This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The townships in South Africa are some of the largest slums in the world.
“The odds are stacked against children growing up in Port Elizabeth’s townships. Abject poverty, particularly amongst the country’s black population, is pervasive,” explains Jacob Lief, Co-founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, which works to solve problems associated with poverty in Port Elizabeth’s townships.
Lief sees the extreme gap between rich and poor in South Africa as a root of the problem, noting that South Africa is the 2nd most unequal country in the world–without noting which country is worse. “This widening gap between the haves and the have-nots permeates society. While the elite receive quality private healthcare, South Africa’s poor are forced to rely on public clinics. Plagued by shortfalls of doctors, service interruptions, and infrastructure backlogs, these facilities cannot fully address the country’s HIV/AIDS and TB crises,” Lief says.
Education isn’t a panacea, he says. “Facing these economic and medical barriers, many South Africans believe that education has the potential to act as a great equalizer. Yet the education system is equally fraught with challenges. Children growing up in Port Elizabeth’s townships lack access to quality healthcare and education, and face unstable homes everyday.”
So Ubuntu has developed a unique cradle to career program to support 2,000 children in the townships that Lief calls the Ubuntu Model, “a strategy that has received international acclaim from Bill Clinton to the World Economic Forum.”
The model has four tenets, he says:
A comprehensive, cradle to career pathway out of poverty that encompasses sustained household stability services (home assessments, child protection services, and psychosocial counseling), life-saving healthcare (HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programs, sexual and reproductive support, primary and preventative medicine, and nutritional consultations), as well as dynamic educational programs (from early childhood education to university scholarships and job readiness training)
Depth rather than breadth of impact by continuously improving program quality to meet the ever-changing needs of clients
Localized, grassroots development contextualized to mitigate the specific challenges that Port Elizabeth’s townships face
Sustainable investments in community leadership, capacity, and infrastructure
The results of the program are impressive.
Lief exults, “Ubuntu’s impact is transformative– from HIV-positive mothers giving birth to healthy, HIV-negative babies, to vocational-tracked youth in our Ubuntu Pathways (UP) program securing employment. Within just four years of joining Ubuntu, 82% of clients are on-track towards stable health and employment.”
“An independent study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that every $1 invested in an Ubuntu child will yield $8.70 in real lifetime earnings for that individual. Ubuntu graduates will contribute $195,000 to society, while their peers will cost society $9,000. Ubuntu graduates attain successes that few in their community ever realize and, in doing so, they are redefining what the world believes to be possible in disadvantaged communities,” he enthusiastically continues.
It seems daunting to consider expanding such an intensive program to other communities, but this is exactly what Lief hopes to see. “The Ubuntu Model is a blueprint for sustainable grassroots development– one that should be replicated and contextualized for communities across the world.”
On Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Lief will join me for a live discussion about the program and its impact in Port Elizabeth. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Ubuntu Education Fund:
Founded in 1999, Ubuntu Education Fund (www.ubuntufund.org) is guided by a simple, all-encompassing, yet radical mission: to help raise Port Elizabeth’s orphaned and vulnerable children by giving them what all children deserve—everything. Ignoring traditional development models, Ubuntu redefined the theory of “going to scale”, choosing to focus on the depth rather than breadth of our impact. Our holistic cradle to career model provides children with comprehensive household stability, health, and educational services, enabling them to break cycles of disenfranchisement and inequality. The success of our model is unprecedented, and we are currently transforming the lives of 2,000 children and their families.
Jacob Lief is Co-Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organization that takes vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa from cradle to career. Nuancing traditional development models, Ubuntu redefined the theory of “going to scale”; rather than expanding geographically, they focus on the depth rather than breadth of their programs within a community of 400,000 people. Ubuntu’s programs form an integrated system of medical, health, educational and social services, ensuring that a child who is either orphaned or vulnerable could succeed in the world of higher education and employment. Ubuntu’s child-centred approach highlights the difference between merely touching a child’s life versus fundamentally changing it. In 2009, Jacob was selected as an Aspen Institute Global Fellow and, in 2010, he was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. In 2012, he joined the Clinton Global Initiative Advisory Committee. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. Jacob has authored a book, I Am Because You Are, focused on his journey in South Africa and the creation of Ubuntu Education Fund, published by Rodale Inc. in May 2015.
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