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Stemming the Skills Shortage: A “Black Peace Corps” plan

Saturday, 05 April 2008   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Author: Mike Holmes
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Stemming the Skills Shortage: A "Black Peace Corps” plan

We all know South Africa is desperately short of skills. Belatedly, as the global war for talent hots up, we’re scouting the world for people with the right credentials to help the South African economy grow faster.

Sadly, President Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet have not grasped the torch of all-embracing reconciliation carried by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the two giants who preceded them. Given the cold shoulder, hundreds of thousands of skilled whites - mostly younger men and women disillusioned about their future in the country they still love - have left for other shores.  

Along our coast, forests of fishing rods held aloft by sun-tanned hands bear testimony to the out-to-pasture choice of older males of the wrong hue. On our golf courses men and women whose decades in business spell priceless experience pass the time driving little white balls instead of companies.  

The education and training initiatives we have in place are a drop in the bucket. We have pitifully few good teachers and trainers. So even the best efforts at domestic skills development will take years… and years.

But our country cannot wait.We need skilled people NOW-countless thousands of them, in all disciplines.

Here’s a small idea, nurtured by Americans and South Africans of big and generous vision, that could just help a little:

Let these visionaries look to black America.To legions of African American volunteers, young and not so young, who could lend a hand.

Let these visionaries reach out to one another and establish an organisation taking the best of the Peace Corps and building on it.

Let it be dedicated not to South Africa’s social causes but to its business development.After all, a humming economy is the quickest and best remedy for all our social ills.  

What to call this programme designed to bring in droves of volunteers on "tours of duty”? How about From Roots to Shoots?  Or simply Roots and Shoots? 

And who should these visionaries target?The ideal volunteers would be young college graduates who can provide time before they’re swallowed by corporate America. Eager and energetic, and armed with newly acquired business credentials, such young men and women could serve in South Africa for tours of six months or a year.  

At the other end of the scale - but also invaluable - are top business people with decades of experience and wisdom – and about to go on pension. Also in that category are older retirees rich in knowledge and comfortably off sitting at home twiddling their thumbs.Even though many will have family commitments they could all be invited to join missions flying in for shorter tours – say, from six weeks to three months.

For young and old it could be the adventure of a lifetime. For just-graduated college students the tours would be a rare opportunity to teach and to learn.They could impart their new knowledge of the business world to young people already in companies and others in search of jobs throughout South Africa. In return? They can learn invaluable lessons about the cultures and lifestyles - and business practices – of South Africans.

Part of the deal could be formal recognition of the time spent in South Africa.

Perhaps receive a cer tificate acknowledging the additional learning and personal growth of volunteers while overseas. That could enhance both their employability and their career prospects.   

It is tempting to suggest that Roots and Shoots should be a bilateral American-South African government initiative.Or that it at least embrace government funding. But that’s a route best shunned. For a start, the US government would probably say it cannot support a programme based on ethnic origin. Washington would doubtless also feel that if such a programme were to be launched it should apply not just to South Africa but to all of Africa.

Not good enough when this is our brainchild.

Then there’s a four-letter word often absent in government planning and execution:  Zeal.

The best way forward on both sides of the Atlantic is through business organisations, educational institutions, companies of high repute and funders of considerable generosity – all with the vision of joining forces and contributing four critical ingredients:  people, skills, time and money. 

It’s going to take BIG money – probably from a pool of well-endowed business organisations, educational institutions, foundations and individuals.The travel, accommodation, tuition, mentoring and workshop arrangements alone would require mega-millions.  

The United States is renowned for its huge philanthropic foundations …Ford, Rockefeller,Carnegie and Kellogg are household names.In recent years they’ve been joined by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Bob Geldof and others.Those are the big league kind of players who need to get involved here.  

Doubtless, wealthy members of the Afro-American community could also take a leaf out of Oprah’s book and come up with their own facilitators - their own super-fund.

This must be a two-way street.Black and not-soblack South African organisations, blue chip companies and the merry voyagers on the good ship African Largesse could make names for themselves by getting involved.  

The Roots and Shoots proposal has been endorsed by the South African Council of Coaches and Mentors (SACCM), whose vice-president, Dr Denise Bjorkman described it as "meaningful and relevant to growth and positive change in South Africa”.

"The social responsibility nature of the project runs central to our ethos,” she said. "We look forward to engaging with all stakeholders.”

The SACCM is both a regulatory and accreditation body for professional coaches and mentors.

What is happening already?

Since 1961 the Peace Corps has shared with the world the United States's most precious resource- its people. Peace Corps Volunteers serve in 74 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East. Collaborating with local community members, volunteers work in areas such as education, youth outreach and community development, the environment and information technology.

C.D Glin Jr., a 1996 Howard University graduate, is one of the first Peace Corps Volunteers ever to serve in South Africa.Glin arrived here in February 1997, beginning his assignment as an education and community development adviser in a rural South African village. 

"The opportunities here are really endless," he says. "When I got back to the States I could say I've been a community organiser. I could say I've been a teacher. I could say I speak another language."

Responding to an historic transition and the request for assistance from President Nelson Mandela, the Peace Corps sent approximately 30 volunteers to South Africa for the first time in February 1997. 

Glin was part of that groundbreaking group. "As an African American, when I came to South Africa for the first time in my life I was in the majority," he recalls. "I was really helping people who looked like me. People came to me speaking the local languages every single day because they really didn't know that I was an American.” He marvels: "All of a sudden you're in a place where you're the majority and that personally can do a lot for you. You know we have minority status in the United States but we do have a lot of opportunities that the majority of people in some countries don't have - and so I really want to work in minorit y recruitment when I get back." 

Glin sees his service overseas as an opportunity to show the world the diversity of his own country. "Maybe it's coming from me as an African American who lives in South Africa - one of the most racially divided countries in the world," he says. "Maybe I can say now: No matter what your ethnic background is, you can make a difference. 

"You're needed in those other countries, it doesn't have to be Africa if you're African American, or Asia if you're an Asian American, or somewhere in Latin America if you're a Latino American.But anywhere because you're offering a whole different perspective and you're letting them see another side of America."

Source: By Mike Holmes (TaxTALK)



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