SA-grown social solutions for the UK

Khulisa’s out-of-the-box programme on restorative justice has been exported to the UK, and is now part of a package of programmes being successfully implemented by an independent registered charity.

With the slogan “breaking the cycle of violence”, Khulisa UK has as its mission to “break the cycle of crime and violence by helping people to change their lives”. It does this by three means: to guide by restoring empathy, self-belief and self-worth; to heal individuals – both perpetrators and victims – and communities; and to nurture by believing all people can grow.

“We think that we are quite unique in bringing to the UK programmes that have been tried and tested in the extremely fragile and challenging social environment of South Africa,” reads the staff induction pack. “In particular we look at projects that provide innovative and effective ways to address crime, violence, anti-social behaviour, justice and community regeneration.”

Khulisa means “to nurture” in Zulu. They target offenders and ex-offenders, young people at risk of exclusion, offending or becoming involved in gangs, victims or witnesses of violence and crime and/or people facing significant personal barriers in their lives.

“Through our work we aim to empower disadvantaged individuals with the skills and personal understanding they need to develop their own alternatives to violence, desist from crime, improve their futures and build stronger and safer communities.”


Khulisa2Khulisa’s out-of-the-box programme on restorative justice has been exported to the UK, and is now part of a package of programmes being successfully implemented by an independent registered charityKhulisa UK is an offshoot of Khulisa Social Solutions in South Africa. Founder and managing director, Lesley Ann Van Selm, whose NGO has been running for 16 years, wanted to raise funding from international donors. But the European Union will only fund European Union-based organisations so Van Selm set up a company in the UK called Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative.

Khulisa has for the past 11 years been funded by the Finnish and Danish embassies. But more funding was needed to expand, says Van Selm.

She is an Ashoka fellow, an international body that recognises and supports leading social entrepreneurs through an entrepreneur network. “It’s quite a prestigious thing to be an Ashoka fellow,” she explains.

With the support of Ashoka in the UK, she managed to get a pro bono attorney to help register a company called Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative. A feasibility study was done and it was soon apparent that “there was as much potential for us to get money in South Africa for us also to have our programmes exported to the UK”.

Van Selm elaborates: “Because Khulisa’s programmes are so out of the box, and have been so organically developed, have got such an emotional intelligence, a later approach, we realised that the programmes in the UK were very, very conventional and all compliant against international theories of psychology, etc.”

It took two years to develop a pilot programme, then Khulisa’s Silence the Violence (STV) programme was tried out in Hackney in London. They invited people – a psychologist, an academic from Manchester University, a human rights activist, an ex-offender – to join them on the programme.

“The outcomes were just mind blowing,” says Van Selm.


Khulisa3-250Khulisa – a proudly South African brand (Images: Khulisa Social Solutions)They looked to follow it up but needed funding. Khulisa managed to get several contracts with the Home Office Police, a private prison company, and several other trusts that provided funding, in particular the Sainsbury’s Family Trust and the Monument Trust, which gave  £100 000. This enabled Khulisa in the UK to appoint a CEO, get offices, employ staff and get the programme off the ground.

The attitude in the UK was that if Khulisa can get the programmes to work in South Africa, with its many challenges, it can work in the UK.

Now, three years down the line, the UK company is a separate entity, paying royalties to Khulisa SA, and looking to expand their programmes there.

Van Selm says that she is looking at how she can expand the restorative justice programme in the UK, through the STV programme, which is based on restoring relationships between criminal and victim.

Van Selm is proud of the fact that the UK franchise is using the Khulisa brand name. She says the name is catchy, and “makes people feel curious”.

“It is a proudly South African brand.”


Khulisa UK has taken the STV programme and combined it with three other programmes – Milestones Mentoring Programme, Face It, and My Square Mile, a programme they have developed. These programmes supplement the STV programme, which is a “social learning, cognitive behaviour programme based on therapeutic methods leading to pro-social behaviour change, self-awareness and pro-social identity on the part of participants”.

“It is an intervention that additionally reduces violence and changes anti-social behaviour contributing to a reduction in violence/assaults whilst offering longer term positive effects on reducing re-offending with other supports,” states the induction pack. It is best suited for young people in at-risk situations, involved in gangs with exposure to crime and violence, including witnesses and victims.

The programme consists of 10 modules of 2-3-hour facilitated sessions, usually run over five days. It is followed up with one-on-one support sessions. It uses group and cognitive behavioural therapy, a developmental/strengths-based approach, and includes coaching, role play, problem solving, emotional management and conflict resolution.

Some of the learning outcomes include recognition of high-risk situations and techniques to avoid or cope with them; an ability of recognise levels of violence and awareness of its damaging effects; improved listening skills and greater empathy for others; the development of emotional intelligence; enhanced self-expression and self-awareness; and improved relationships.


Chief executive Simon Fulford says some 1 500 people have benefited from the programmes since 2009 when Khulisa started in the UK. He adds that this excludes any indirect impact on family and community members connected to the participants.

Click play to watch an interview with Khulisa CEO Simon FulfordSuccess is not always easy to measure. “Rating success with offender rehabilitation and behaviour change programmes is always a difficult one as the impact is subtle, long-term and hard to measure or claim direct responsibility for,” he explains.

Two responses give a sense of the programme’s success. An ex-offender from 2011 reports: “I’ve not cried for 18 years, and this is the first time I’ve felt safe enough to do so, in this group dynamic”

A 16-year-old school pupil said: “I was able to look into myself, pin-point what is wrong and start a path in to correct and move on, such as I am able to look at others and feel empathy.”

Fulford says that Khulisa UK has an annual operating budget of around £400 000, employing seven permanent staff and about a dozen freelance programme facilitators assisted by some 40 or 50 volunteers each year.

They run programmes in the London, Greater Manchester and Dorset/Hampshire areas on the south coast, but also run programmes on an ad-hoc basis in other parts of the UK, depending on contracts or commissions.  “Overall, about 300 adults and children participate in our full programmes per year, with several hundred more engaged via short workshops, taster sessions etc…”

They are looking at the Justice and Restoration Programme from South Africa to pilot and adapt for their use in the UK.

“Khulisa UK and Khulisa South Africa bring a new dynamism to north-south relations, with a unique model of exporting social development solutions from south to north and then adapted in-country,” says Fulford.

“Similarly, as we develop and enhance programmes here, we will share this knowledge and expertise with our colleagues while looking to further export the Khulisa approach.”