Youth lockdown surveys ignite plans for a youth research and advocacy consortium

Image: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

At the end of March 2020, South Africa implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to slow down the spread of COVID-19. In an attempt to reach out to young people who abruptly found themselves out of school, out of work and isolated from their social networks, SALDRU collaborated with several partner organisations to ask youth how their lives and well-being were affected by the restrictions.

The survey was led by SALDRU and UNICEF South Africa via UNICEF’s UReport, a social media and data capturing tool for youth. The poll was in partnership with the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg; the Children’s Radio Foundation; Youth Capital; and Naspers Labs.

The results showed that lockdown has had a significant impact on young people in terms of food security, income, employment and mental well-being (with over 70% reported to be feeling depressed during the lockdown period).

Over 50% agreed with the statement that they “felt uncertain about the future”. In addition, 46% of employed youth were not paid during lockdown, while another 25% were not receiving their full pay. Of those who were employed before lockdown, 24% indicated they will no longer be employed after lockdown, while 41% didn’t know if they would still have a job after lockdown. These income and job losses were concentrated among young people who were already in precarious, part-time, and low-wage jobs before lockdown.

During the same lockdown period, colleagues at the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, based in UCT’s Graduate School of Business, also ran a youth survey, in collaboration with Lucha Lunako. Findings on the negative effects of the lockdown on youth well-being in both surveys corroborate one another. A second survey by this team was aimed at understanding the effects of COVID-19 on the civil society organisations working with (and for) youth.

Six key findings emerged from that survey. Firstly, that youth development organisations are resilient and adaptable to change. Many respondents indicated significant changes to their operational model, as well as taking increased measures to survive COVID-19-related setbacks. The second key takeaway is that many of the organisations were beginning to value the importance and power of collaboration. While this may be due to the financial hardships incurred by the lockdown, it is imperative that organisations begin to dedicate resources to defining and engaging in impactful partnerships.

To strengthen partner organisations’ shared youth research focus and capacity to reach out to young people, civil society, and policymakers alike, the SALDRU team in September convened a meeting of all the partners involved in both surveys. The event was the start of a joint process to begin to think collaboratively about designing the next set of youth polls. The objective of these shorter follow-up polls is to understand how young people are doing after the lockdown is eased but as the effects of the pandemic and lockdown remain.

Representatives from the survey partner organisations as well as from the DG Murray Trust, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, and the National Treasury participated in the meeting to discuss the possible themes and structure for the follow-up surveys.

The diversity of organisations who were present, and the experience of the researchers and practitioners in engaging with youth, led to a rich and insightful discussion, and a comprehensive range of possible themes were identified. These included topics such as access to skills or training opportunities, mental health, education and the risk of drop-out during the pandemic, youth-headed households and youth’s expectations and plans for 2021.

Partners have committed to various actions to ensure that the youth polls are developed and distributed through their networks.

They have also committed to sharing existing and future survey findings in a repository that can be shared with policymakers and civil society to inform what support South Africa’s youth need in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Partners also agreed to collaborate innovatively to ensure that survey findings are shared with the different stakeholders. This month, for instance, Youth Capital and the Basic Package of Support project, led by SALDRU, coordinated a Twitter chat with survey partners. The chat focused on young people’s mental health and access to mobile data to get a better understanding of the issues that they face and to hear from them about possible solutions. The live chat on Twitter, which lasted for an hour, engaged with young people who follow partners’ Twitter profiles to share their experiences of access to mobile data and mental well-being challenges. Illuminating contributions were received especially from the Children’s Radio Foundation reporters.

SALDRU is currently preparing a draft set of survey questions for two priority themes for partners’ review and input. The aim is to roll out the next survey by early November 2020.