How Andrew Rolfe and the Ubuntu Model Can Actually Innovate the Non-Profit World

Some people dream of changing the world and others work toward making it happen. Jacob Lief is is the founder and lead executive of the non-profit Ubuntu Education Fund. The Ubuntu Education Fund has put the impoverished and at-risk youth of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa at center stage. The goal of the Ubuntu Fund is to raise money in order to send these children to school, thus changing their lives along the way. The goal is admirable and the fund has been changing lives for years, now Jacob Lief is taking a serious look at how his non profit runs in order to make it even better.


Jacob Lief was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an annual meeting, when he came to a startling conclusion. Lief looked around the room and admitted to himself, “It was nonsense. The money was flowing in but we weren’t changing people’s lives.” Lief’s realization is one that comes to just about every non-profit worker eventually. Despite benefactors lining up at the door the Ubuntu Fund wasn’t able to spread their money around in the right ways. The reason? Red tape, benefactor restrictions, and a whole mess of cooks in the kitchen. In short, too many people were trying to run the show.


Andrew Rolfe has donated over $100,000 of his own money to the Ubuntu Fund since 2011 and he is now part of the board. Jacob Lief came to the board with a new idea in mind that would make more than a few people double take. Lief wanted to start limiting where their donations came from. Instead, Lief and Andrew Rolfe wanted to focus solely on high end benefactors who had a high net worth. These benefactors, Andrew Rolfe would come to understand, are more willing to let the non-profit work without regulation.


Jacob Lief said it best when he explained the new Ubuntu Model, “We now go for high net worth individuals or family foundations who understand that highly restricted funding isn’t worth our time.” The results have been clear: less money in funding but more funding actually going where it needs to go.


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