News & Opinion

Authors On the Road - Ubuntu Education Fund & Kiva

June 18, 2015


The philanthropists featured were "on the road" long before they were authors, and are changing the world as they make their way through it.

I’ve always naturally gravitated to the economically and culturally diverse pockets that exist in the major cities where I’ve lived—places that remind me that struggles and injustices are still daily concerns for a large majority of our world’s population. When I started writing our “Authors on the Road” series, I focused on authors who not only acknowledged those hard facts, but have had the courage to act on helping fellow human beings in need of a little help and support. This month I want to focus on two wonderful people who are fighting to make a difference around the world and have shared the stories of how on paper.

In 1999, Jacob Lief and Malizole “Banks” Gwaxula founded the Ubuntu Education Fund in hopes of addressing the educational crisis in South Africa. They began by providing orphaned and underprivileged children with school supplies, but soon began to notice that even with the proper supplies, most of the children still struggled with bigger issues of hunger, disease, and other daily battles at home. Sharing their passion for education, and the spirit of ubuntu roughly translated as "I am because you are,” Jacob and Banks set out to provide vulnerable kids with what every child deserves—everything possible.

In I Am Because You Are, Jacob Lief and Andrea Thompson portray the rewards and challenges of the nonprofit world while giving you a wonderful story about how two new friends started helping people with moderate resources, and ended up providing life-changing programs for people who would never have had the opportunity on their own. As we see in the lower-class areas of our own cities and towns, a feeling of defeat is one of the most infectious by-products of poverty. While offering children great resources and intensive intervention, Jacob and the Ubuntu Fund most crucially taught children that they deserve the same quality of attention and service as anyone else. After years of hard work battling apartheid, extreme violence, and disease, Jacob can say with pride that his mission has been a success.


We provide food from our gardens, and nutritional counseling. We work with pregnant women and babies, teenagers and university students, grannies and aunties and uncles. We’re grassroots, but we fully professionalized. We have the capability to generate monthly reports that help us allocate our resources in a way that’s flexible and responsive to outcomes, that relies on facts and just not on our gut. We’re not afraid to take risks on a new approach, see how it works, and cut it off if it doesn’t.

More recently, Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least by Jessica Jackley made its way to the top of our never ending stack of books. Jessica is the co-founder of Kiva, a “non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

As a child, Jessica had a very simple desire—to help those less fortunate than herself. As she grew older, she began to desire for something more, something more powerful, and something vastly more intimate. Something that wasn’t just a one-time donation to an organization pleading for help on the television. Sharing her story of co-creating a social tool for change from a small apartment at Stanford, she highlights the business and life lessons of taking a small dream and turning it into a powerful global movement that provides affordable capital to poor entrepreneurs around the world. Clay Water Brick takes you into the the lives of these small business owners to share the stories and lessons they’ve lived by to create meaning, value, and purpose in their own lives and others’ while still believing in honesty, integrity, and transparency. Along this journey she explains:


My definition of poverty has changed over time. I used to believe it was only about the lack of material needs: food, water, clothing, shelter. I thought that wealth, the opposite of poverty, was having these things. I know now that this is only a small part of the story. We are all rich in some ways and poor in others. Some people are surrounded by abundance and cannot recognize it. They are capable of great things and free to do whatever they want with their days, but they remain fearful or indecisive.They are free but feel trapped. Poverty is not just about a lack of possessions: it is, among other things, also about the belief that we cannot or should not use what we have to grow.

Living in a very hyper-segregated city, in which poverty is too often correlated with that segregation, I don’t always pay attention to the good that people in our city are doing to address these issues, to help people learn and grow and come together. Reading these books has reawakened my awareness and desire to get involved. There is extreme beauty seeing adolescents and elderly people working together in a 40 x 40 foot community garden on the edge of impoverished parts of my neighborhood, and witnessing that while reading these books reminds me that maybe there is more that I could and should be doing to get involved in that beauty, and to make a difference in my community. Until I figure out the answers to those questions for myself and my own involvement, I’m glad to get a kick in the pants to reconsider them, and it helps to know that people like Jacob and Jessica did find answers to theirs and have made the world a better place because of it.

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