02 July 2013

Guest Post: Should your birthplace determine your future?

By Jacob Lief, CEO, Ubuntu Foundation

Often, when a government decides to withdraw its development aid to country, we expect that it’s because a country’s economy has improved to a level in which foreign assistance is no longer needed. Sounds great, right? Yes, but as we often see, this doesn’t always mean a country has fully risen out of extreme poverty. Great Britain recently announced they would be cutting their £19m a year aid program to South Africa. Justine Greening, the UK’s DFID secretary said "South Africa has made enormous progress over the past two decades, to the extent that it is now the region's economic powerhouse and Britain's biggest trading partner in Africa.” Greening further explained that the country had transitioned from “apartheid to a flourishing, growing democracy.” So this begs the question, in South Africa, how far have we truly come?

As CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, an organization working in the township of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I can attest that South Africa has made great progress in the 20 years since apartheid. Just two decades after the country inherited bankruptcy and a split society, it has had four democratically elected presidents and a strong civil society. Pretty remarkable.

However, South Africa still faces immense challenges ranging from high HIV rates to significant disparity in wealth. In fact, South Africa has the second highest wealth disparity gap in the world, behind that of Brazil.

So while progress has been made, there is a long way to go. It is my belief that organizations like Ubuntu are necessary to help provide communities with many of the services needed to move the needle on poverty. With that in mind, organizations must adjust their models and funding sources to ensure the people continue to benefit from critically needed programs.

Ubuntu cannot solve all the problems alone, but we have developed a model that works and that has been proven to bolster the economy of Port Elizabeth by investing in youth. Through our localized model focused on transforming the township of Port Elizabeth, we have been able to help provide more than 2000 children and their families with the resources needed to create a more prosperous future. We provide services from cradle to career addressing the issues of poverty ranging from prenatal care all the way through university. To us, your birthplace should not determine your future and it’s up to organizations like ours to make this a reality.

Take Lwando Nteya, a young boy who was born into the shanty town of Port Elizabeth South Africa. Statistically, his birthplace was meant to determine his future. But it didn’t. And, we believe, it shouldn’t. I met Lwando when he was 11 years old, living in a shack and struggling with the daily challenges of extreme poverty. Lwando joined our Ubuntu family and is today a graduate of Cape Town University with big dreams for the future. It’s success stories like Lwando’s that prove the strength of Ubuntu’s localized model and an approach that can help South Africa thrive despite decreased international funding.

As organizations continue to face funding challenges, it’s time to get creative and find new models that lead to lasting and transformative change. Should your birthplace determine your future? No and it’s up to organizations like Ubuntu to make sure it doesn’t.