Ubuntu Youth

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Ubuntu Youth: Providing opportunity to motivated youth where opportunity is limited.

Cottonlands, South AfricaOklahoma City, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Ubuntu Youth Project is an after-school program investing in motivated secondary school students through tutoring, mentoring, entrepreneurship training, and postgraduate opportunities.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if students were able to create their own jobs and become the hero of their own story, instead of relying on government handouts?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

With 80% of schools considered dysfunctional and only 18% of teachers properly trained to teach, South African has one of the worst education systems in the world. The country routinely shows up near the bottom of international rankings in literacy, science, and math. Poorly educated students graduate into near 40% unemployment without the necessary skills to be a competitive job candidate or the resources to start an entrepreneurial venture.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We invest in motivated, promising secondary school students by providing a strong educational and life-skills foundation often overlooked in rural schools. Tutoring services and educational resources like textbooks, computers, and access to the Internet are provided to assist students in their studies while in secondary school; our commitment to students, however, does not end when they graduate. Our goal for each graduate is to have a university bursary, a microloan and entrepreneurship training to start a business, or the professional skills to obtain a job upon graduation. We commit to walk alongside students into their twenties to help them achieve their goals, both personal and professional.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

When we met Sipho, he was dangerously close to dropping out of school. His three older brothers had already dropped out, he was working at a car wash for the equivalent of $3 a day on weekends to make enough money for the next week’s transportation to and from school. Mentors at the Ubuntu Youth Project invested time in Sipho, and convinced him of the importance of education. Now, Sipho boasts the highest attendance of all Ubuntu Youth learners. Every day, he comes to the Ubuntu Youth Center after school to study. Ubuntu Youth has provided Sipho with the resources (including capital, graphic design mentors, and business training) to start his own greeting card business, which he currently owns and operates.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Ubuntu Youth takes a holistic approach to impact. We have provided students access to quality supplemental education resources while in secondary school, to university education, and to business training to start an entrepreneurial venture. Ubuntu Youth maintains a selective application process to ensure students are committed to their education, future, and community. We accept a small group of 20 learners yearly to maintain a small mentor to student ratio. We have outgrown our current facility and are transitioning to a new facility. With a larger space, a full computer lab, an extensive library of textbooks and novels, and more room for agricultural projects, we will be able to serve a larger group of students. As the organization continues to grow, we will have access to additional monetary resources for student scholarships, curriculum development, and microloan disbursement.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The Ubuntu Youth model is scalable to any rural community; the essentials to establishing a branch are simply a facility and personnel to serve in administrative and mentorship capacities. After the current Ubuntu Youth Project completes the “established” phase, we will begin to evaluate potential communities for an additional Ubuntu Youth branch. Communities with strained school systems and high unemployment are target communities for a branch center. Sustainability for individual branches will depend on fulfilling local economic market gaps through microbusinesses and equity investment.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Ubuntu Youth’s overhead operating cost will be covered by income generation projects run by students enrolled in Ubuntu Youth’s programs. Project will include a bakery, chicken coop, and other agricultural ventures. Additionally, Ubuntu Youth plans to buy equity in companies students initiate following their training from the Ubuntu Youth entrepreneurship program. Money generated from equity will be re-invested into microloan capital.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

To our knowledge, we are the only organization in South Africa taking a holistic approach to youth development. Instead of just mitigating the vulnerability of at-risk youth by providing a safe environment to study, or fighting against broken school systems by providing tutoring, or tackling high unemployment by providing youth microloans to start businesses, we integrate all of the above into a single project.

Founding Story

After working for three years with an after-school program that provided a safe place for students to go after school, Alyssa Peterson realized the need for after-school programs that went beyond simply looking after children. The program cared for learners during schooling years, but after the students graduated, they were phased out of the program to make room for new participants. Alyssa started the Ubuntu Youth Project in 2011 to provide secondary students access to mentors, tutoring, textbooks, and other educational resources to ensure their success while in school and to make sure each student had tangible opportunity to be successful after finishing school.


On-site leadership consists of five full-time directors (two holding university degrees, two pursing degrees, and one with experience in his field) and one part-time volunteer. Business, nonprofit, agriculture, and entrepreneurship sector leaders with experience in development comprise the Ubuntu Youth board. As we grow, we will phase out international director involvement for Ubuntu Youth to be run for local youth by local directors.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, OK, Oklahoma City

Country where this project is creating social impact

South Africa, KN, Cottonlands

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, NGOs, Businesses.

Awards: What awards or honors has your solution received, if any?

The Ubuntu Youth Project has received recognition in the Oklahoma State University Alumni Association “State Magazine” and the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources publication “The Cowboy Journal.” Alyssa Peterson, the Ubuntu Youth Project founder, has presented a TEDx Talk on international development and received recognition in “The Daily Oklahoman” for her work with the Ubuntu Youth Project.

Tell us about your partnerships

The Ubuntu Youth Project partners with organization in both United States and South Africa. In the United States, Ubuntu Youth works hand-in-hand with Pros for Africa, an organization dedicated to connecting professionals in their field to those in developing African countries who could benefit from their expertise.
Ubuntu Youth has forged multiple partnerships with Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. We are ongoing partners with the Center for Ethnical Leadership. The Center for Ethical Leadership President’s Leadership Class has hosted a school supply drive and a book drive for the Ubuntu Youth Center. Additionally, Ubuntu Youth summer interns from Oklahoma State have received college credit for their experience with Ubuntu Youth. Furthermore, In July 2014, Ubuntu Youth hosted a study abroad group from OSU’s Office of Scholar Development. The group tutored at the Ubuntu Youth Center and had the chance to learn about education, entrepreneurship, and community development in the developing world. Furthermore, the Ubuntu Youth Project has an ongoing partnership with The Mentoring Project in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Mentoring Project provides on-going mentorship training and materials for Ubuntu Youth. We are excited about an upcoming video exchange between TMP mentees and Ubuntu Youth learners.
In South Africa, Wakaberry Frozen Yoghurt Company serves as the corporate sponsor for the Ubuntu Youth Project, providing legal, consulting, and graphic design advice. Wakaberry sponsors various aspects of the Ubuntu Youth Project operating cost, including company car insurance.

Challenges: What challenges might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Reliance on government handouts in rural South Africa is rampant. These handouts often incentivize dropping out of school and unemployment. Additionally, working against a handout culture is challenging when neighboring nonprofits engage in community feedings schemes and free giveaways of clothing, blankets, and more. The hand-to-mouth mentality of poverty leaves little room to think long-term when one’s main goal is to endure the current. We work to alleviate the pressures of poverty to enable people to seize actually opportunities that generate long-term benefits.
Turning around a handout culture is an enormous challenge, but we believe Ubuntu Youth has the opportunity to promote a self-sustaining lifestyle through Ubuntu Youth learner’s participation in entrepreneurial ventures coupled with solid, long-term mentor relationship that begin in secondary school.
Ever-present “red tape” in South Africa is an extreme barrier to success of any grassroots initiative. Navigating tangled municipality government systems to legally establish an Ubuntu Youth Center in a community is a lengthy, complicated, and confusing process. But, because Ubuntu Youth staff has braved the system to establish the first youth center, we now know the process for future centers.

How does your idea help young people create bright futures and improve opportunities for meaningful and long-term careers?

The Ubuntu Youth Project paves the way for youth to be the heroes of their own stories. We understand that long-term, meaningful, and unique investment in each Ubuntu Youth student is the key to ensuring each young person is successful. We understand that student’s aspirations, dreams and goals are as unique and different as the students that possess them; we know taking a one-size-fits-all approach to our work won’t work. We understand not all students will qualify for or want to go to university. We understand not every student will want to start their own business. We understand not every student wants to work for a large corporation. But, we also know that’s okay. At the Ubuntu Youth Project, we supply students with the necessary resources to achieve their desired employment. But, just getting and keeping a job is a small part of our definition of a “bright future.”
We firmly believe in the concept of “ubuntu” for which the organization is named. “Ubuntu” means “I am who I am because of who we all are.” By empowering a group of students in a community, Ubuntu Youth is creating a culture of motivation that doesn’t rely on handouts. This culture will not only affect Ubuntu Youth learners, but their parents, siblings, families, friends, and neighbors.

Target Age Group(s): What age group(s) do(es) your solution target through it's programming?

13-17, 18-35.

Intervention Focus: Identify which of the following best explain key parts of your solution

Job Creation, Education - Curricular, Entrepreneurship, Training/Skill Development, Mentorship, Rural Economies.

Do you have separate programs or initiatives that target the following types of populations?

Impact - Reach: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

0 to 500

Number of People Directly Employed by Your Organization

Fewer than 10

Number of Volunteers

Fewer than 10

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below? Select a theme below that most applies to your work. If none of them do, no problem, you can skip this question.

Put Young People in Charge: provide the experiences and skills needed to be resilient, creative, and take action

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers? Select a theme below that most applies to your work. If none of them do, no problem, you can skip this question.

Lack of youth empowerment


Naly HERINIAINA's picture

hello and thank you for sharing your project.
Does your project aims to help young people who no longer want to continue their studies and who are in poverty. If so, how?
thank you

Ivan Swartz's picture

Well executed Idea! Believe that there is areas where we can collaborate in the future!

Mpiima Jamiru's picture

Dear Alyssa,

Good project,

Starting a business is one thing, have you put in place actions that will help these youth sustain and grow their businesses?


Naly HERINIAINA's picture

hello and thank you for sharing your project.
Does your project aims to help young people who no longer want to continue their studies and who are in poverty. If so, how?
thank you

Siphelele Zungu's picture

Hi Naly,
Unfortunately, our project does not have a programme for young people who have dropped out of school, if that is what you mean by "no longer want to continue their studies". This is because of limited space and resources. We only accept approximately 20 learners in our after-school programme each year. We do, however, partner with a local NGO that does work to remotivate those who have dropped out to come back to school, as it is free to attend a government school in South Africa. If they do decide to come back to school, they are eligible to apply to Ubuntu Youth. We are trying to support and reward those who have not given up even in the face of adversity. In our community, it's considered "cool" to drop out, and we are trying to combat that mentality. But if you are talking about graduates who do not want to attend university when you say "no longer wanting to continue their studies," then yes, we do have a programme for them! We know university isn't for everyone. We offer job search assistance and a post-high school entrepreneurship programme to help students find or create opportunities for a brighter future. We try our best to use the limited resources we have to make a lasting impact, and while that does limit us, it allows us to be creative and build strong relationships with our dedicated learners. Thanks for reaching out! Hope this helps clarify.

Changemakers is a really cool and important initiative as far as I have read. I would like to get involved directly with the movement. I really would like to know more about other projects that are happening in South Africa. Ubuntu Youth is really outstanding for me.