IvyWise Gives Back: Counselor Scott’s Journey as the Founder of Amandla Development
Positively impacting communities, both local and global, is important to IvyWise. Through IvyWise Gives Back we aim to improve educational opportunities for children across the world. Our counselors are also heavily involved in various non-profit, service, and community organizations and projects, and we want to highlight the great work our counselors do outside of admissions consulting!
IvyWise counselor Scott is passionate about education and giving back. That’s why he founded Amandla Development, a non-profit organization in South Africa that works to empower South African youth with equal access to quality education opportunities. Amandla works at the grassroots level to help improve schools, educational resources, and more for underserved students. To learn more about Amandla Development, its mission, and how to donate, read our Q&A with Scott.
Q: What led you into non-profit work and the founding of Amandla?
A: While by international standards my family was by no means poor, we definitely fell into a low-income bracket. So I knew how key a Yale education had been in my own progress and how important education is for anyone working their way out of poverty. My time at Yale admissions affirmed this when I saw how rare it was for public school kids to be prepared to access an elite college education. I began at that time asking myself what it would take to create a pipeline of qualified students from low-income backgrounds. At first I really wanted to pursue this in Jamaica where my family is from. But quite by chance I ended up starting it in South Africa, because I happened to be there on a trip in 2006 and happened to have some key conversations with others asking the same big questions. I overstayed my plane ticket and basically never left.
Q: Tell us about the Philippi community where Amandla works?
A: Philippi is a “township” community about 25 km outside of Cape Town. Although the apartheid system of segregation and oppression officially ended in 1994 with Nelson Mandela’s election, the pace of change has been slow. Townships like Philippi still have poor sanitation, aren’t properly electrified, and the poverty is grinding. So just a simple thing like getting to school and being able to focus there is actually a really big deal for the kids there.
Q: What are Amandla’s goals?
A: Amandla aims to ensure that every child in the community gets the full breadth of supports they need to stay in school through graduation. In South Africa we have a dropout rate over 50%, mostly due to the burden of poverty on making it through school. Too many kids arrive at school too hungry, sick, worried about their parents – you name it – to concentrate on their schooling. So Amandla is implementing a systematic approach to removing the barriers to learning that poverty erects.
Q: How does Amandla achieve its goals?
A: We know that kids need all these different levels of support to make it through school. After all, any of us who made it through know that when we were sick we got medical care, if we needed help on our homework our parents were probably there to do that, and so on. In a context where that doesn’t happen naturally, we have to help it along. But it’s way too much for just one organization to do. So Amandla manages a network of schools, government departments like Health and Education, and over 50 other nonprofits to make sure Philippi’s kids get what they need. We share information on what’s working and what isn’t so that we can improve the quality of care children and families receive.
For example, we’ve brought together several nonprofits and about 25 unemployed youth from Philippi to mentor students. The aim is to make sure the students know how to access any help they might need. A boy recently approached a mentor saying he just couldn’t manage the stress anymore of being the breadwinner and head of his household since his mother died. He didn’t see how he could stay in school anymore. His mentor was able to connect him to a social worker who is walking the journey with him so he can get through to graduation day.
Q: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as the founder of an NGO?
A: Because we’re a smaller organization, I’m pretty much the “head cook and bottle washer” as we say in Jamaica. Although we have a staff that runs programs, I do have to keep up with how those are going to make sure the kids are getting the highest quality. But I do try to focus as much as possible on the big picture strategy. I also spend a lot of time fundraising as the face of the organization.
Q: How has this experience impacted other areas of your life?
A: Well, besides aging me prematurely (so many grey hairs at such a young age), I find it’s made me far more aware of complexity. We talk about education like it’s one thing. But it really is being healthy, feeling safe, having employment prospects when you finish school, and so on. And even each of those issues breaks down into further complexity. So I find the way I approach problems has really evolved to consider the component parts and how addressing each of them can resolve root issues. It’s made me interested in everything from technology, to development economics, to branding and marketing. They all matter hugely in running an organization.
It’s also made me extremely sensitive to poverty and inequality and what it actually means to live poor. It’s made me realize that systems matter when it comes to improving people’s lives, and the further our systems and government are from people’s lived reality, the less able they’ll be to devise realistic solutions. We just need governments and companies and educators who better understand the lives of the people they serve so that we can improve people’s lives across the world.
Q: How can others get involved?
A: Amandla is currently on a campaign to reach all of Philippi’s young people. The mentoring program I described above reaches about 10,000 students a week. Thanks to the backing of our local education department, we have a tremendous opportunity to reach over 20,000 in 2017 and over 60,000 starting in 2018. Our current goal is to raise an additional $120,000, however I prefer to think of it in terms of reaching 100 people who could give $100/month for one year. But of course any amount helps!
People can also donate time and expertise. We make use of a lot of data at Amandla to make decisions about where we can be the most effective. We have plans to develop apps that tell people where they can access help, for example. Talented app developers or GIS whizzes would be most welcome. And since we work really with any issue that’s an obstacle to learning and eventual employment, it means there’s probably a place for someone to plug in. It’s become a cliché, but it really does take a village to raise a child.