From Unemployed to Enterprising with Catalyst


Reflection on Catalyst Cohort 4: From Unemployed to Budding Enterpreneurs

According to Statistics South Africa Q1 2018 Labour Force Report, 38.2% of youth (15-34 years old) are unemployed, with almost 7 million youth not in education, employment, and training (NEET). The numbers are scary. The solutions – such as youth employment accelerators and enterprise incubators – have been plentiful and some have great promise. But there is no silver bullet – it will take many more targeted intiatives and policy changes to effectively reduce the statistics whose numbers grow every year, with hundreds of thousands of youth that drop out of school, or do not qualify for tertiary studies post-Matric.

With such big numbers and stats, we can sometimes forget that the numbers represent real people. As a society, we have also constructed many assumptions about youth NEETS; that they are entitled, doing nothing while waiting for opportunities to be brought to them, or that their preference is to be placed in employment, that they are sitting idle and have all the time in world to engage with every and any opportunity. Many of these assumptions and myths are wrong.

Our fieldwork research and experience running the enke: Catalyst Program for the last 3 years bust these myths and other limiting beliefs that society has placed on youth NEETs. The majority are honestly trying, doing what they can with the knowledge and information they have to change their circumstances. They are registering for program after program, trying to find opportunities, applying the best ways they know how. But their efforts often do not produce the results they need or expect. It is unsurprising that many end up feeling hopeless, discouraged and, more importantly, not living up to the full potential that they know they have and want to realise. It is why we decided to focus on a transformative and experiential approach for young people in the Catalyst Program.

We’re proud to say that with the enke: Catalyst Program, we have been able to help young people re-ignite their desire and motivation to find their pathway to become economically active. With Catalyst we work hard to improve the knowledge, information and practical experience that young people have to define, discover and attain their pathway to success. To date, 176 youth have participated in the Catalyst Program, with 140 (and counting) having placed themselves in Education/Training, Employment or started their own Enterprises.

What makes the Catalyst Program special is that we focus on helping young people self-actualise, equipping them with the right information, resources and experience to get them to where they need and want to be. With Catalyst, it’s not about starting a business or finding a job; rather, it’s about building an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s that shift to a belief that they can change their circumstances for the better, which makes the difference. In 2018, the positive impact of Catalyst was validated in Behold SA’s external M&E assessment on the Catalyst Program.

Below are the stories of just 3 of our Catalyst Program participants who, through their engagement, have realised their entrepreneurship potential. Thembeka, Khulani and Mpumi are just 3 examples of the youth that, through Catalyst, have discovered that they can create the future they want to see. As they approach the end of formal training and workshops in the Catalyst Program, we are now focused on helping them figure out what their next steps need to be and connect them with start-up incubators that support micro-enterprises.

In creating Catalyst we were determined not to become a recruitment agency or enterprise incubator. Rather, our focus was to improve the human capital pipeline for the many excellent employment accelerators and enterprise development programs. As a result, our ability to connect our Catalyst graduates to the right exit opportunity is still a work in progress. We are actively looking at how we may need to adapt to ease the access for our Catalysts in an increasingly competetive landscape. What we do know is that Catalysts that have placed themselves are generally able to sustain their placements or find new opportunities that are best suited to their abilities and desires. Further, through the enke network, they also have ongoing peer and institutional support to sustain their endeavours long-term.

We hope to build more partnerships – community skills centres to host the Program, financial support to enable its implementation, or exit opportunities for Catalysts – to scale the Program to reach thousands of youth. We strongly believe that linking solutions and initiatives will be the game-changer for catalysing youth to realise the demographic dividend that they truly are.


Special thanks to the Embassy of Finland Pretoria Fund for Local Cooperation for supporting the piloting of the enke Catalyst Program 2016-2018, enabling us to prove the concept. Further thanks to E2 Investments who have provided ongoing support to implement the Catalyst Program to reach a further 360 youth by 2020, while building capacity to reach our goal of thousands.


Catalyst Impact: Thembeka Mkhonza

After matriculating in 2007, 28-year-old Thembeka went on to tertiary studies in Human Resources, but had had to drop out due to financial difficulties. She started looking for work and found a job in 2009 as a sales agent. In 2012 she left her job because she did not enjoy the work as sales was difficult for her and as a result was not making as much money as she hoped. She then completed an IT Course, hoping but failing to find a job in the IT sector. The situation left Thembeka discouraged and hopeless and she felt that she was not good enough for any opportunity. A lifeline for her was the West Rand Youth Development Centre, where she would regularly enquire about any available skills development or employment opportunities, but to no avail. Her situation wasn’t changing. It was through the centre that she heard about the enke: Catalyst Program and enrolled in the hopes that the program will shed some light on how she could build the future she envisioned.

Thembeka shares that she has experienced key changes in her life through Catalyst. She has become more goal driven, her self-esteem and confidence grown, and, most significantly, she realised that she had a passion for business. She also found others who shared the same vision and drive for their lives and discovered that she was not alone. Thembeka has partnered with a fellow Catalyst, to start a business promoting healthy lifestyles by making and selling healthy shakes in her community, which they are in the process of registering. She has also enrolled for a Health and Safety Course, which she believes will give her key insights that will contribute to the growth and development of her business. From being discouraged, Thembeka is now on her way redefining her future.

Catalyst Impact: Khulani Maluleke

22-year-old Khulani has always had big dreams of becoming an Educational Psychologist. But when he matriculated in 2016, he did not pass well enough to enter the tertiary studies he needed to make his dream a reality. This discouraged him and he ended up staying home, doing nothing, and with no intentions of redoing or upgrading his matric. The situation did not just leave him hopeless but it also affected his relationship with his family, because they believed he had no dreams and ambitions.

After staying home for more than a year, in 2018 he decided to start doing something productive and work towards changing his life. He visited his skills centre to enrol for their End User Computer Training and learned about the Catalyst Program. He shared that Catalyst has helped him unlock his potential by learning more about himself, building his self-esteem and he now feels more confident. He has identified an academic program that will help him get the academic qualifications to make his dream a reality. But, he has decided not to wait for a qualification. He is currently developing a social enterprise running an after-care program to help learners after school. He also wants to work to encourage young people to never give up on their dreams and aspirations.

“From all the skills I received, enterprise development and implementation stood out for me. Making a difference in the life of others and creating a world of opportunities is what I intend to do all thanks to the enke: Catalyst Program.”


Catalyst Impact: Mpumi Ngcezu

Mpumi dropped out of school in 2008, when she was in Grade 10. For 5 years, she worked a series of part-time jobs to take care of her family, before going back to school in 2014 to get her ABET Level 4 qualification. But, in spite of finally having the equivalent of a Matric certificate, she continued to struggle to get a permanent job and so, in 2015, settled for a 6-month placement as a general worker through the Community Workers Program. When her placement ended, eager to learn a skill and not sit at home, she enrolled in a beading, sewing and shoemaking workshop, which, though it didn’t get her a job, gave her a hobby making shoes for family and close friends. She had become discouraged that there was anything out there that she could do, and had low self-esteem from not being able to get a permanent position despite all her efforts.When Mpumi found out about, and enrolled in the enke: Catalyst Program, it was a little out of boredom as well as a desire to learn a new skill. But, she admits that she had no intention of staying the Program for long, as it was a stop gap until she found a job.

Mpumi didn’t expect what would happen through the Program; her mindset and confidence started to become more positive as she realised that she could be an entrepreneur. She figured out how to turn her hobby of sewing, beading and shoemaking into a business, and started selling customised shoes for R200 each. In December 2018, she made R2,500 in the month all from her own hustle, giving her the confidence in herself and her entrepreneurship ability to be enterprising. Mpumi is in the process of registering her business – Mpumi’s Fashion Design and Shoemaking – which she hopes to grow into custom clothes as well as shoes that will make a mark in the fashion design industry.



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