Change makers in South Africa

The many, and somewhat all too familiar challenges that South Africa faces – chief among them, crime, racial tensions, slowed GDP growth and investment, high unemployment, and wide spread poverty are major draw backs that weigh so much on the populace, social capital and in-turn, social progress. As much of Africa seems to be experiencing stronger headwinds in socio-economic spheres, there is an increasing amount of reassuring proof that there is a positive correlation between more inclusive societies and sustainable economic growth. Given that South Africa is lacking on the former, it seems long term growth is likely going to suffer.

Traditionally, it has been the role of government, not for profit organisations and companies through their CSI/R initiatives to solve these challenges and promote growth. And they have been doing so albeit with limited success. However, a new type of private businesses and philanthropic entities, whose work is perhaps largely being appreciated in the abstract, are beginning to emerge. These organisations are finding and utilising new technologies to significantly reduce costs, increase efficiency and make it easy to reach out to a wide range of people to deliver higher social benefits than before. They are the activists who are challenging the status quo, the trend setters who are playing critical but often overlooked roles in challenging existing interests, norms, social practices, and economic inclusion issues. They are the change makers.

Originally, a change maker was considered a person who changes bills or coins for ones smaller denominations when a key is moved. The term has come to represent or to be synonymous with a trendsetter, or an innovator. It describes someone who envisions and initiates change, new ways of doing things or (radically) transforms something/the status quo.

In our modern world, change makers break boundaries, challenge current social development and make an impactful mark upon the world, galvanising people from across all spheres to contribute to development that changes lives for the better.

The term change maker was originally made popular by Ashoka, a social entrepreneurship organization that is aimed at bringing like-minded entrepreneurs who want to change the world through innovative ideas, and most importantly, to put these ideas into action.

Many organisations that promote and encourage the work change makers do have also recently emerged. Ashoka, for example, has a number of challenges where people who have solutions to various societal problems can win cash prizes, get to be known by potential funders and travel to bootcamps and workshops where they can collaborate with innovators from all over the world.

Lead SA, an initiative to invite people across South Africa to personally take responsibility, be active participatory citizens and contribute towards a better society through committing good acts that range from small measures of kindness to bigger issues that affect society at a macro level, started an annual change makers conference in 2015. The aim of the conference was to recognise and to bring together change makers from across South Africa to network and to inspire a positive change. Lead SA also has a monthly Hero, profiling people who are making a positive difference in their communities.

The timing of the Lead SA initiative was not accidental. In a world of dwindling economic resources, growing strain on national incomes and, more specifically, a faltering South African democracy model, it is so important to stress the importance of unitary contribution and collective pro action in order to rid the country of its socio-economic woes.  Lead SA’s efforts are grounded on the proposition that all citizens must be allowed to participate in the economy with dignity and that the costs of continuing a divisive regime are high.

The following things that Lead SA has described demonstrate why this initiative is so important at this point in time:

  • The need to manage demographic change and immigration (xenophobia) by having proactive migration policies, geared towards managing and not preventing migration.
  • Positive responses to common problems through an integrated approach within the framework that integrates government, civic sector, business and the general public.
  • Through a range of instruments, policies and players, a focus on better and accessible education for all, lifelong learning and training.
  • Ensuring that women and other previously excluded groups are key contributors to the discussions and activities towards social change. They should be considered main actors in the provision of a broadly inclusive future.

But beyond Lead SA, there’s a lot going on in the innovation space, where self-appointed change makers are leaving their mark in South Africa.  Here are a few that caught our eye and have the potential to really take off and do some very good work:


Lexnove is like an Uber or tinder for legal services. Through this platform, people can submit their legal matters to which the LexNove Team will conduct a free early case assessment of the problem, and compile a Project Brief

A panel of expert lawyers will then submit Proposals within 48 hours to assist clients.

Lawyers can then be chosen based on cost, location, legal expertise and previous user ratings and reviews. Meetings are conducted in a virtual boardroom. The fees are fixed and once one has selected a lawyer, the fees are paid, into a secure escrow account, and upon completion of the job.

This is important because:

  • It has the potential to round up very good legal professionals at very low costs which reduces search costs for clients
  • Affordability (and lowering legal costs) and deducting early stage assessment
  • Easy access to legal services


Building Blocks:

Founded by Andiswa, a resident of Alexandra township, Building Blocks was started as an initiative to address the appalling and unhygienic conditions of the ablution systems known as the “bucket system” prevalent in most townships. It aims to build proper toilets for residence in the Alexandra township and thereby help restore the dignity of people living in these areas.

Cognisant of the fact that township residents were just victims of the continuous deteriorating sanitation and polluted areas of relief who, due to years of exposure to such state of affairs, were becoming accustomed to the conditions and had little knowledge of how to deal with areas with general cleanliness, health and environmental awareness, Building Blocks set out to provide means and ways of addressing this.

This initiative is important at this time because:

  • It aims to provide both children and adults inhabiting with the skills and knowledge to maintain their surrounding environment in a way that is pleasurable and safe for their own benefit.
  • Ensures basic sanitary conditions for local citizens in South Africa, particularly in Alexandra where there’s an influx of bucket toilets. Part of this is through upwardly mobilising sanitary conditions in South Africa and educating the civil society about sanitation to prevent contraction of diseases such as diarrhoea and parasitic worm infection amongst others.
  • Is a people driven initiative, devoted at enhancing both tangible and intangible growth. It also gets people involved in the process therefore promoting participatory development.
  • Enhances a sense of ownership and responsibility. They achieve this through a process in which residents facilitate and contribute to building their own toilets.
  • Through workshops they stimulate will-power, independence and human potential.

Phambili App:

Also known as the front seat assistant, the Phambili App was developed by Thokozani Memela, who drew inspiration from a personal experience. With many people using mini bus taxis daily as a form of transport to get to their respective work places, sometimes one cannot avoid sitting in the worst seat yet; the front seat. This is mainly because when you sit at the front seat, you are expected to count the change which is not everybody’s strongest ability. This app helps you count change, and also includes a game called the front seat challenge and also helps you know how much a taxi will cost before you enter it.  If only there was an app to make people behave better on the roads.

Hands of Honour:

Given that there are up to three generations of unemployed men in Soup Kitchens all over Cape Town who also largely participate in anti-social activities and that this breeds a situation of welfare dependence, Hands of Honour helps create employment by partnering with corporations to up-cycle their obsolete stock.

How it works:

Companies give away obsolete stock/waste or anything deemed junk to Hands of Honour. In-turn, the unemployed men that work with Hands of Honour then take the stock and up-cycle it into something of value. These workers process the waste, either rehabilitating material or stripping goods for sale of parts. 50% of the profits are used for salaries whilst the 50% is used to fund projects that uplift poor communities.

The work Hands of Honour is doing helps address some of the problems below:

  • Reduce prolonged unemployment
  • Income Generation for people who otherwise have no income options available and who live at the bottom of the pyramid
  • Effective management of obsolete stock / recyclable waste
  • Profits are invested in derelict community spaces, focusing on public spaces which have become havens for anti-social behaviour.

Whilst doing this, Hands of Honour:

  • Works directly with the waste generators to formalise this process
  • Hands of Honour runs a Job Training Programme to provide skills and confidence to those members of society who have ‘checked out’ which in-turn increases employment and rehabilitates workers
  • Through this process, fund urban renewal initiatives, focusing on areas identified as flash points for crime.

Change makers foster more Change makers to make a community of positive change. We at Simanye believe in development that brings impact and that a change maker is anyone who follows through with making a difference in society, no matter how small that difference may be. Transforming humanity on the global level is often the doing of a Change maker, but it all starts with small changes made by just one individual. If you believe that there is a way you can make a positive contribution to your community, province, country or the world; then you too are a change maker. The only thing you need to do about that idea is to action it. Let us go out there and change the world!

Written by:

Boitumelo Modibo

Diploma in Project Management (Varsity College); Currently B.A., Development Studies (UNISA)

Office and Project Administrator

Simbarashe Mumera




Share the Post:

Related Posts