Lessons From a Veteran Nonprofit

Jacob Lief is the co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit called Ubuntu Pathways, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In a recent feature for Entrepreneur, Lief sat down with author Jessica Abo to discuss the what inspired him to establish the organization and his vision for breaking the poverty cycle.

First while he was a teenager and then again while he was in college, Lief spent time as a volunteer in South Africa. In the post-Apartheid era, he noticed that success was defined—or mis-defined—by the various organizations that came in to give aid. With the aim of creating permanent transformation, rather than providing temporary aid, Lief founded Ubuntu.

The mission of Ubuntu is based upon a “cradle to career” mindset. They serve the children of HIV-positive parents from birth through college, providing a social support system that includes home visits and schooling, among other things. Their end goal is simply summed up as “stable health, stable income.”

A few years after it was established, Ubuntu made a big push to scale its operations up in order to attract bigger donors. While they did indeed have money pouring in, the organization’s mission suffered because a lot of the funding came with difficult restrictions. Lief could tell that Ubuntu was faltering. He chose to scale back operations and become more discerning about which donations to accept.

Lief’s two decades of experience running Ubuntu have taught him a lot. He offers the following advice to new organizations and entrepreneurs seeking to change the world:

  1. “Start a nonprofit” is not a good goal. Rather, you need to find a cause that inspires you to the core and propels you forward. Changing lives is hard work and proper motivation is necessary.
  2. Surround yourself with good human beings. Mentors and supporters are key to carrying out your mission.
  3. Invest in people, people, people. Endeavors such as Ubuntu are a career, not a hobby or weekend activity. Find people who feel the same and bring them into your organization.

For more details, check out the podcast in whole at Entrepreneur.