Courageous Leaders Putting The Community First: How Refilwe Became LIV Lanseria

The Refilwe Community Project took root in the Lanseria area in 1991, close to the Cradle of Humankind on the outskirts of Johannesburg. With vision and commitment, its passionate team became an integral part of the community.

By focusing on designing and implementing educational, training and mentoring programmes aimed at equipping people to be sustainable in every aspect of their lives, this non-profit grew to the point where they were providing daily services to over 2,000 children through 9 programmes.

Meanwhile far away in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Tich and Joan Smith was dreaming of also making a tangible difference to the lives of the more than 5.2 million orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa, and LIV Village came into being.

The LIV model is long-term cluster foster care, where children belong in a community that models an African village lifestyle. Orphaned and vulnerable children are placed into a supportive family environment with a trained foster mother to love them, a school to educate them, and where they receive spiritual discipleship, care and nurturing.

These two very different NPOs – both successfully changing the social landscapes of their communities in different ways – suddenly found themselves on each other’s doorstep when LIV Village received a donation in the form of a piece of land next to Refilwe in Pelindaba Road.

Contrary to what one would expect from such an uncomfortable situation, Refilwe’s management team responded with courage and humility. Realising that “the purpose of a non-profit is to serve its community, not to become a bigger and better non-profit” – in the words of CEO Jay Strydom – they offered their support to the LIV team in terms of practical advice gained from years of experience in the local township. In their view, the sooner LIV Village could plant themselves in the culture and have an effective impact in the area, the better for everyone.

What started as a welcome party soon turned to heartfelt conversations about vision and purpose, and by the time a merger was on the table two years later, the management team and Board of Trustees of Refilwe knew this process would not be easy. Were they really willing to lay down their name, their identity, 27 years of history, their goals and their control?

It turns out – that for the sake of a bigger impact in the community – they were. On 4 August 2018, Refilwe Community Project officially became LIV Lanseria, and was incorporated into the bigger LIV group of villages. The merger of the two non-profits has enabled LIV Lanseria to leverage the passion, experience and knowledge of both teams, by letting LIV’s foster care model inform Refilwe’s community development model, and vice versa. By extension, it has also led to the transfer of some of their community development expertise to LIV Village in Durban.

So even though the realities of this journey of collaboration is still being fleshed out, Refilwe’s management team should be saluted for their courageous leadership. May their example of choosing to put the community first inspire other NPOs and businesses to also unlock the potential of working together, for the sake of others. And may LIV Lanseria go from strength to strength!

Read more about LIV-Lanseria here.