It all started when Banks Gwaxula and Jacob Lief had a meeting… and now the Ubuntu Education Fund was born and today it is one of Port Elizabeth’s success stories.
Banks from PE and Jacob from the US, decided to launch an organisation driven by the community in 1999. And 15 years later,they are a reference for a number of NGOs working in education, health and household stability.
In an interview with SparkTour Africa, Banks, co-founder and senior administrator of the Ubuntu Education Fund, said: “Jacob Lief came to South Africa from the US and we worked together in the townships of Port Elizabeth for seven months.
“In 1999 we decided to launch the Ubuntu Education Fund. We started small by distributing academic supplies to orphaned and vulnerable children,” Banks said.
“Since 1999, all our projects have been community-based. We support people from cradle to career, as we believe a good foundation is the most important thing lacking in Mzansi.
“Our activities revolve around education, health and household stability. For example, we have a project called Early Childhood Development which takes care of vulnerable kids during the day.
“Another example is the UP programme where we prepare young people for the world of work. More than 60 people are working for us in PE and they do an incredible job,” Banks explained.
To him, Ubuntu means a lot. “A child from next door is your own child. If your neighbour doesn’t have bread, they can come to your house and ask for that.
“You give, you share whatever you have,” he said. Asked which three words would best describe the spirit of The Hope Factory, Banks explained: “Grassroot – because we don’t impose anything or take people for granted. People – we work with the people, not for the people. And Quality – because we don’t say that people in the townships need containers, instead we have built them a structure that received a lot of awards.”
Banks went on: “The biggest challenge at the beginning was to start something that was unusual: Putting up a computer hub in the townships.
“People feared to touch the buttons, so we had to encourage them a lot. Today, more than 100 teachers have been trained and are computer literate!” Banks said.
About future plans, Banks had this to say: “I’d like to increase the number of children taking part in this project. A lot of children really need help.”
And his advice to young entrepreneurs: “There is always a start for everything – and this is often a complicated period! ”
Focus is the most important thing to sustain any business venture, Banks says.
“Say no when it’s needed and you’ll be respected and get help.”
First published in the Sunday Sun on 29 June 2014.