Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

The Educo Trust of Africa

Engaging young beneficiaries in programme development

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 23 January, 2014 - 02:00


Project Background

Educo Africa is a youth development organisation founded in 1994. It is part of an international alliance that uses outdoor experiential learning as a core methodology to develop self-esteem and leadership competency in young people. The first phase of the programme provides a wilderness experiential learning platform for young people to gain familiarity with their inherent potential. The second phase is a youth movement supporting young people in living out their potential, with a specific focus on social and environmental wellbeing.

In July 2012, Educo Africa launched Sihambela Phambili in response to repeated requests by participants and our partner organisations to provide an integration service for young people who have ‘graduated’ from the Educo Africa wilderness experience. Ten months after the launch of Sihambela Phambili we unexpectedly evolved into a youth movement, led by graduates of Educo Africa. We have become more than what we originally intended.

Lessons learnt

The key ingredient to our success has been the provision of an environment where we engage with young people and where we consider and respect their opinions. In practice this meant that we have had to build our programme by getting feedback and input from the youth we serve. Next it meant that our programme needed to take a long-term vision of the youth’s needs and help them get integrated into the job market after completing our wilderness programme. And finally, it meant understanding the core elements that function as enablers for young South Africans to engage and act towards positive social change. These are the lessons we have learnt.


We have fundamentally changed the long-term focus and practice of our organisation. Historically Educo Africa offered a once-off wilderness experience that facilitated the chance for individuals to withdraw, reflect and think upon change in their lives. We did not engage “long term” with young people and their challenges. However, now we are more focused on the longer-term outcomes and impact of our programme on young people’s lives, rather than on short-term methodology.

Next, as an organisation we are learning to build our programmatic responses to young people through greater partnership with the youth and with less of a sense of Educo Africa as expert. We are now more open to learning from the world of young people.


Educo Africa wanted to create a long-term platform of support and learning for young people. From the outset we wanted to ensure that this programme included young people as the primary stakeholders in the development process. This meant being aware of how programme development includes the beneficiary, and yet maintains professional practice standards and policy. We aimed to develop a powerful programme that allows young people to experience themselves as real agents of social change; and that shifts perception of the ‘adult’ generation as to the ability and role young South African’s have in shaping the future of this country.

Our starting point was developing a programme that offered young people, who were beneficiaries of our wilderness intervention, opportunities to stay engaged with Educo Africa over the long-term. We aim to support them in realising their goals – with a focus on contributing to social and environmental health in South Africa. The development of this model has been based on creating connection and relationship.

We offer the following workforce integration services:

  • Networking: connecting young people to skills and opportunities that build social wellness.
  • Nation Building: implementing projects that allow young people to learn and practice in the arena of social and environmental development and justice.
  • Advancement: Obtaining further skills that allow young people to become stronger agents of change.


In recent months our organisation members have been asking, “What makes a young person show-up in the network?” Or better yet, what makes them succeed in achieving their long-term goals? To answer this question we had a ‘learning dialogue’ with young people and several other key role players within Sihambela Phambili to identify common elements in individuals who stand out.

The following elements were identified:

a. Mind-set – my attitude is my greatest asset

Participants referred to opportunities that increased their perspective and awoken a sense of enquiry.

b. Environment – I belong

This refers to the individual’s experience of their environment and their observation of how people in the community respond to need. Participants spoke of their sense of belonging to a township or village environment and how this was their “place” and as such they needed to improve circumstances within this environment.

c. Relationship – I am connected

Participants noted that some individuals clearly feel very connected and part of a social network. There were two components to this element. Positive relationships that teach inspire and support, such as a particular parent, or the Sihambela Phambili group, or Educo Africa. Challenging relationships that challenge one to think and act differently. Examples were given of negative peer influence and neglectful parents.

d. Development as Process – I am becoming

Participants mentioned that becoming more engaged in activities that build healthy community is a process. This process often starts in a small way. Experiences of empowering, broadening the environmental influence, and a change in mind-set that leads to increased engagement in thinking and acting towards the health of a given system, happens within a larger social system. Nevertheless, young people are eager to engage in their community and be a part of the process of development.

e. Inherent Humanity – I am inherently good.

Participants felt that aspects such as compassion, empathy and love were inherent human qualities that become distorted or absent through experiences of hardship, trauma, abuse and so forth. They felt that safe processes need to be created for young South Africans that allow them to reconnect to their sense of Ubuntu and their inherent humanity.

Implication of these lessons for others

From working with young people as programme developers we have learnt that they are highly motivated to identify, innovate and respond to social need; and that they want to be recognised as active role-players in the building of a better world. Other organisations should be aware of this and include youngsters in more of their organisational decision-making and reporting processes.

Young people have a strong call to act, and a desire for social change. The youth leadership and youth development sectors need to think carefully about avoiding an approach that ignores the youth’s agency and involvement in development programmes. Young people do not need us to do for them; rather they need us to offer points of connection and an environment that allows them to build their own solutions.


This learning brief has explored the dynamics of changing a programme’s approach to be more inclusive of the beneficiary. For Educo Trust Africa, this has meant (1) centering the programme on youth and getting their feedback and input on all organisational aspects; (2) taking a longer-term vision of the youth’s needs by helping them get integrated into the job market; and finally (3) understanding the core elements that function as enablers for young South Africans to engage and act towards positive social change.

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In Short

This learning brief explores the dynamics of changing a programme’s approach to be more inclusive of the beneficiary. For Educo Trust Africa, this has meant getting feedback and input from young people on the programme development, changing the focus of the organisation to the longer-term needs of the youth, and better understanding the elements that enable young South Africans to engage and act towards positive social change.

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