When Marc Lubner joined his father in running the non-profit Afrika Tikkun, his motivation was decidedly different from what drives him today.
Lubner, a member of YPO and a 2019 YPO Global Impact Honoree says he didn’t join that organization because he was passionate about the development of children. “I was really just passionate about trying to do something with my dad at the very late stage of his life.”
Soon, however, he “fell absolutely in love with the spirit of young people” and emerged as an evangelist for the good business can do.
Afrika Tikkun, headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, empowers disadvantaged African youths. Since 2006, Lubner has steered the non-profit away from disaster relief to proactively finding solutions to poverty through a Cradle-to-Career program he developed.
In South Africa, 66.8 percent of children live in poverty and children die of hunger every day.
“I could see so many barriers to their development,” he says. “I thought, as a business-minded individual, I could find ways to create models that could potentially overcome those barriers.”
Through his models, the organization has guided and trained more than 200,000 children to young adults, ages 2 to 29, with his family foundation contributing significantly to office costs, infrastructure and overall management.
Bridging social gaps
The end goal, Lubner says, is to reduce unemployment, but success will take more than creating jobs. It will involve sparking a fire of creativity.
Despite having a policy environment ripe for new ventures, “innovation has, to a large extent, died in this country,” Lubner says. “During the apartheid years, South Africa registered more patents than it is currently registering. The reason for that is, to a large extent, that we haven’t encouraged innovation.”
Solving this problem, he says, will require looking beyond better educations. It will require bridging economic worlds: “There’s the world of the haves, there’s the world of have nots, and the world of heads.”
Individuals who are living in the world of poverty — have nots — grow up with the mindset that they are inferior, he says. “Despite the fact that apartheid was wiped out 20 odd years ago, kids still feel inferior when they get into university class.”
Much of that stems from unfamiliarity of an urban environment, of work protocols such as appropriate business dress, timeliness and social interaction skills. It also requires good nutrition and health care. Afrika Tikkun helps provide all of that through its 360-degree-suppport programs.
“It is difficult to implement but simple to understand the solution really lies in recognizing where the gaps are in a child’s developmental process and filling those gaps,” Lubner says.
Change starts at home
Most of the children Afrika Tikkun works with come from single-family homes in which the parent, usually a single mother, works miles away in the city, so the child “doesn’t come home to an environment where there’s structure or discipline,” he says.
“First, we try to create that basic structure,” Lubner says. Then they engage the parents so they recognize the value of focusing on their child’s development. They help steer children into courses that allow them to gain confidence and play to their strengths.
A structure at home “needs to be created that gives kids the confidence to dream and shows them how those dreams can become reality.”
Afrika Tikkun started with young children and added programs as they grew. Now the participants range in age from preschool to young adults.
“We moved from early childhood development into youth development into career development skills training, but marrying both hard and soft skills together,” Lubner says.
No room for ego
Along the path, Lubner evolved, too, and that’s when his evangelic passion for business doing good emerged.
“There was something much more important in terms of growing an impact model,” he says.
“Everywhere — I’ve been locally and globally — we’re all making the same mistake in the sector of doing good: We all want to do good our way. But when you create a cradle-to-career model, you realize there’s no room for you.”
The task at hand, he says, developing “a child from a young age to the time when you put them into a job at the age of 21 or so — is so massive, you have to partner, you have to find partnering relationships with other organizations.”
Lubner’s partner? Nelson Mandela.
An auspicious start
Afrika Tikkun earned acclaim from the beginning, including an endorsement by Mandela, who said the program “demonstrates in a practical and sustainable manner what can be done with limited resource, great commitment and passion.”
Mandela also partnered with Lubner in the creation of the Smile Foundation, which Lubner founded and serves as Executive Chairman. The organization offers surgical relief to impoverished children with facial and hand disfigurements who have no access to medical aid.
To date, more than 2,000 children and their families have been assisted with surgical relief plus psycho-social support before, during and after surgery. The Foundation invests in skills training and equipment; builds burn units for children within the State Hospitals and earned a special Parliamentary compliment for its innovative public/private partnership.
Lubner was determined to build facilities and systems that would materially change life outcomes for children who reside in impoverished areas. The Smile Foundation supports the building of infrastructure projects such as developing burn units and social media clubs for patients and their families. It also provides psychosocial and training support for more than a dozen state hospitals.
His membership in YPO was important to the success of the Smile Foundation, especially YPO’s Member-to-Member Exchange (M2Mx) program.
“Smile Foundation would not have been possible without M2Mx,” Lubner says. And that made him think about what it really means to be an impactful chief executive.
“We’re all changemakers in one way or another,” he says. “It’s got nothing to do with only the size of business to run.
“Invariably, what defines why we are peers in YPO is these individuals are capable of changing the world around them.”