May 31, 2024

Ubunye Foundation: Supporting Sustainable Development Through Community-Led Governance

Ubunye Foundation partners with rural communities in the Upper and Lower Fish River region of Eastern Cape, South Africa, to address the chronic poverty that has arisen from systematic marginalisation of local residents.
Please visit our Community-Driven Change: Demonstrating Impact in Africa and India resource center for our full report and additional case studies.

"It’s not us coming up with solutions. It’s the community coming up with a solution. And it’s the community taking those steps. And it’s us saying, okay, we can help you with that."
Katy Pepper, Director, Ubunye Foundation

Every month, residents of villages in the Ngqushwa and Makana municipalities of rural Eastern Cape, South Africa, come together in programme working groups to discuss ongoing programme operations and share perspectives on what is working and what needs to be changed to achieve the envisioned development priorities.

These programme working groups, while still in their early days, were established as part of Ubunye Foundation’s efforts to support sustainable community development through participatory governance. The monthly meetings enable community members who have been elected as representatives to understand the role their voices play in development and decision-making within the community.

Ubunye Foundation’s role in community-driven change

Ubunye Foundation has worked with rural communities with shared needs in the Upper and Lower Fish River region of Eastern Cape since 2002. Its goal is to address the chronic poverty that has arisen from systematic marginalisation of local residents. Initially, Ubunye supported women wanting to set up childcare facilities. Since then, it has evolved into a community partner offering technical support to development programmes focused on education, health, livelihoods, and financial resilience.

Ubunye Foundation Childcare CenterUbunye Foundation works with communities to create childcare centers, establish locally owned businesses, and explore other ways of 
addressing poverty.

The programme working groups have been critical to strengthening the community’s voice and fostering its participation in shaping development. “Before, when I used to go for community meetings, I didn’t feel motivated. But as part of programme working groups, I know I am adding value to my community, and I feel responsible for its success,” says a woman participant.

Why Ubunye Foundation adopted a community-driven change approach

Initially, Ubunye Foundation adopted an asset-based community development approach to its work in the Ngqushwa and Makana municipalities.1 Soon, the foundation realised that while communities could identify assets and mobilise them towards their needs, the initiatives being implemented were not driven by the community itself.

This inspired Ubunye to pivot to its current strategy, called Siyakahana, meaning “building together.” Siyakahana is a community-led governance model. It arose from discussions that produced a deeper understanding of the community and how community leadership could be employed to enhance bottom-up decision making. Siyakahana now functions with a three-tier governance structure that integrates community representation within the programme working groups, a community advisory board, and Ubunye’s own board of trustees.

Facilitating a shared vision and collective ownership

By centring the community’s voice, a number of Ubunye Foundation’s development programmes are now completely community-led and managed – an outcome that the foundation has been fully intentional about.

The Isisekelo programme, which focuses on creating sustainable early childhood development centres, is just one example. Initially, Ubunye collaborated with parents to create plans for the centres in response to needs expressed by the community. The successful creation of these centres provided the opportunity to obtain partial care registration from the government. Once received, this registration gives the centres access to government grants to ensure long-term financial independence.

Early childhood development practitioners are elected from the community and put through training programs hosted by Ubunye. The training enables them to manage early childhood centres independently. In this way, Ubunye has been able to exit from centres that can now run independently and extend support to new centres in turn.

This approach is important in enabling communities to fulfil interlinked needs. For instance, the early childhood centres also host vegetable tower gardens managed by the teachers and parents. The tower gardens provide nutrition for the children as well as an opportunity for the centres to become financially sustainable by selling surplus produce.

Strengthening the community’s leadership and asset base

The Siyakahana model places the community in charge of identifying its most critical needs and devising solutions. Ubunye Foundation assumes the role of technical partner to support initiatives and source funding where required. “Ubunye Foundation used to … drive development programmes, but now the programme working groups have become the community’s voice and a platform to understand the challenges of different groups,” says a community member who is also part of Ubunye.

This shift ensures that programme working groups take a central role in identifying needs and opportunities. They also hold Ubunye accountable, while measuring impact and providing feedback on progress made. “If there is an issue at the early childhood centres, we try to find solutions collectively with the community members, seeking Ubunye Foundation’s support where required and reporting progress … to mobilise resources or support. This increases the broader community’s involvement and ownership,” says a programme working group member.

Community leadership ensures that Ubunye’s work fosters genuine collaboration and sustainable impact. “Before the establishment of programme working groups, there were often burglaries at early childhood sites, but this has reduced due to stronger community ownership,” says a community member.

Focusing on equity

Programme working groups are not only champions for community priorities, they also serve as a platform for engagement between different groups. “Earlier, the youth were demotivated and not interested in engaging with community development. Now, through awareness creation and training, more youth are getting involved,” says a programme working group member.

The programme working groups create a shared space for all members of the community to be heard in pursuit of equitable representation. Another member says, “Earlier … I didn’t have visibility. Now [due to the recognition the programme working group has provided], people know me.”

Outcomes in communities

Ubunye Foundation continues to centre community ownership in pursuit of communities’ self-determination and self-sufficiency. For instance, one programme aiming to establish savings groups for highly marginalised communities resulted in more than 8 million rand (US$443,000)2 saved across 309 community groups. All of these groups are now self-managed and no longer require new training to sustain operations.

As part of the sustainable livelihoods programme established by Ubunye, 157 community-owned businesses have been started since 2002, and all are still running. Approximately 70 percent of these businesses are making a profit.

Additionally, during 2019–2020, 16 early childhood development centres serving over 320 children became community-led and attained partial care registration and conditional grants from the Department of Social Development. During 2020, Ubunye expanded its support to a further 45 early childhood centres, covering around 900 children, all of which are now led by teams of parents.3

Specific to the Siyakahana model, 15 programme working groups have been successfully set up. While there is continued learning and iteration to be done, the programme working groups have proved critical to fostering community accountability in the functioning and sustainability of development programmes and to addressing needs with solutions informed by the community itself.

1. Asset-based community development is a strategy for sustainable community-driven development that focuses on linking micro-assets to the macro-environment. The appeal of this strategy lies in its premise that communities can drive the development process themselves by identifying and mobilising existing, but often unrecognised, assets, and thereby responding to and creating local economic opportunity.

2. Rand to US dollar conversion, May 21, 2024.

3. Some of these 45 centres are yet to be government registered and receive funding.

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.
The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.