This youth trainee is now the Chief Executive of SA’s biggest youth development agency

By Dhivana Rajgopaul Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

DURBAN – From a youth trainee to top executive that is the journey of ACTIVATE! Change Drivers new Chief Executive Siphelele Chirwa. 

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is non-profit that has a network of 4500 youth from urban to peri-urban and rural areas that it has put through its youth leadership programmes since 2012 and Chirwa was part of that first intake.

She was appointed to the Activate Board of Directors two years ago. She finds it surreal that she has gone from being a young beneficiary of the Activate leadership program, to Chief Executive.

On her appointment, Chirwa said, “We are the biggest youth development network in the country. We have nine years of footprint. It is a milestone for Activate to take what they believe changes young people and put it into practice – in appointing me; and also, by believing in the young people they serve”. 

“On a personal level, my plan is to show other young black women that it is possible. I plan to do my utmost best to give the youth and young people of South Africa a platform to live to their highest potential,” said Chirwa commenting on her pans for the non-profit. 

Chirwa is part of a handful of young black women leading civil society organisations in South Africa. 

She added, “This is not a gamechanger just for Activate; but a gamechanger for civil society. The faces that represent civil society need to change. In the world, in South Africa and especially in Africa. Black leadership and female leadership have not been given enough space. Let women lead. Let the beneficiaries lead, because they know exactly what to deliver”. 

She acknowledges that it is a tough task, given South Africa’s challenges with youth unemployment in particular. 

“Leading a youth organisation with the complexity of young people is not an easy task given what young people are going through and I can relate because I’m young, I’m a woman, and I’m part of the right team that is driving change. It’s not just me that is going to make it work and take Activate beyond 2020. The whole country is going to take Activate beyond 2020,” said the new Chief Executive. 

Chirwa grew up in Soweto and in Langa, Cape Town. She attended Vuwani High School in Soweto, graduating in 2000. 

Her background is in environmental justice and in youth development as an activist and community worker. In the early 2000s, she worked in HIV counselling within Khayelitsha, encouraging young people to take their medications.

“My passion has always been about youth development. There is something that we miss in the gift that the young give to the country. Even in times of despair the youth always rise to the occasion, but we don’t give them enough space to be heard. The narrative that is put out there about the youth in the South African context is that of ‘the lost generation’ who have it easy, don’t value education, don’t value work. It is a misconception of what the youth represent. Young people are a gift. The test our preconceptions. There is a pressure on the youth to create a future they don’t trust. But even in their rawness, young people are a gift. They have a gift to teach the country about where we should go forward,” concluded Chirwa. 

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