Brewing a future out of coffee

2014-06-29 15:00

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Education fund eases unemployment problem in Eastern Cape by teaching jobless youth to become baristas

The Ubuntu Education Fund is tapping into the surging consumer demand for coffee by training young people who cannot get a tertiary education to become baristas.

This is part of the fund’s efforts to transform Port Elizabeth’s Zwide township, where the unemployment rate sits at about 80%, with a strong prevalence of HIV infections.

The fund is now 15 years old. It was founded by Eastern Cape local Banks Gwaxula and then US student Jacob Lief over beers at a local shebeen. Lief is now the fund’s chief executive.

Gwaxula is a trained teacher but said he always felt he needed to do more than put students through his class.

He and Lief understood that they needed the community to be involved, but that they had to ascertain what the community needed.

Gwaxula said the first phase of the project involved providing local schools with computers.

“We couldn’t fit classrooms and schools with computers and have people vandalise or steal them, so the community needed to understand how this would benefit them,” he said.

Now, 15 years later, the fund offers education facilities and a health clinic. The fund is registered in the US and channels donations from major multinational corporations and foundations into the Eastern Cape. It also has a fundraising affiliate in the UK called Friends of Ubuntu.

Its growth as a recipient for aid has been impressive.

In 2007, Ubuntu declared receipts of $2.2?million and by last year this had grown to $4.4?million (R46.7?million).

Corporations that have invested in the NGO include pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and mining group Rio Tinto. Recent large donors include Absa and Boeing, as well as several US family foundations.

A programme called Ubuntu Pathways helps students go back to school or find a way to upskill and enhance their employability skills.

Programme director Phindiwe Mtyobo, herself a former barista, said they noticed how huge the local coffee market was and decided to take advantage of the growth in demand for baristas.

According to the Small Enterprise Development Agency, South Africa is a net importer of coffee and consumes more than 20?000 tons a year.

The fund has teamed up with Urban Espress

Coffee Company in Port Elizabeth to provide baristas who have been trained by Mtyobo with a chance to

hone their skills and get experience. The fund has also opened a coffee shop on its premises where students can practise.

“The programme started in January and since then, 14 baristas have been trained,” said Mtyobo.

There are plans to expand the programme and connect with other coffee shops in the area.

Mtyobo’s first two graduates, 20-year-old Momelezi Noyazi and 22-year-old Cwayita Sizani, were hired by Mugg?&?Bean and Urban Espress, respectively.

Mtyobo said they had also created partnerships with Spar (the distribution centre), Coega, Transnet and Volkswagen, but this training was done through a

further education and training college for learnership opportunities.

The fund is also trying to attract young people to farming and is encouraging them to keep their own gardens and sell the produce to local shops.

Former agriculture department employee Mava Duepu is the local agriculture expert. He provides training on growing vegetables such as carrots, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. The fund has a roof garden where young people can learn and train.

But Duepu said it was not easy to attract young people to gardening. He found the best way to get through to them was to show them the benefits of making money from growing their own gardens.

Gwaxula said it was well known in the industry that many NGOs did not make it past their fifth year.

He believed the “throw money at the problem” approach was hurting transformation in communities that really needed it. According to him, it’s “not always about the scale of the service but the depth of the service”.

Gwaxula said it was important for the community to be involved?–?the first R500?000 of the R41?million building the fund was housed in was raised in three years by community members.

People who had gone through the centre always ploughed back into it through skills or money.

“McKinsey?&?Company did some research and compiled a report showing that for every R1 we have spent, the return is R8.70 through increased lifetime earnings for the Ubuntu child,” he said.

The writer was a guest of Brand SA in Port Elizabeth

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