Khulisa founder wins social award

24 March 2009

Khulisa founder and MD Lesley-Ann van Selm was recognised for her crime prevention and offender rehabilitation initiatives with the Pinnacle Award at the Southern Africa Social Entrepreneurship (SASE) Awards in Johannesburg last week.

The award is given to individuals who have developed and implemented innovative social ventures that have a transformative social impact, are driven by an operationally and financially sustainable model, and are replicable.

Social entrepreneurs

SASE defines social entrepreneurs as visionary individuals who are motivated to evoke social change in a sustainable way.

Social entrepreneurs “recognise the gaps in service delivery and are constantly innovating solutions to developmental changes, they are also seeking ways in which to make these projects viable and independent of donor funding,” the organisers said in a statement this week.

Van Selm is a social entrepreneur in the truest sense of the term, showing how her drive, compassion and insight have come together to create Khulisa, an organisation that is making radical changes to the South African criminal justice landscape.

Khulisa is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the prevention of crime and the rehabilitation of offenders in South Africa, and the provenance of the organisation is inextricably bound to Van Selm’s personal journey of discovery working with marginalised people in the country.

Van Selm’s early career was characterised by a series of jobs at which she turned her entrepreneurial spirit to creating new opportunities and developing her own skills. A self-proclaimed “graduate of the school of hard knocks”, she worked in sales, marketing and travel, often at companies that she started up herself.

Khulisa crime prevention initiative

In 1997, armed only with her marketing expertise, experience in building companies for a new South Africa and a genuine belief in the importance of inter-cultural dialogue, Van Selm established the Khulisa crime prevention initiative.

It was launched as an interactive course at Leeuwkop Prison to help offenders to use a common storytelling language to restore a sense of morality and ultimately lead to rehabilitation.

The course was developed after she spent time travelling around the world with Credo Mutwa, the South African spiritual leader, who was researching the common thread in different cultures’ storytelling traditions.

At the time, Van Selm’s intention was merely to create a practical outlet for the lessons she had learnt on her travels, but in the face of the instant positive feedback she received, and the overwhelming need for such interventions among South Africa’s marginalised prison population, the demand was created and Khulisa was born.

Unlocking potential

Twelve years on, Khulisa is a reflection of the woman at the helm, who has devoted her time and energy into the Section 21 (not for profit) company, as well as of the huge successes than can be realised when a vision is applied to those who need it most.

Khulisa states as its mission, “to unlock the potential of both individuals and the larger society”. This is done through a series of programmes and interventions at prisons and with at-risk youth in communities to make restitution, restore personal pride, prevent recidivism and provide alternatives to gangs, drugs and crime.

“Khulisa is faced with many obstacles, including government buy-in, money to cover the costs of expanding according to demand, communities that are angry, hopeless and sceptical of our processes, and a lack of capacity to satisfy the need for programme demand,” says Van Selm.

But she feels that with young people at risk throughout the country, the work being done by Khulisa is so important that the challenges are worth facing and the battles worth fighting.

“We have a recidivism rate of 80%. Unless we do something about providing second chances and alternative ways of living to people who have been in conflict with the law, crime will continue to perpetuate,” says Van Selm. “I am honoured to have received this award because I feel that it recognises and draws attention to the vital work that we at Khulisa are doing.”

Turning lives around

Aside from the obvious personal rewards that van Selm realises through helping people turn their lives around every day, she has been supported in her achievements by a number of factors.

“I am surrounded by incredible staff, and invigorated by the success stories that emerge from our programmes,” she says. “I also have the support of a secretary who has been with my for over twenty years and my husband who is a business consultant by profession and brought financial acumen into my life.”

Van Selm adds the SASE Pinnacle Award to a long list of accolades that she has received for her work at Khulisa – including being elected as an Ashoka Fellow, winning the Elizabeth Arden/Elle Magazine Visible Difference Award, winning the MIB Group Majuba Forest Entrepreneur of the Year Award and receiving nominations for Woman of the Year for four consecutive years.

SAinfo reporter

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material