Meet the Fellows who are looking to accelerate their commitment to good work. Launched in September 2021, the RSA’s Good Work Guild brings together a diverse global community of policymakers, investors, unions, grassroots problem-solvers, social entrepreneurs, start-ups, worker advocates and business leaders looking to shape the future of work.
Sharmi Surianarain is Chief Impact Officer for Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, a South African social enterprise. South Africa has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, and the pandemic has accentuated the challenge. Harambee recently partnered with the government of South Africa to provide thousands of young people with pathways to work experience via its Covid employment stimulus plan. Based in Nairobi (Kenya), Sharmi shares why she wants to put young people at the forefront of new employment pathways, especially on the African continent.
What shapes your understanding of “good work”?
For me, “good work” is meaningful work. It allows someone to earn an income that is secure and supportive of a balanced life. Good work is work that contributes to society and is additive: it enriches society.
It’s surprising that care is often viewed as a “break” from work, yet it both allows others to go to work, and is work itself. It’s invisible yet additive to our society, so it’s important that this gets reimagined.
I think a key point of interrogation is: What is work? How is it defined and how are institutions structured to support it? Also, how will technology and climate change affect work? We need to reconceptualise work, to understand what it really means, before we think of good work that guarantees income security, personal and professional satisfaction, and adds value to our societies.
What motivates you to seek breakthrough change?
As we try to figure what the new hybrid approach looks like in different contexts it’s apparent that the pathway to work for unemployed youth is less linear: a young person will have to hustle from short term job to job in the hope of acquiring skills and job experience along the way without too much job precarity. But how can we make sure that they are able to earn enough and not fall below the poverty line, especially when they are in between jobs? How can we reimagine the world of work and change the labour market so that work can be properly recognised and paid for?
I wish we can build on the narrative of inclusion to also put young people at the forefront of change, and where pathways to work initiatives put young people first. I would like to see more attention on removing the barriers to work for those seeking employment, such as internet and transport costs. I would also like more focus on the provision of childcare so that young women can get jobs and keep them. In South Africa during the pandemic, young women accounted for two thirds of job losses as they were employed in less protected and more precarious jobs. Increasing childcare also helps to address the gender gap in growth sectors where women are not well represented.
How would you like to connect with other Guild members?
I want to connect with a diverse range of actors (social entrepreneurs, thinkers, policymakers) in the Future of Work space, and of course I've got a specific interest in the African continent and youth unemployment. I’m particularly interested in the care economy as it’s central for the future of work, in generating jobs and shaping the landscape.