only helps inform hub members about their rights and responsibilities but it also outlines the way in which the youth can engage with their municipality. For example, it communicates practically why it is important to vote as a young person.
The incorporation of civic technology innovations by both governments and stakeholders can play a major role in community development. Through projects such as the CBY hubs and the Participation Guide governments are able to ensure that residents are well informed. Research shows residents who are more informed are more likely to play an active role in their communities - in many cases this is due to an increase in their understanding around the rights and ability to communicate effectively with their municipalities. The benefit for governments of having informed and active community members who communicate and participate within the municipalities is that it provides another level of accountability and therefore should have a positive impact on service delivery and government/resident relations.
We were able to solicit numerous submissions from young people from Matzikama and Cederberg municipalities using the CBY project’s participation guide. From the submissions we can see that young people used the participation guide to raise a number of issues that fall under municipal responsibility.
When looking at the municipality of Cederberg it is clear that the youth are able to highlight a number of issues within the community. From the submissions we can see how Cederberg members reported that unemployment was the most serious issue that they experienced within their municipality. Cederberg members also felt that the lack of educational opportunities was a key problem. When looking at these two submissions alongside one another we can see the potential link between the lack of educational opportunities, such as university bursaries, course scholarships, leadership programs and skills training and high levels of unemployment. This demonstrates the importance of looking at communities from the perspective of the youth, as their direct needs may differ from other age groups. Another significant issue experienced by Cederberg hub members was substance abuse within their community. Once again, this issue cannot be seen as a stand-alone problem. It is likely that unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities may well be contributing factors. For example, a person who drops out of school, or does not complete any further tertiary education may be less likely to be employed. Due to low numbers of educational opportunities community members are less likely to pick up skills that will assist them in gaining employment. As a result of unemployment and poverty, members' mental health may be affected. This in turn increases the risk factors for engaging in substance abuse.
When looking at the submissions from Matzikama it is clear that some parallels can be drawn between their youth community and Cederberg’s community. For example, unemployment was also listed as hub members' most pressing issue within the community. Unemployment is not a municipal issue alone, and is prevalent across South Africa. In Matzikama the youth also describe housing as being a major issue: hub members explained the difficulties of finding adequate housing, as well as the slow pace of housing delivery. The third important submission made by the Matzikama youth was around the current lack of youth development in the area. While most submissions focused on the lack of activities and recreational spaces, others also focused on the addition of leadership programs and job readiness courses. Hub members felt that by introducing safe environments young people will be less likely to fall prey to various social ills such as substance abuse, gangsterism and crime.
In conclusion, we can say that the research collected through the submissions from the CBY hubs was valuable for a number of reasons. Firstly, through submissions youth participants are able to gain further understanding of the impact that they can have on their communities by being engaged members in their civic opportunities. The project goal is not only for its members to effect project driven change, but to also develop young people as active community role players. Secondly, an important impact of the project is gaining a better understanding of our municipalities from the youth’s perspective. By understanding more about what the youth feel are the main issues within the community, we design better informed innovations and policies. Thirdly, we were able to design and test a technology-based solution designed to fulfil social needs. Through constant monitoring and evaluation of the CBY project, OpenUp is able to gain a better understanding of the impact of technology on community intervention.