Background and History

State of the Nation

South Africa is facing a high rate of 38.3% unemployment (Dept. of Labour 2007 labour force survey — figure includes discouraged work seekers as unemployed). This greatly contributes to many other problems, such as crime, violence, HIV/AIDS and many other social ills. The many problems of the past have crippled a high percentage of South Africa’s population. South Africa is in a significant time of transition with its people desperately looking for answers to society’s problems. In this transition period, many have become better off while many others' conditions have worsened. Many prophets of doom predict that South Africa will go the same destructive route that other African countries have been plagued with, such as corruption and poverty. However, there are also many good signs in South Africa, not the least being the relatively peaceful transition from Apartheid to multi-party democracy.

Life skills programs focus on dealing with
root problems and enabling renewal.

Encouragingly, corrective attempts have begun to be implemented. The government, NGOs, and others have tried numerous approaches to tackle the above-mentioned problems, each having varying degrees of success, some tending to put more emphasis on tackling the fruits of the problems. For example: developing hospices for those dying with AIDS; promoting condom use rather than lifestyle change; building orphanages for kids with no parents; establishing more policing and jails for criminals; and providing more social food and aid grants for the poor. What is ultimately needed, however, is a holistic approach that not only tackles the fruits of the problems, but focuses on dealing with the root problems.

To deal with the roots of South Africa's problems, people’s minds are in need of renewal. People need hope to overcome seemingly hopeless situations, vision to claim a better future, initiative to make something out of nothing, and integrity to counter corruption and broken value systems.

The leaders of World Changers Academy (WCA) believe that these attributes are the key missing components needed to bringing positive transformation to people, communities, nations, and the world. Without focusing on these core values, people will forever be mopping up a wet floor caused by a toilet leak, without fixing that leak.

Also, within South Africa, there is a great resource of skilled, principled, and experienced people. These human resources need to be harnessed to effectively and successfully empower the disadvantaged.

History of World Changers Academy
Someone once asked, “How can I change the world? I'm just an insignificant, simple nobody.” A wise man replied, “It’s not difficult to change the world. After all, to change the world, you need to start by changing your nation. To change your nation, you need to change your community. To change your community, you need to change your family. To change your family, you need to first change yourself.” This is what World Changers Academy (WCA) is all about — helping young people change their own lives for the better so that they can go out and change the world for good.

WCA was born when several people came together who shared a similar vision. Joe White (left), a young American, had been living in a semi-rural Zulu community in the Valley of a Thousand Hills for five years, working to uplift the community spiritually, socially, and economically. Initially, he provided computer training and other programmes mostly to local youth. But Joe became increasingly dissatisfied because, although some individuals found opportunities, their mindsets were not necessarily changed.

Joe had a vision to combine various types of empowerment — spiritual, social, and economical — into one initiative. Joe has primarily played the roles of the visionary, strategist, and implementer of World Changers' programmes, more or less being the “mind” of the organization. Sizwe Mthembu, a pastor, teacher, and businessman from northern Zululand, had a similar vision to see a combination of spiritual, social, and economic renewal. Sizwe has also played a visionary role but has been particularly effective in helping to bring about tangible change in the lives of most of World Changers' students and staff. He has been recognised as the “heart” of the organization. Thea Haavet, a TV producer and journalist from Norway, also joined the initiative, sharing the same passion with her creative ideas. Together, the three birthed what is now known as World Changers Academy.

Sizwe (left) and Nomzamo
Sabelo (right) happily award
a leadership certificate.

WCA's first programme was a three-month, full-time training for 100 unemployed people in KwaNyuswa (in the Valley) that started in August 2002. With limited resources, little structured planning, but lots of vision and relationships with key people, the course was a resounding success. More than 50 top leaders (e.g., parliamentarians, CEOs of multinational companies, etc.) came to speak on relevant life skills topics for these aspiring workers to succeed in life.

Topics included goal setting, relationships, social concern, business skills, and leadership. In addition, students learned computer skills. Many lives were transformed through the programme, empowering them with hope for their futures. Several students came from bad criminal backgrounds but changed so radically that they won "best student" awards. A study taken six months after this first life skills course found that about half of the students had found jobs, volunteer positions, or were enrolled in training institutions.

One "best student," Vusi, took over leadership of the centre in KwaNyuswa only six months after completing his course. He has since trained hundreds of youth and he speaks a message of hope wherever he speaks: at prisons, in the community, through media appearances on television and radio, and in newspapers, and to youth everywhere. He has also gone beyond “the call of duty” and started his own organisation, Light Providers, which now has about 10 volunteers, half of whom are full-time workers. This organisation reaches out to the local community in many ways, including continuing to run life skills programmes. Another student, Msizi, a former drug dealer who has been with World Changers since its inception has played so many different roles in the organisation, including life skills area coordinator, life skills programme manager, operations manager, programmes manager, and HR manager. Msizi is currently holds the position of South Coast region manager.

Young people from a variety of schools proudly
display their WCA leadership training certificates.

In March of 2003, only a few months after the completion of the first successful life skills course, Joe, Sizwe, and Thea launched a leadership programme for 25 emerging community leaders from more than 15 different communities, mostly around Durban and the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal. This 12-week, part-residential, part-community outreach programme was also a great success, and many more leadership courses have since followed. Many of WCA's staff, over the years, have been students from this first leadership programme.

In July 2003, Joe launched a 7-day, residential leadership programmes for high school students. Vusi, the student mentioned above from the first life skills course, pioneered the first life skills programme for high school students at the end of 2003. Now, the high schools department runs conducts weekly, simultaneous, life skills sessions in 10 to 20 schools each year.

Since these humble beginnings, many thousands of lives have been impacted through WCA's various programmes.

This organisation has continued to grow and mature. The results have included:

  • Schools are being greatly transformed by passionate student leaders.
  • Communities are being uplifted with the help of those community leaders produced through leadership and life skills courses.
  • Families are being healed by healed students.

One person at a time, the world is being changed!