Mid-Year Review

On 16th June every year, South Africa celebrates our youth. We remember how they rose together in 1976 to protest against the injustices of apartheid, many of them dying for the cause. Their action and their sacrifice have played an integral role in the progress that South African democracy has made since then. 

One year of Routes to Resilience: Reflecting, learning and looking forward

The pandemic has changed mindsets dramatically, so that online talks and sessions have become experiential and connecting.

It has almost moved beyond a cliché to say that we live in unprecedented times. The coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult global challenges in living memory, with a great deal of trauma, heartbreak and hardship. Yet it has, unexpectedly, had some positive consequences. Conversations about building a new normal have increased in number, intensity and urgency. People around the world are seeing the environmental benefits of fewer carbon emissions from less travel and lower levels of manufacturing activity. Perhaps most noticeable is the new sense of humanity – of “oneness” – reflected in the kindness and empathy with which people have looked out for one another. Something which is called, in South Africa, Ubuntu meaning “I am because you are”. Certainly these are features that society is keen to maintain as we emerge into a post-coronavirus world.

As with so many others across the world, our work at Routes to Resilience has been significantly disrupted, most especially because so much of what we do is based on physical experiences and face-to-face contact and learning. We have had to pause a number of our programmes, sadly the majority of which are supporting youth in under-resourced communities who perhaps need the continuity the most but who, by virtue of circumstance and access, are unable to engage over Zoom or even over data-driven platforms like WhatsApp and FaceTime.

Where we have been able to, we are pleased with the adaptation of learning to the virtual environment and reminded how to ‘practise what we preach’: being agile, drawing on our inner resilience when challenges seem insurmountable, and finding new and creative ways to share our message and engage with our participants. The pandemic has changed mindsets dramatically, so that online talks and sessions have become experiential and connecting.

We’ve been joined by many exciting speakers from around the world over the last few months who have not only informed, but inspired and ignited something in our participants. This is something we’re excited to take into our future work – the opportunities are endless! 

We’ve also enjoyed nurturing relationships with some fantastic South African start-ups

We have navigated the change by holding true to our core purpose: igniting potential for more resilient futures. It’s been incredible to see the journeys our participants have taken and the shifts they have made during the pandemic, thanks to some intense one-on-one sessions, creativity and tenacity on our part, but also thanks to their own dedication and – yes – resilience.

Another positive outcome (for us) from the pandemic is how we have connected with other organisations, notably Cape Town’s Community Action Networks (CANs), which bring residents from diverse backgrounds into collective action to find solutions to Covid-19-related issues. Many of our staff and programme participants have linked up with these networks to see where we can offer support, and it’s been amazing to connect to so many people who are doing so much to help others. While we continue to work on our initiative to develop young people, we have found it to be powerful to contribute to a wider movement. We’ve also enjoyed nurturing relationships with some fantastic South African start-ups working in the areas of sustainable fashion, job creation in townships, black empowerment, female empowerment and caring for the environment. These include The Clothing Bank, twyg, Ywaste, Co-Create, Fix Forward, Nomato and Silulo Ulutho Technologies – some of our participants have even secured placements with these inspiring companies! Our actions as individual companies are important, but together they become exponentially more powerful.


In Routes to Resilience’s first year of ‘formality’ as an independent social enterprise we are pleased with our progress, and honoured by the support and engagement we have received.  During this time we have established and delivered a range of programmes with several partners, reaching hundreds of young people from diverse backgrounds in South Africa and the UK. We are excited to build on our success so far and develop these programmes – and more – as we move into 2021 and beyond.

Sygnature Award

The Sygnature Award programme is designed to develop the literacies, skills, mindset and competencies in young people so that they can drive forward their personal and professional contributions to leadership in sustainability practice. 

The Sygnature Award was created to respond to the expressed gap in school based learning that inhibits youth from accessing both broad and specific knowledge about sustainability and from developing their skills and competencies in resilience and related abilities. It is structured as a stand alone, out-of-school programme that also meets and enables parallel recognition in programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh or President’s Award. 

The response was breathtaking and has been the inspiration for our latest programme, Resilient Futures

The first Sygnature Programme was sponsored by Sygnia Asset Management in 2019 and supported 55 Grade 11 learners participating in Go for Gold’s employment readiness programme. We were excited by the opportunity to empower the future leaders of the construction industry with knowledge around how the built environment can work with, and even mimic, nature to promote sustainable development in urban settlements. Those Go for Gold students, now in Grade 12, are this year participating in the second, deeper level of the programme, and we are delighted to also be working with 18 post-matric students who are completing their internship gap year. It has been inspirational to see how these intelligent young people have developed and outlined their ambitions for the places they live, and how they have approached the task of exploring how they could make a difference in their communities and to the planet. You can discover highlights from the programme here, here and here.

We were delighted to have also had the opportunity to create a bespoke, intensive form of the Sygnature Skills programme for Afrika Tikkun in September last year. This was delivered over a powerful 12 days with non-residential immersions in a variety of settings to a group of 20 young NEETS participating in a Career Development Programme, an important initiative designed to increase employment readiness. The response was breathtaking and has been the inspiration for our latest programme, Resilient Futures – which you can read more about later in this update.

In December 2019 we were invited by SAILI (the South African Innovative Learning Initiative) to work with them over a two year period in support of a group of 48 grade 9 and 10 learners being sponsored to attend various schools in the Cape Town area. We kicked off with a deep time walk in the Silvermine Reserve. The walk takes participants through the evolution of the planet – from the first collision of rocks which created the Earth all the way through to human existence. It is a 4.6km walk to signify the 4.6 billion years that the Earth has existed – and the last step of the walk – just 10cm – represents how long humans have been on Earth. The realisation that the short period of human existence has resulted in such extreme impact on the planet was eye-opening.  Another experience included a visit to Intaka, a commercial area built on man-made wetland, to understand the link between sewage effluent, upmarket housing and commercial development! 

January of this year saw us launch the first Sygnature programme in the UK, as part of School 21’s Real World Learning Projects (RWLP). This is a programme that gives students the opportunity to do meaningful projects in an organisation each week, so they can apply their knowledge, develop skills and nurture their self-confidence. The Sygnature programme kicked off the students’ experience with a visit to Wakehurst, home of the Millennium Seed Bank which preserves the world’s plants for the future – a safety net for species at risk of extinction. It is home to around 2 billion seeds, representing 13% of the world’s wild plant species.

Also this year, and despite lockdown, our ‘virtual’ Sygnature programme commenced at Hilton College in April. And so we are, of course, online! This has been an amazing experience both for the learners and for us. Collectively we are delighted at the creativity moving online has provoked amongst our team and faculty, and it is wonderful to be able to still see our participants extremely engaged in the learning. This has included giving the students tasks to carry out in their homes and gardens which connect them with nature and the global context. We are told that Friday night dinner table discussions after Sygnature sessions have become fascinating for all! 

Resilient Futures

The formation of ‘family groups’ and strong connections during these two weeks established a support system during the COVID-19 lockdown that none of us could have foreseen.

The success of our intensive Sygnature Skills programme and growing appreciation of the response to and need for the capacity for resilience and development of its associated competencies was the inspiration behind Resilient Futures. This full-time (three months) or part-time (six months) programme aims to develop the professional skills and competencies of those entering and/or emerging in the world of work. Whether they are new to the world of work and seeking to discover their passion and career path (level 1), already a professional looking to gain greater confidence and preparedness in the rapidly changing future (level 2) or a manager looking at how to improve their own and their team’s resilience and diversity (level 3), the programme can help create resilient futures. 

The first Resilient Futures was delivered to 60 young and emerging professionals participating in Afrika Tikkun’s Work Readiness Programme. We are delighted that we were able to begin the programme with two great weeks of face-to-face time with students before lockdown started.  This included a two-day overnight immersion at the outset – critical for them to be able to get to know and develop trust in others, and confidence in themselves. Unbeknown to us, the formation of ‘family groups’ and strong connections during these two weeks established a support system during the COVID-19 lockdown that none of us could have foreseen

They presented what they had learned in the programme, how they have changed and what actions they are planning for their futures – both for themselves and for those around them.

We managed, successfully we believe, to move the programme content onto WhatsApp. Although it was no easy feat, it was fun to try out different tech platforms with learners, and we have certainly learned how to manage with few resources – though hopefully things like free internet access for all are things that will change in the post-COVID world! Programme participants graduated on 19th June at a face-to-face ceremony (with social distancing in place, of course!), where  they presented what they had learned in the programme, how they have changed and what actions they are planning for their futures – both for themselves and for those around them.

You can hear some of these presentations yourself here, and learn more about their resilience here. Afrika Tikkun Services has a reputation for securing employment for at least 90% of graduates. We are thrilled that 45% have already gone on to secure employment, some with our Resilient Futures programme partners including The Clothing Bank, Ywaste, Twyg and Co-Create. We’re excited to roll out the Resilient Futures programme to all five Afrika Tikkun centres in 2021. 

If you would like to run the Resilient Futures programme at your institution or organisation, please do contact us.

Excellent work readiness programme that teaches good work ethic. Not only prepares young people for the workplace but to live sustainable lives and learn to balance with nature’s patterns. It teaches environmental consciousness. – participant 26 years old

Fireside Chats

The CoVid Crisis and inability of schools or youth development programmes to continue in many circumstances really got us thinking about how to make some of our sessions open to all youth who can access the online world. So the Routes to Resilience youth ‘Fireside Chats’ was born. This series acts as a taster for our programmes whilst giving unique access to amazing speakers and a space to gain skills and competencies in resilience and future-fitness for an audience of 16-20-year-olds. Join us for our final session of the school year where we are joined by Jackie May, chatting about resilience, purpose and sustainability. Sign up here. These sessions will start again in September. Show your interest now!

Our team 

Routes to Resilience couldn’t deliver the high quality, highly engaging and empowering programmes described above without the hard work and dedication of an outstanding group of individuals. Huge thanks go to: 

Tamzin Ractliffe who, with Elspeth Donovan, the late, wonderful Tom McLaughlin and Rayne McKechnie started the Routes to Resilience initiative in 2014. Their vision lives on.

Our expert contributors who give incredible thought leadership and expertise to help us bring content and topics to life. Emparting their experience and wisdom to our emerging leaders: John Holtman, Anton Cartwright, Mike Freedman, Retha van der Schyf, Catherine Cameron, Andrew Venter, Gary Kendall, Gerry Noel and Geoff Kendall..

Alexei du Bois, Geordie Ractliffe and Inge Anderssen who have helped to carry that original vision, developing it and acting as intermediaries between what was started and where we are today. 

Miselwa Mzanywa and Christelle September who have brought the Resilient Futures programme to life with incredible dedication.

Lynda Murray for joining our team to roll out the first Sygnature Skills Programme in the UK with enthusiasm and commitment.

Harriet Marshall, for heading up our UK education programmes and implementing the Fireside Chats so flawlessly through challenging times! 

And finally the board – chaired by Mike Freedman – and sponsors of the Impact Trust, for offering invaluable and continuous support, going above and beyond in helping us with our strategy, vision, and access to support from generous donors keen to ensure young people from under-resourced communities are assisted in finding their own route to resilience. We thank you.

***The Impact Trust has recently launched their ‘Conversations at the Crossroads’ series to engage voices in sharing experiences, good and bad, the potential of the time we’re in and the impact of decisions we make moving forward. This is a forum where people can share thoughtful, provocative perspectives about whether the pandemic could, in all its destructiveness, offer the potential for a seismic shift of our world view. Click here if you would like to join the conversation or simply listen.