Harambee: Tackling youth unemployment in South Africa

The South African non-profit organisation Harambee wants to put an end to the country’s high youth unemployment. LGT Venture Philanthropy is supporting Harambee with its mission.

Leonie March
 Nhlanhla Junior Ngulube in the office
© Roger Jardine

Harambee’s open-plan office in Johannesburg looks like it could be the headquarters of an up-and-coming start-up. University graduates look intently at their screens while young teams hold meetings in glassed-in conference rooms.

The non-profit organisation is working to put an end to one of South Africa’s most pressing problems: extremely high youth unemployment. More than 60 percent of the country’s 15 to 34-year-olds do not have a job. “The formal employment sector is not growing fast enough to absorb all of the new job seekers”, says Nhlanhla Junior Ngulube. This means that just helping young people find their first job isn’t going to solve the problem - they also need tools to help them start their own small business. Harambee has changed its strategy in line with this reality, and Ngulube is helping the organisation implement it. 

Valuable expertise 

After completing his BA in business administration and a master’s degree in international relations, the 32-year-old joined a global company as a market analyst. His focus there on economic opportunities on the African continent sparked a personal interest in Africa’s social and economic development, and a desire to contribute to social change. But he wasn’t quite sure where to start. 

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Ngulube and Mbonambi at work: Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator helps young people in Johannesburg find jobs and start businesses.

That all changed when he spotted an ad for the LGT Impact Fellowship on an online career portal. “The Fellowship Program is an important part of our support for non-profit portfolio organisations”, explains Miriam Rütti, Fellowship Program Manager at LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation (LGT VP). Fellows like Ngulube, who have an average of six years of professional experience and “want to bring deeper meaning to their careers”, support these organisations by sharing their knowledge and expertise over the course of a one-year, full-time paid commitment. 

“Harambee was a perfect fit for me”, says Ngulube. He considers his greatest accomplishment during the fellowship to be an in-depth analysis he conducted of the micro-enterprise landscape in South Africa. It helped him realise how many job opportunities exist beyond the realm of formal employment. The analysis ultimately also served as the basis for Harambee’s new strategy, which now includes supporting young entrepreneurs in the informal sector of the economy. 

Sharmi Surianarain, Harambee’s Chief Impact Officer, says that Ngulube’s expertise, experience and professional network have been invaluable for Harambee. She adds that his research and management experience in particular have enriched the organisation. At the end of his fellowship, Ngulube received a two-year employment contract. Today, he is negotiating his next contract with Harambee.

Sharmi Surianarain smiles into the camera
The LGT Impact Fellowship Program has impressed Harambee Chief Impact Officer Sharmi Surianarain. © Roger Jardine

A perfect springboard 

Following the encouraging results of some initial pilot studies, he is continuing to push ahead with his work. “When a young South African starts a successful micro-enterprise, that also has an impact on their family and their community. Ultimately, that can have a positive impact on all of South Africa and its economy”, says Ngulube, who now works together with Lutho Mbonambi, his successor in the LGT Fellowship Program. 

Mbonambi smiles into the camera
After successfully founding her own company, Mbonambi looked for more meaning: "I realised how pronounced the social inequality is in my home country." © Roger Jardine

Mbonambi also brings important skills to Harambee. After completing her master’s degree in economic development, she worked for a consulting firm and founded a successful online company. But the 32-year-old South African soon found she no longer felt fulfilled by her personal success. “I began to feel that my privilege was a burden. I realised how widespread social inequality is in my country and how unfairly opportunities are distributed”, she says. She wanted to make a greater contribution to society. The LGT Impact Fellowship was a perfect springboard for that, she says. 

Long-term impact 

Mbonambi was particularly impressed by the level of empathy she encountered at the non-profit organisation. “Harambee’s leadership is truly interested in the personal and professional development of each individual. And that’s inspired me to develop the same kind of leadership style”, she explains. The fellowship has also shown her that it’s possible to achieve goals without having to be aggressive – an insight she says she will take with her as she continues on her career path. 

But these are just a few examples of the longer-term impact that an LGT Impact Fellowship can have. For professionals like Mbonambi and Ngulube, the fellowships offer an opportunity to take their careers in a new, socially relevant direction. In turn, Harambee benefits from their professional expertise and drive. And the global LGT Impact Fellow network is growing. Mbonambi explains that its members are in regular contact. One of the things that impresses her most is the mutual acknowledgement and respectful way they interact with each other. “We all come from different professional backgrounds, but we have similar goals. We all want to use our skills and knowledge to make the world a better place.”

Young employee in the Harambee office
Young talents: Harambee's office in Johannesburg looks like the headquarters of a start-up. © Roger Jardine
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