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In 1998, Jacob Lief, a 21-year-old American university student, met school teacher Malizole "Banks" Gwaxula in a township tavern in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After bonding over beers and a shared passion for education, Gwaxula invited Lief to live with him in the township. Inspired by their fortuitous meeting-which brought together two men separated by race, nationality, and age-and by the spirit of ubuntu, roughly translated as "I am because you are"-the two men embarked on an unexpectedly profound journey.
Their vision? To provide vulnerable children in the townships with what every child deserves-everything.
Today, their organization, Ubuntu Education Fund, is upending conventional wisdom about how to break the cycle of poverty. Shunning traditional development models, Ubuntu has redefined the concept of scale, focusing on how deeply it can impact each child's life rather than how many it can reach. Ubuntu provides everything a child needs and deserves, from prenatal care for pregnant mothers to support through university-essentially, from cradle to career. Their child-centered approach reminds us that one's birthplace should not determine one's future.
I Am Because You Are sets forth an unflinching portrayal of the unique rewards and challenges of the nonprofit world while offering a bold vision for a new model of development.
About the Author
Jacob Lief is the cofounder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund. In 2010, he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and, in 2012, he was selected as a member of the Clinton Global Initiative advisory board. He splits his time between Brooklyn, New York, and Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Andrea Thompson is an editor and author whose writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
“I Am Because You Are is more than the story of two unlikely friends with a shared passion for helping children get an education. It's a celebration of hope, resilience, and perseverance, and in Jacob's telling we see that when we make a difference in the lives of others, we transform ourselves in the process.” —Arianna Huffington, chair, president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group and author of Thrive
“Jacob Lief has rare courage. Courage to go beyond conventional ways because he truly hears the disadvantaged young people in South Africa. Courage to be one with them and their communities. And courage to build something big and new that gives them strength in every aspect of their lives throughout their growing up. And he writes a wonderfully engaging book.” —Bill Drayton, CEO Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
“I Am Because You Are shows us the power of leadership willing to defy industry constraints. Sixteen years ago, I invested seed capital into Jacob's vision, because I saw someone who could innovate in a way that would change the world.” —Rob Kaplan, Professor and Senior Associate Dean, Harvard Business School; Co-Chair, Draper Richards Kaplan; Former Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs
“I Am Because You Are is as fascinating and inspirational as Jacob himself. His story of creating an incredible island of hope in a South African township is told with excitement and brutal honesty. It reads both as a great memoir of a young man's journey, as well as a handbook for making a difference on this planet.” —Kevin Bacon, Actor
“I Am Because You Are tells the compelling story of how Ubuntu Education Fund became a model for social change the whole world can learn from...an institution my grandfather would be proud of and which continues to build on his legacy.” —Kweku Mandela, President, Out of Africa Entertainment; Co-Founder, Africa Rising Foundation
“When investing in a business venture, I look for creativity, capability to adapt, and leadership. Deciding which social enterprises to support is no different; I prioritise ideas, people, and innovation. I Am Because You Are proves what nonprofits can achieve when they are bold enough to integrate these business practices into their visions.” —James Caan CBE, Business Entrepreneur
“I Am Because You Are is the improbable story of a young idealist who never lost his passion and who founded one of the most impressive social projects that I have ever seen.” —William Voge, Chair and Managing Partner, Latham & Watkins
“In 2013, I visited Port Elizabeth, South Africa with President Bill Clinton; weaving through the townships, we found our way to the Ubuntu Centre. It was an inspiring and humbling day. The power of care, aspiration and love was so evident. I Am Because You Are brings to life the impact and Ubuntu spirit that I witnessed.” —Lord Rumi Verjee
“Pride is the first word that came to mind reading I Am Because You Are; I feel immensely privileged to have played a role, however small, in supporting Ubuntu Education Fund. What Jacob and Banks have achieved in just 16 years is remarkable; they are a worthy example for anyone who hopes to serve.” —Dr. Mary Frances Berry, former Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
“Faced with the statistics of poverty, it's no wonder so many anti-poverty programs, perversely, treat the poor as statistics. Jacob Lief started from a different perspective, a human perspective. His story inspires all of us to rethink our assumptions about what works in global development. I Am Because You Are shows that the most important metric of all is not just touching but transforming lives.” —Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief, Devex
“The work of founding a nonprofit requires perseverance, but to build an organization that challenges conventional wisdom demands even more. In his memoir, I Am Because You Are, Jacob faces countless rejections, skeptics, and obstacles as he questions all that has come before him. His success and Ubuntu's incredible impact prove the power of community-based, grassroots theories of change” —Daniel Lurie, CEO and Founder, Tipping Point Community
“I Am Because You Are chronicles Ubuntu Education Fund's evolution into a best practice model for community development. Not only can we learn a great deal from how Jacob has weathered a myriad of challenges, but his memoir also sheds light on just what it takes to turn ?some of ?Africa's challenges into opportunities and really shift the needle in terms of creating lasting impact.” —Ashish J Thakkar, Founder, Mara Group and Mara Foundation
“Jacob's unlikely success, chronicled in I Am Because You Are, reminds us all of just how much it takes to heal the world's injustices. He applies simple yet innovative principles of holistic wellness to development--transforming a disadvantaged community requires deep, sustained, and comprehensive interventions.” —Dr. Frank Lipman, Founder, Eleven Eleven Wellness
“Lief's straightforward yet moving work delineates step by step how their initial good intentions became a powerful tool for transforming young lives. A useful hands-on resource for development visionaries.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Jacob Lief understands that changing even one life for the better is a challenge too complex for an algorithm, and requires an open-ended commitment. I Am Because You Are is an inspiring story filled with useful lessons for those-many, I hope-who are moved to follow his remarkable example.” —Jay Fielden, Editor in Chief, Town & Country
“I have always loved farm animals, and I am shocked and saddened by the way so many of them are horribly abused today. Cows, pigs, chickens - like us they feel pain, like us they can be contented or stressed or depressed. So many people tell me they love animals - but make food choices that do not reflect that love. Living the Farm Sanctuary Life gives really good advice as to how we can make this a better world for farm animals - and for ourselves as well.” —Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace