Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

SA Life College Association t/a Life College

The impact of gangsterism on youth programme implementation

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Prevent school drop-out | 13 May, 2014 - 20:00


Project context

For almost 17 years LifeCo UnLtd Group (an established SA social enterprise) has been finding and developing future life champions who are productive intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, tertiary enrolees and employees. It has worked with youth and adult leaders (over 40 000) in this time – across 8 provinces in SA. It has a proven track record of producing greater academic, entrepreneurial and life performance in its students – and was voted amongst the 10 most trusted NGO’s in SA in 2011 (Ask Africa Survey). As a social enterprise (NPO) it began small, with just 16 students, and grew slowly and organically by licencing its content and processes to institutions of learning and servicing companies and government. It achieves this by offering its Champion Mentality Series for Youth (CMSY) and its Champion Mentality Series for Leaders (CMSL) to values-aligned partners. 100% of all proceeds fund the social purpose of LCU and no staff member benefits in any way beyond a board approved salary. LCU currently has R110m in assets and has over 60 institutional partners. LCU was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008. In 2011 it won the Ashoka Globalizer Award. For the last 4 years LifeCo UnLtd has also been finding, funding and supporting emerging social entrepreneurs in South Africa. 23 extraordinary individuals were discovered and supported and these social entrepreneurs are busy building sustainable enterprises for social change. As an associate organisation to UnLtd UK, UnLtd India and many others, it brings proven IP and methodology – suitably adapted for growing Social Entrepreneurs in a South African context. Over the last 11 years UnLtd UK has supported 20,000 social entrepreneurs, who in turn deliver social benefit to more than 1 million UK citizens. In addition 45,000 jobs have been created. Importantly, social problems are being sustainably addressed by ordinary individuals who care about creating a better nation. The formula find, fund and support emerging social entrepreneurs has also worked in India and 25 other countries who have also adopted the model – all now part of the Global Social Entrepreneurs Network.

Some of the institutions that LifeCo UnLtd SA operates out of is located in Soweto and Eldorado Park. Most students attending these colleges come from “feeder schools” in the surrounding neighbourhoods. These schools and communities are plagued by gangs, which undermine the learning environment and jeopardise the programme rollout of initiatives like our Young Entrepreneurs Comprehensive Edition.

According to a Safe Schools presentation made by the Western Cape MEC for Education, and Safety and Security in 2002, gangs emerge in communities facing persistent poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions. Braamfischer is one of the settings where we work. It is a community that persistently struggles with youth gangs. These gangs have penetrated the school environment with older, more senior gang members recruiting younger members in the school, causing disruptions to the learning setting.

In this learning brief we emphasise the importance of acknowledging the negative impact of gangs on programme implementation, and we suggest ways of planning programmes to operate successfully in such difficult settings.

Introduction to our Young Entrepreneurs Comprehensive Edition Programme

Life College has recruited 242 students from Siyabonga Secondary School, situated in the Braamfischer informal settlement of Soweto, to participate in the Young Entrepreneurs Comprehensive Edition Programme funded by the DGMT. This programme is linked to Life College, of which Siyabonga is a feeder school. Siyabonga is a non-fee paying, government school where the students face many social challenges, including gangsterism and poverty.

How the gangs negatively impact the success of our programme

A prominent gang at Siyabonga Secondary School is named “B.I.G”. This gang has recruited a number of Grade 9 students who target and pick on our Life College students in the school. The gang members threaten our students and mug them of their free programme materials. Because of this, Life College students are afraid and hesitant to attend our programme classes. They do not want to become victims of gang violence, and they feel uncomfortable attending lessons when their programme materials have been stolen. This has had a harmful effect on our students’ attendance as well as their learning – they are unable to make full use of the opportunity provided to them to learn.

The gang activity in and around the school, has destructive implications primarily for our students:

  • Students are at risk of violence and bodily harm,
  • Students are afraid for their lives and unwilling to come to class on Saturdays,
  • Students’ opportunity to learn is compromised and their attendance in class decreases.

The youngsters in our programme already face many obstacles that dissuade them from attending classes regularly. Our extra lessons are on Saturdays when many of them have other commitments such as having to take care of an ill parent or taking on a job for cash income. The addition of gang pressure creates another obstacle preventing them from attending classes. As a result of these issues we have had a 17% dropout rate in our programme.

Dealing with gangs: implications for Life College and other youth organisations

Because students are the central focus for Life College, and for other organisations involved with youth development, the negative impacts of gangsterism must be highlighted re their affect on programme rollout and youth safety. Youth development programme organisers must consider the following suggestions before rolling out such initiatives.

  • The gang members can steal materials such as bags, stationary, and clothing that are allocated to the students on the programme. This undercuts funding allocated to specific programme objectives.
  • Gang activities threatens the physical and emotional safety of students on the programme and thus it calls for the programme organizers to put in place certain safety measures and strategies to protect the student participants. This requires designated funding and planning.
  • Gang activities call for additional and focused communication from the programme organizers with students, school management, community members and the police.
  • An evaluation and restructure of practices and policies is needed to account for the effects of gang activities on the programme objectives, in an attempt to minimise risk to students and organisational partnerships.

Plans for the future in the context of this learning

In the future, we will ensure that our programmes are prepared for implementation in schools and communities where there may be gang activity. It means coordinating plans with the students, relevant organization partners, and members of the community.

1.     With students (the beneficiaries): planning safety measures to protect the students and their interests, and implementing modes of communication to convey safety protocols.

2.     With organisation partners (e.g. Life College, parents, schools, and donors, and police): We will enter into a documented partnership with a school whereby they commit to sharing information about social problems in and around the school, such as gangsterism and criminal activity. We will agree upon and implement safety and communication measures for students, the school and programme staff.

3.     With the community: We have found that it is important to increase the awareness of gang activity in the areas around the school, as well as to acquire the assistance of the community members – such as parents and police – in eradicating gangs. This is an on-going project of ours and we will raise the issue at the next parent’s workshop we host. We will continue communicating and sharing information with our programme partners to get to know the specific gangs that affect our students, and to collectively find solutions to offer youngsters alternatives to gang membership.


In this learning brief we have shown that gangs have a negative impact on the rollout of youth programmes. We have pointed out that gangs steal programme materials and resources, threaten students and staff, and thus jeopardise programme success. To tackle these challenges we suggest ways of planning programmes to operate successfully in such difficult settings, taking into consideration the need to have focused engagement with students, parents, school leaders, police, and other relevant community members. Finally we also suggest that evaluation protocols realistically account for the effects of gangs on programme implementation.


SA Life College Association t/a Life College

PO Box 1142City of JohannesburgRandburgGautengSouth Africa

 011 023 3100

In Short

In this learning brief we highlight the negative impact of gangs on Life College students enrolled at Siyabonga Secondary School. Then we suggest ways of planning programmes to operate successfully in difficult locations troubled by gang activity.

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