Ubuntu Leadership Program trains young people in rural Tanzania


February 28, 2023

In remote, rural areas of Tanzania, there is an acute need for proactive leaders who are dedicated to addressing critical challenges like food insecurity and climate change. Beginning in 2023, Tanzanian school leavers from these regions will have the opportunity to engage in the Ubuntu Leadership Program. This program equips participants with the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle these pressing issues and make a meaningful impact within their own communities. In 2023 the pilot of the leadership program will commence in the Northern Sunga Ward region, marking a distinctive and unprecedented initiative of its kind.

In remote, rural agricultural areas of Tanzania, crops such as tomatoes, onions, and potatoes are predominant, with small-scale farmers primarily growing for personal use and limited urban export. Regrettably, these farming practices tend to deplete the soil over time by using techniques that impoverish the soil. As cited by Hans Valkenburg, the initiator of the Ubuntu Leadership Program, the Sunga Ward serves as an illustrative example, situated eight hours’ drive from Dar es Salaam. Valkenburg notes, “That area is desertifying at a rapid pace. Climate change has serious consequences in this region, one-sided agriculture is exhausting nature, too many trees have been cut down, and famine and a shortage of drinking water are imminent. Most residents of the area live below the poverty line, with hardly any income from other sources.” Amidst these challenges, sustainable solutions are urgently needed.

Leaders of and for the future

The key to bringing change in areas like Sunga Ward lies in nurturing a new generation of young leaders who have deep roots in the community. It’s undeniable that significant transformations are needed to address the considerable challenges faced by these regions. A pressing concern is ensuring year-round availability of food for both sale and sustenance for all residents, along with the restoration of the environment. The Ubuntu Leadership Program plays a crucial role in equipping local youth to take charge of these issues. “The students follow a one-year course with an emphasis on personal development and professional training. The latter is, for example, in the field of nature conservation or agricultural technology,” explains Valkenburg. The program’s aim is to empower the students to become leaders within their communities, potentially by launching their own companies in which they tackle the problems together with residents, aimed at addressing communal challenges. Ultimately, the overarching goal is to cultivate diversified agricultural production, facilitate environmental recovery, boost income, and enhance overall quality of life. “Therefore, the Ubuntu Leadership Program transcends its identity as merely a leadership initiative; it represents a comprehensive approach to holistic community development.”

Education in the right place

“If you strengthen education in the right way and in the right place, it can help people further”, Valkenburg is convinced. “The lack of food and water security and climate change is at the root of problems that are felt all over the world: hunger, poverty, migration, conflict. That is why it is important to invest precisely in remote rural areas because that is where the problems start and that is where they must be solved.”

Currently, many inhabitants of these regions are poorly educated or uneducated. “Secondary education in Tanzania is theoretical and abstract: students learn a lot by heart. Self-reflection or the development of one’s own ideas or ambitions plays no role in schools. There are no suitable further education courses in remote rural areas: higher education institutions and education programs of NGOs are mainly located in the cities. The young people who go to college usually move to the city and never come back. While their knowledge and skills are much needed in their own community.”

Prepared to become an ambassador

In the Ubuntu Leadership Program, a mentor spends a year working with twenty school leavers to prepare them to become leaders in their own communities. In September 2023, the pilot in Sunga Ward will start with the first group. “We select students who will work with themes such as agriculture or food processing. Their personal development revolves around the four Ps: people, planet, profit, and project. This means that they get to work on topics that they encounter in daily life.” Valkenburg cites waste as an example: “What are the consequences if everyone leaves their waste by the side of the road? That seems like a simple subject, but by reflecting on it, the student eventually learns to think about the higher importance. What does all that waste along the road mean for your health, for the community, for the country, and for the world? And so there are countless other topics. The point is, if you look at this higher interest, how can you influence this problem with your behavior and change it? We would like all students to ultimately be ambassadors in their own community so that the opportunity for change also penetrates here.”

Learn a trade

The students start their development journey with an idea for a company. Then they learn a trade to be able to set this up properly. “With what they have learned, they can then use it in their own community.” In the area of the pilot, the Sunga Ward, the business plans will mainly revolve around food, agriculture, and conservation. “As soon as we start working in other areas, the focus may shift to other themes, depending on what is important for that region. What matters is that there is education that helps people in those areas.”

Collaborate for greater success

The students work in groups on their start-ups, which also teaches them how to work together. An important theme within the program. “People who live in poverty are mainly dependent on themselves and their family, they think short term and don’t get around to thinking about things like what benefits cooperation with people outside their family can bring. For example, you can store products together until the prices are higher, or you can ask for a better price than if you did that alone or with your family. A poverty economy ensures that people are surviving alone. They simply don’t have the space to think about alternatives because they are lost if it fails. Within a well-organized cooperative, you can work together and it can ultimately improve everyone’s income. So that is what we strive for”

Supporting Parties

Setting up the Ubuntu Leadership Program and the pilot is done in close collaboration with MamboViewPoint. This lodge and social enterprise in Sunga Ward encourages the setting up of local projects and connects people. Important points here are that people do not become dependent on gifts or aid and that it is sustainable. There are also agreements with educational institutions and NGOs from Tanzania and the Netherlands. Tudarco University in Dar es Salaam develops the curriculum in collaboration with the Ubuntu Leadership Program, provides teachers, and certifies the students who have completed the year. The students also receive guidance from Tanzanian and Dutch mentors from educational institutions.

In the Sunga Ward pilot region, the Swiss-supported local company Organic Hill Farming is helping to teach better farming techniques. “For example, farmers can rotate crops,” Valkenburg cites as an example. “The soil becomes less impoverished, the yield is better and nature recovers.” Thanks to Wilde Ganzen, the Ubuntu Leadership Program receives financial support for the pilot.

He hopes to set up a business club in the future to link the students to Tanzanian or Dutch companies that can coach them after the training to help their businesses grow.

Trust relationship

Valkenburg knows the region well because he has had intensive contact with MamboViewpoint for years. “I have worked in various countries in Africa, for longer periods of time and for shorter projects. In 2016 I wrote a business plan for the lodge, which has created a relationship of trust between us. When I once went for a walk with a local guide from MamboViewpoint, he explained to me in great detail the problems the region faces. That is how the idea for the Ubuntu Leadership Program was born.”