Hi Johan, could you please tell us how you came to found your talkUBUNTU initiative?
I am the founder and developer of talkUBUNTU. My background is really television. I was a Foreign Correspondent for South African television for many years and worked mostly in the field of African development. After many years in broadcasting, during which time I had the pleasure and honor of meeting with and interviewing many leading African and International figures, among them Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Alfred Nzo, Thabo Mbeki and many more, I decided to “retire” to the world of education. It was in fact figures such as Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the current Secretary General of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who shared their vision of the African philosophy of Ubuntu with me, which ultimately inspired the idea of talkUBUNTU.
Could you tell us a bit more about what talkUBUNTU is all about?
TalkUBUNTU is a digital learning instrument, embedded in a social media environment, designed to create learning partnerships between schools, the business and industrial sector as well as civil society. These learning partnerships offer a gateway to young people to explore the world of learning and working (study and career development) and give them the opportunity to interact and work with civil society organizations on a broad range of social and developmental projects, in other words life orientation. We are encouraging schools to create so-called talkUBUNTU Clubs or Associations to give ownership of the project directly to young people. Obviously most of our learning activities, campaigns, and projects are linked to the schools’ own curriculum for Life Orientation, our core focus.
What made you decide to begin talkUBUNTU, and how did you come to its name?
The word ‘Ubuntu‘ originates from the Africa Nguni dialect, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation to the world. Literally translated, Ubuntu means I am what I am because of who we all are. This is a truly inspiring and very contemporary philosophy which speaks of the oneness and the interdependence of mankind. It teaches us about solidarity and sharing with one another. To us talkUBUNTU is an invitation to all, in the education, the business, and the industrial sectors and in civil society, to share knowledge to benefit the development of our youth.
What kind of people is the online platform currently facilitating?
TalkUBUNTU builds learning partnerships between schools, the business and industrial sector, and civil society. In Africa we like to say that it takes a village to educate a child. You can view talkUBUNTU as that village, which means that you will find all education stakeholders on the platform. Not only students and their teachers, but also in particular people who are engaged in youth development and social advocates. Our criteria are simple; if you or your organization can make a meaningful contribution towards the development of our youth, be it in the field of let’s say leadership or entrepreneurship skills development or as mentioned, social advocacy, then we view you as a talkUBUNTU partner.
Does everybody from your target group have access to the internet?
Internet access in Africa is still a major stumbling block, however we are working on a range of creative ways to, for example, connect teachers from less privileged or village schools to their peers in more developed schools. Obviously our main goal is to make information and knowledge accessible for all. We are also developing mentorship programs with NGOs and universities to engage students in social projects which they in turn ‘deliver’ to village schools. Part of our function is to help grassroots NGOs in terms of their educational delivery, obviously especially to those areas where schools have no access to the internet.
Are there any concrete results of the platform that you are particularly proud of?
It is too early for us to talk about concrete and measurable educational outcomes. It is also not easy to measure, in a concrete scientific way, the impact that programs on social issues have on young people. How do you measure the results of a project about racism or xenophobia or concepts about good citizenship? We are certainly succeeding in creating awareness of social issues and are able to engage young people. If I am proud of anything then it is most of all the enthusiasm and passion for participation and development from young Africans especially. The continent’s youth are hungry for information and knowledge and have thus far embraced talkUBUNTU with a great sense of passion.
It seems the focus of talkUBUNTU is on Africa. Is there an intention to cross over to other continents as well, and what should this transition bring?
TalkUBUNTU is first and foremost a platform and project to engage young people in a dialogue about themselves, their identity, their future, and their place in society. The concept is really universally applicable and yes, we would absolutely love to invite international participation. The opportunities, challenges, and dilemmas faced by young Africans are not much different from those of their peers around the world. There is also no doubt in my mind that young people from around the world can learn a lot from the African experience. TalkUBUNTU is really an open-ended dialogue between our youth and society at large and knows no social, cultural, or physical borders. We invite the participation of all who can contribute to the development and growth of young people– in the spirit of Ubuntu – to join us.
Can everybody sign up, and what can they expect to find?
No, talkUBUNTU is not an open public forum but really a learning environment attached to formal education. You can only join if you are a member of a registered school or social or developmental organization. This has mainly to do with safety and privacy issues. We are not chasing numbers of ‘hits’, but are focused on actual learning in a structured, project-based fashion. We invite all social and developmental organizations, and especially those which are already engaged in education, to join us. Think of talkUBUNTU as a FaceBook for education and social development. It is a space where you not only work on actual projects, but obviously a place where you meet your peers to work and grow together. Apart from that it offers you the possibility of developing and managing your own educational programs and material, projects, and campaigns. You will find loads of materials about a broad range of subjects, mostly about personal and social development but also about most school subjects, from science to technology to culture and the arts.