Monde Twala. Picture: Supplied
Monde Twala. Picture: Supplied

The year 2020 has been a tumultuous and a challenging one, from the ongoing pandemic, to police brutality and systemic racism sparking protests around the world, increased gender-based violence to disasters caused by climate change and activism around the environment.  This year has caused a significant amount of change, disruption and uncertainty.

The response to this global disruption has been highlighted by ViacomCBS’s newest global consumer insights study, “Beyond 2020: Global Youth – Voices & Futures”. The study reflects that the events of 2020 have denied young people many milestones and defining moments that usually allow them to celebrate the completion of a phase in their lives, such as graduation ceremonies and matric dances. The pandemic continues to inflict multiple disruptors on the youth. It is not only putting pressure and uncertainty on them economically, but also disrupting education and training, and having a serious impact on mental health, lifestyle and wellbeing, as cited by the International Labour Organisation.

The effects have been concerning as many young people are struggling to cope with stress and anxiety due to the impact of Covid-19. ViacomCBS’s insights illustrate that in SA, young people were more affected, with more stringent lockdown rules implemented to contain the virus. Furthermore, the pandemic exposed the vast societal and economic inequalities that exist in SA. While private schools and many suburban public schools were able to switch to online learning, most public schools lacked the requisite infrastructure, resources and access to data.

Despite this unprecedented year, young people were inspired to unite and amplify their voices with purpose-led initiatives to campaign for social issues, driving innovative online and digital campaigns that bring awareness and shine a light on social inequalities and the need for change. Three-quarters of the young people surveyed say they have been affected by issues beyond Covid-19, including Black Lives Matter, antiracism movements, the death of George Floyd and protests against police brutality like the #EndSARS riots in Nigeria, natural disasters and climate change protests, political events and terrorist attacks. This is the year in which youth activism gained significant ground globally. It also prompted young people to reflect on their financial, social and mental health wellness. Some 43% of young people were prompted to make changes in the direction of their education while 36% have adjusted their career paths.

In particular, mental health has taken centre stage in the lives of the youth, with more young people putting an increased focus on the importance of mental wellbeing. For the first time in SA, the youth now recognise that mental health will be a problem and a priority in future, and 89% of Mzansi youth agree that both physical and mental health will continue to be a huge focus, even beyond 2020. As ViacomCBS, we launched the #AloneTogether campaign globally to engage the youth with the emotive connection that even in isolation, we’re not alone as the core message of the campaign.

The research indicates how vital it is for brands to connect with what matters to our youth. They have an expectation that the brands they support use their platforms to stand up against social injustices.

Our industry has never had a more important role to play to supporting and providing our platforms as a vehicle for change, amplifying youth voices. At ViacomCBS we’ve been inspired by innovation and creativity and in turn have sought to inspire our audiences to navigate this difficult time. We’ve had to dig deep and innovate in terms of how we come up with new ways of communicating. We continue to be at the pulse of cultural change through supporting initiatives that are important to young people, such as the #EndSARS movement and Black Lives Matter, which we supported across Africa.

If we have learnt anything from our insights, it is that young people are defined by clear, purpose-driven values. They are not content with supporting businesses whose values are in contrast to their own.  In essence, young Africans are looking to brands that shine a light on, and support, their active citizen-led passion to stand up and address the issues that affect them in their quest for meaningful change. They also want a brand’s ethos to be consistent, not just a message or slogan designed for marketing efforts. Furthermore, the research shows that 83% of young people globally expect brands to stand up against social injustice. Looking to the future, 78% agree that in 10 years’ time, brands will have to take more of a stand against social injustice than they do now.

Despite the unprecedented year 2020 has been, it has also been a catalyst for positive change and an opportunity for innovation. ViacomCBS insights indicate that young people remain optimistic and continue to see themselves as being part of a better world. SA youth are leading the pack in exemplifying resilience and optimism as the change generation. Some 53% of young people are hopeful for ​change in the future.

Looking ahead, young people are confident of an improved world and want to see action for sustainability and elevated diversity and inclusion in society as a whole across the environment, gender equality, the economy, job opportunities, crime and violence, financial and mental health, systemic racism and society in general. Interestingly, the concerns of Mzansi’s youth are not the same as those of young people in other parts of the world. Young South Africans are more concerned about jobs, finances and crime. This is because SA’s youth unemployment rate is 34.1% and rising. Therefore, the creation of more employment for the youth remains their key priority. In other parts of the world, young people are mostly concerned about climate change and the environment.

The events of 2020 have truly prompted a desire for stability and a feeling among the youth that they will need to work harder than ever to achieve their goals. While their futures remain uncertain, young Africans are excited and eager to make the most of what comes next. Here’s to a collective industry approach across government and social-led organisations working together to enable a purpose-led generation. From a ViacomCBS Africa Networks perspective, we will continue to build on purpose-led content and engagement that resonates with the youth through our brands – MTV, MTV Base, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

*Monde Twala is senior vice-president and editorial and general manager, ViacomCBS Networks Africa  

The big take-out:

Young Africans are looking to brands that shine a light on, and support, their active citizen-led passion to stand up and address the issues that affect them in their quest for meaningful change

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