Jacob Lief

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In 1999, Jacob Lief and Malizole Banks Gwaxula founded Ubuntu Education Fund (www.ubuntufund.org) with the goal of transforming the lives of the children of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Ignoring the traditional development models, they redefined the theory of “going to scale” ;rather than expanding geographically Ubuntu drew a perimeter around a community of 400,000 people. Ubuntu created an integrated system of medical, health, educational, and social interventions that would ensure that a child who was either orphaned or vulnerable could, after several years, succeed in the worlds of education and employment.

Ubuntu provides orphaned and vulnerable children with life-saving HIV support services and essential educational resources. The organization was started in a broom closet with a raffle on a university campus and today has over 80 full-time staff in South Africa and fundraising offices in London and New York. The Ubuntu Model has become a blueprint for organizations around the world that strive for culturally appropriate, community-based development. Ubuntu’s child-centered approach highlights the difference between merely touching a child’s life versus fundamentally changing it.

Born in New York, Jacob first became interested in South Africa while growing up in London, England. In 1994 he traveled to South Africa with a delegation of students from around the world to observe the nation’s transition into democracy. Four years later Jacob returned to South Africa as a University of Pennsylvania student, where he met Malizole "Banks" Gwaxula, a teacher living and working in the Port Elizabeth townships. Together they formed Ubuntu Education Fund.

Ubuntu’s child-centered approach highlights the difference between merely touching a child’s life versus fundamentally changing it. In 2006 and 2008, Ubuntu was recognized by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship as one of South Africa’s top NGOs. Ubuntu has also been highlighted by the Clinton Global Initiative on numerous occasions as an organization effecting lasting change in South Africa. In 2009, Jacob was selected as an Aspen Institute Global Fellow and in 2010 was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.

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