In South Africa, many children are living impoverished lives, in socially isolated situations – a direct result of the HIV/AIDS crisis and its associated socio-economic problems including lack of education and job opportunities. An incredible 2.5 million children in South Africa have lost one or both parents to AIDS, meaning many households are managed by youth 19 or under. It is an increasingly complex problem, as not only are so many children (and elderly) left without care, but the country faces much disagreement regarding what approach to take to manage the cause. This situation is made more complicated still by “AIDS denialism, stigma, and ‘compassion fatigue.’” It is a particularly desperate position for South Africa’s affected youth.
The Leadership and Innovation Network for Children (LINC): a large-scale, cross-sector leadership initiative is one example of a response that can help improve and better coordinate services for vulnerable children. LINC began as a partnership between Convene Venture Philanthropy, Reos Social Innovation,The Synergos Institute (a partner of Social Connectedness) and the South African National Department of Social Development. Operating through a fellowship of over 100 leaders across sectors including government, NGOs, business and philanthropy, the idea behind LINC is to:
- Enhance the leadership skills and capacity of its fellows;
- Encourage resilient thinking and proactive collaboration between leaders;
- Enhance cohesion and coordination within institutions operating in the children’s sector; and
- Develop opportunities for leaders and their organizations to encourage innovative problem-solving.
It isn’t possible for one stakeholder to tackle the complexity of children’s issues in South Africa alone, nor is it possible for sectoral changes to occur without constant professional development of sector leaders. Synergos LINC Programme Manager, Renald Morris, explains the joint effort involved in the initiative, saying “we’ve got experts in various fields, and none of the work would actually be possible without collaborating.” LINC offers professional coaching, quarterly peer-learning sessions, national forums, and retreats and opportunities for leadership development.
Together over the years, LINC’s impact can be measured by an increase in media awareness of numerous children’s rights issues in South Africa, the creation of a Child Care and Protection forum, and the development of a partnership between Child Welfare, Childline and the DG Murray Trust, “that unlocked R20 million for the Children’s Sector.”
There is also an underlying current of responsible action amongst the fellowship, and a mutual understanding that “once a fellow, always a fellow.” LINC fellow, William Bird, touches on the unique situation for children in South Africa, and the importance of accountability within LINC when he explained, “We have a particularly brittle, and hideous, and horrible past, and we’ve got lots of rebuilding to do.”
LINC works at strengthening social connectedness among youth in South Africa by integrating socially inclusive initiatives into established youth programs across the country. This Synergos-produced video introduces a number of these programs, and their aim to increase social connectedness amongst children affected by poverty and isolation, and help them to lead more fulfilling lives.