Umbiyozo is a Xhosa word meaning “celebration” and the name of a social venture seeking to empower the youth of Cape Town’s townships through song and dance troupes. By incentivising youth participation in troupes, the Umbiyozo Foundation helps to prevent gangsterism, drug use and teen pregnancy (among other social problems).
Troupes have always had dancing and singing activities to keep children busy after school. However due to inconsistent attendance, attempts for community development were ineffective. In 2011 social entrepreneur Jason Woolf stepped in to start a venture that would provide support services for troupes. This includes branding, song and dance training, marketing and organising performance opportunities and platforms for troupes to collaborate with one another. Consignment of merchandise by means of The Umbiyozo DVD sales is sold to sustain the troupes and Umbiyozo.
Depending on who transacts the DVD sale, Umbiyozo or the troupe, R75 goes to the transactor and R25 goes to the other party. Generally sales are split equally between Umbiyozo and the troupes. Sales are monitored to ensure accountable spending. Many of the adult facilitators of these troupes have historically kept the money instead of investing it back into the youths’ development, explains Woolf.
Umbiyozo has also recently introduced facilitation services, where an Umbiyozo Team member visits troupes’ practices and raises conversations that create awareness around social issues. Woolf says that the group works like a community, where everyone shares the knowledge on best practices for organisational leadership at meetings. “It’s more than just a big community. It’s a family. We even call ourselves the Umbiyozo family, where we can support each other,” he says.
“When I’ve been around, progress has happened. Then when I leave, things go back to the way they were.”
Woolf has dual citizenship in the US and SA and has travelled between the two countries over the years while completing his studies. As a result Umbiyozo’s progress has been erratic. “When I’ve been around, progress has happened. Then when I leave, things go back to the way they were.” Since being based in SA for 18 months, Woolf says eight new troupes have been added to Umbiyozo. The prospect of Umbiyozo activities continuing in Woolf’s upcoming year-long absence is hopeful.
Transitioning to SA was not difficult for Woolf as he has family in the country. His parents are South African and moved to the US in 1991 due to the political instability. His mother has returned to live in SA and even his older sister may move to SA in future. While completing his studies at UCT, he enrolled in Xhosa classes. “I can speak Xhosa alright, I can get by. I can string together basic sentences,” he says.
Woolf works alongside teammates, Lonwabo “Lloyd” Baleni from Makhaza, Khayelitsha and Anele Xhali, from Nyanga. They have a “decentralised” office space, simultaneously making use of HubSpace Kayelitsha, a shared office space for entrepreneurs. A recently built shack-office attached to Baleni’s house and Woolf’s bakkie which transports and connects troupes.
Woolf says their main challenges have been financial. They hope to find a corporate sponsor to appear on their signage at the V&A Waterfront. Woolf will remain in the US after the fundraising trip to complete his final year at NYU and his main concern is whether Umbiyozo can continue in his absence. The projects will likely be kept on a small scale so that they can be manageable until he returns in 2016.
Throughout his studies, Woolf has incorporated his education at NYU Gallatin School of individualised study with his work at Umbiyozo. “I have a very liberal education that lets me do virtually whatever I want,” he says. Woolf chose courses like courses on social entrepreneurship, social movements, politics and social change which feeds into the work he is doing.
Woolf hopes Umbiyozo would eventually become the “premiere sustainability partner” for the tourism industry. “I see a lot of African history being sweeped under the rug… I want tourists to experience things that are truly African.” Woolf believes Umbiyozo can create a change by way of youth development in the tourism industry. “You can imagine at Table Mountain if they allow us to busk while tourists are queuing,” says Woolf. He wants tour companies to work with them allowing tourists to meet community-based groups, talk to buskers and learn about the customs and history.
Woolf hopes to expand to other SA cities like Johannesburg and Durban. Cape Town has a thriving tourism industry which made it easy to start Umbiyozo. “I don’t think there’s anything quite like Umbiyozo in South Africa yet, so we will try to expand nationally.”
Even though there are similar problems in the US, Woolf was drawn to SA because his parents have a history there. “I think it’s very meaningful for me to come back to the country, the country that raised them. And also for me to share my gifts, my privileges,” he says. “I had lots of platforms to create everything… I had music in my life and I think it’s meaningful to give to those who didn’t have the opportunity.”
Find out more about Woolf’s upbringing and journey back to South Africa in the TedX video below:
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