Tackling joblessness by plugging the ‘leaky bucket’

Recently, hundreds of residents huddled in a hall in Ixopo on a rainy day to celebrate an initiative named “Abashintshi” or “changers” in isiZulu.

It was a graduation ceremony to honour 36 unemployed youngsters drawn from the surrounding rural areas, who have helped their communities become more self-reliant by using a system dubbed ABCD, or Asset-Based Community Development.

It involves personal development training, budgeting and “the leaky bucket”, a term bandied around gleefully at the colourful ceremony of song and dance that drew in villagers, local leaders and corporate big wigs.

The genesis of the story is this: DevCom, a multi-faceted company headquartered in Pretoria, was tasked by forestry and  pulp & and paper company Sappi Southern Africa to improve stakeholder relations in the communities around its operations in KZN.

After research involving 600 people in nine communities, the scale of poverty was determined. Over 90% unemployment, especially among residents aged between 18-25 years-old. Most people with jobs in the area were either employed by Sappi or were Sappi contractors. Sappi and DevCom wanted a lasting intervention.

Dr Terry Stanger, Managing Director of Sappi Forests in South Africa said the research revealed communities were “disillusioned and often felt desperate and angry”.

“We decided that we needed to start making a change in these communities,” and the exercise has had multiple benefits, including having improved relations between Sappi and neighboring communities.

DevCom CEO Mari Lee said they introduced the ABCD, first pioneered in Canada, to provide dignity and self-sufficiency.

“The sense of entitlement is a common narrative in South Africa: somebody must give me something, but that reinforces a bad belief, that you are not worth anything and you can’t do anything. People become paralysed by that mindset and then they become angry.”

Enter the leaky bucket.

After months of fieldwork in impoverished communities in forests around Ixopo, DevCom recruited 18 unemployed youngsters and subjected them to rigorous personal training. And, they introduced the leaky bucket.

Essentially it calls on changers to raise awareness around community assets and to utilise these better.

They drew literal maps of their areas, logging the resources, from pumpkin patches to crèches run by grandmothers.

Then they got discussions going about how to utilise these resources and ensure that as much of the money in the community, stayed there, from earnings to social grant money. Plug the bucket, encourage local buying and make sure the money doesn’t leak away.

Over two years the 36 unemployed youngsters became agents of social change, helped by DevCom.

The dropout rate was zero and their impact on their communities has been enormous.

DevCom’s Christine Breet headed up much of the fieldwork and said recruits who were originally obsessed with bursaries became seized with how they were empowering themselves and their neighbours.

“We got them to keep money diaries. We asked them to call meetings, keep attendance registers and start taking on responsibilities and to be accountable. They responded brilliantly. They got involved in 92 initiatives that created or bolstered 258 jobs and reached about 18 000 people. It is not grand, it is at a micro level, but it works.”

By reflecting on local talents, skills and assets and mobilising these, the initiative drew on youngsters and elders, harnessing talent and wisdom.

Breet said a “glass half full” rather than the “glass half empty” mind-set was emphasised by story telling and leveraging valuable culture and tradition.

The Abashintshi did all manner of things from organising holiday clubs for school children to rejuvenating chicken farms and brick-building enterprises.

Participants described it as a huge success.

Mthobisi Shezi, 23, was hanging about at home watching TV before he was recruited as an Abashintshi. Now he sells second-hand clothing to his neighbours, significantly cheaper than that on offer by chain stores in towns faraway from where they live.

Shezi makes R12 000 a month from this and it emboldened him to open a spaza shop that pulls in another R4000 a month.

Sappi’s Terry Stanger said his staff reported improved relations because of Abashintshi.

“We are ever-optimistic that through education and awareness the people in our communities will grow in the appreciation of their assets and prosper as a result of this initiative.  Through development and engagement, communities will realise economic upliftment and the value of communication.  We see the future as one where neighbours work together and support each other for the benefit of all.”

Source: KZN and Industrial Business News


A brick-making business near Bulwer, KZN is another example of a micro-business inspired by the Abashintshi.
A brick-making business near Bulwer, KZN is another example of a micro-business inspired by the Abashintshi.