“‘Thank you, God.’ That was my first thought when I heard that a Youth Peacemaker Network was going to be launched in the Cape Flats,” says Joseph Jacobs (19), the youngest of 45 Capetonians who are currently being trained as peace ambassadors.On Wednesday 21 August, BNP Paribas Group South Africa, including retail subsidiary RCS, announced a five-year programme with the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) to support youth, peace and entrepreneurship on the Cape Flats. Jacobs, a civil engineering student at Pillar 5 Group, says he had been waiting for an opportunity like this. Utilising the entrepreneur and conflict resolution skills that he will be taught, Jacobs hopes to one day open a skills centre in Mitchell’s Plain. “There are so many children who drop out of school and just hang around on street corners. “I want to give them a place where they can go to learn to be electricians or mechanics,” he says. The selected “trainers of trainees” (TOTs) as they are known, are from areas most affected by gang violence in Cape Town, and were chosen based on their personal experience and change agent capabilities. Once trained, they will educate 350 young people from communities across Cape Town to become social development ambassadors, by learning how to engage with residents to mediate conflicts, foster peace and to support the development of educational and job creation initiatives.The Youth Peacemaker Network operates from the Athlone Community Learning Centre and field office for WPDI, which will provide access to IT and literacy tools, alongside entrepreneurship support. The centre will also host a “Business Bootcamp”, a platform specially designed by WPDI to incubate 80 small businesses over the next five years. Dr Chance Chagunda, programme manager of WPDI, says the launch of the programme comes at a difficult time. The formal unemployment level in South Africa stands at 29%, Cape Town is more violent than ever and it’s seen the deployment of the South African National Defence Force in its communities. However, he says peace ambassadors in South Sudan, Uganda and Mexico have faced similar seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and, with time and patience, they are effecting change. “Peace is more than the absence of violence, but rather the total sum of attitudes, structures and institutions that underpin sustainable development. “We believe that with the right support, young South Africans can be drivers of positive change,” says Chagunda.Vikas Khandelwal, CEO of BNP Paribas Group South Africa, says every place has its own history, its own scars left by the past. Nobody understands the cause of these scars better than the community members. That is why the movement for change must begin with them. “Accelerating the UN’s sustainable development goals at a local level requires collaboration from a range of sectors and organisations, as sustainable economies are underpinned by sustainable communities.” Regan Adams, CEO of RCS, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group South Africa, says, looking at the crime statistics, it is easy to become pessimistic about the future, but he believes the best days for South Africa are still ahead. “Commitment to entrepreneurship and the importance of empowering the youth are the key drivers of this initiative,” Adams said.