In January I visited Johannesburg, South Africa to speak at the Academy of Management’s first-ever Africa Conference. The conference brought together leading organization and management scholars as well as social entrepreneurs, service providers and change agents interested in the many theoretical and practical problems presented in Africa. The continent is home to some of the world’s most vibrant economies, and at the same time, some of the greatest sources of poverty, health issues, conflict and corruption.
While there, I met a remarkable man and gifted social entrepreneur named Thulani Madondo. Thulani is the Executive Director of the Kliptown Youth Program, an organization that provides educational support and after school activities to the children of Kliptown, a slum outside Soweto. Kliptown is a community suffering from immense poverty with forty-four thousand people living mostly in shacks and other informal homes. The unemployment rate is more than 70%, the HIV/AIDS rate is 25%, there is significant crime and they lack basic services such as schools, health clinics, electricity and proper sanitation.
The youth, in particular, face many challenges, and Thulani and the amazing team at KYP help more than 400 kids by providing uniforms, shoes, lunches and books that enable them to go to school. They provide tutoring, libraries, computers and study rooms to support learning. They connect students and graduates to employment networking, internships and jobs as well as engage kids in athletic and cultural programs to keep them active and inspired.
Kliptown youth celebrating their new school uniforms
With more than 10,000 children in the community, serving 400 might hardly seem to make an impact. But Thulani, name one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, sees the difference it is making in the community. He is giving the community hope that they can change their future.
“We know the problems of this community, but we also know the solutions,” said Madondo.
Thulani grew up in a family of nine and faced many of the same struggles as the kids in his program. Financial pressure forced all of his older siblings to drop out of high school, but he washed cars and worked as a stock boy to earn money to stay in school. As a result, he became the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Although he was not able to afford college, he and the others who founded KYP wanted to help others in the community feel like they had power over their future.
Each child who participates in the program must come in with a parent or guardian and sign a contract. The students must agree to stay in school and attend mandatory tutoring sessions twice a week. In exchange, KYP agrees to provide uniforms, books and school fees for any student who cannot afford them.
“We’re not just giving handouts,” said Madondo. “We’re making kids earn whatever they get.”
So far, 21 participants have gone on to a university. Others have returned to strengthen the organization from within by working for KYP, helping tutor or leading activities for the younger children.
“I am very excited by what we are doing for the community,” Madondo said. “We want the children of Kliptown to realize there’s something they can contribute to this world. We want to give them the sense that everything is possible.”
With change leaders like Thulani Madondo, everything is possible.
Kliptown with Soweto in the background
The local source of water
A Kliptown street
To make a donation or to learn more about the Kliptown Youth Program, go to http://www.kliptownyouthprogram.org.za/donate.