Joy Olivier

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow since 2013
This description of Joy Olivier's work was prepared when Joy Olivier was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.


Joy Olivier is creating a new link among youth, between successful graduates and their peers from disadvantaged backgrounds in need of support in their final year of high school; to significantly improve graduation rates, access tertiary education opportunities, and their chance to secure meaningful and dignified employment.

The New Idea

Joy is significantly improving graduation results to enable students to qualify for tertiary education institutions. Through IkamvaYouth, created and managed by youth, Joy provides after school support to learners from grades 8 to 12 as well as intensive programs during the holidays to help prepare students for graduation exams. The program is framed around learner’s questions, as opposed to tutors acting as supplementary teachers (a common practice of teach-the-teacher models). Students’ learn how to identify their doubts, pose questions, and guide their studies in a focused way. The tutors, youth who graduated, support students to reach a point where they can teach themselves. The goal of this approach is to equip learners with knowledge, skills, networks, and resources to access tertiary education and employment opportunities when they graduate.

IkamvaYouth encompasses four main programs, each addresses a unique challenge for learners, and together, make a comprehensive model that has proven successful to improve disadvantaged youth’s graduation: (i) supplementary “out of school” tutoring and homework sessions enable learners to improve their grades (ii) Ikamva offers career guidance to all its learners which broadens their awareness of post school opportunities (iii) Ikamva offers mentoring programs in which learners are paired with university students or professionals; usually to inspire and guide them through the transition from secondary to tertiary education (iv) mentors also guide them through tertiary and financial aid applications to ensure that they utilize every opportunity available after high school. Because the model is rooted in the community (i.e. operating alongside township schools and inside community libraries) and works as a democratic governance system, this peer learning process is continually improved by sourcing creativity from the community, learners, teachers, and parents.

The Ikamva model draws more than half of each graduating class to become tutors/mentors for the next cohort. Further, 80 percent of the management committee at the Khayelitsha center comprises former students from Ikamva. Through this system, Ikamva provides sustainable capacity among youth by enabling them to become agents of change; from beneficiary to benefactor.

The Problem

The entrenched inequalities from the apartheid era are evidenced by Ministry of Education statistics that indicate that 17.4 percent of white youth in South Africa are enrolled in universities as compared to only 3.1 percent of black and 3.5 percent of colored youth. Most students from public schools are also not exposed to additional opportunities like skills development, career guidance, mentorship, and computer literacy, unlike their counterparts in more privileged schools. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to identifying and qualifying for post school opportunities. Poor graduation results and low awareness of post school opportunities leads to higher unemployment, perpetuating poverty and lower living standards.

The environment in most townships in South Africa is beset with high levels of social challenges like violence, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, unemployment, and HIV/AIDS. It is therefore not surprising that, given the myriad of challenges faced in the communities, most schools in the townships produce students whose academic performance is lower than their counterparts in the suburbs. In 2009, although the overall pass rate for black students was 56 percent, it was 88 percent for those who wrote their graduation at model C (semi-private) schools indicating the difference in opportunities between the two education systems. As a consequence, less than 10 percent of South Africa’s youth manage to access higher education opportunities of which only a fraction are from townships or rural communities.

The government and other stakeholders in education are aware of the problems in less advantaged schools. However, more time is spent on discussing policies at the government level without putting practical implementation strategies in place to tackle the problem at the grassroots. Most of the government’s initiatives focus on changing curriculum and providing learning materials to schools and also engaging in teacher and principal development to ensure proper management of schools. Although important, these initiatives are long-term strategies and it will take time to measure their impact and success. Some initiatives that target students focus on hiring professional staff, such as teachers, social workers, and mentors (and also software tools) to provide support and guidance toward improving graduation results and gaining entry into tertiary education.

These initiatives are well-intended, but because they are based on a teach-the-teacher model, the training is centered on the tutor, not the learner. The content is predetermined and structured in a manner that is regarded by the tutors and the tutoring organizations as the necessary subjects to be taught. Because the students are not learning to study on their own and seek help in a focused manner, these interventions will fail. They do not enable youth to develop leadership skills and be part of the solution.

The Strategy

The five core principles of innovation behind IkamvaYouth’s strategy are: (i) Learner Locus of control: through self-selection, responsibility for their own learning and improvement, students are empowered to take control of their education. This is the cornerstone of the program, as learners invest in their own success (ii) Developing Strong Work Ethic: results prove consistently that learners who work hardest, achieve highest. In order to keep their place in the program, learners must maintain a minimum 75 percent attendance requirement, for all sessions, and high attendance (90 to 100 percent) is rewarded (iii) High Expectations: Ikamva believes that all learners who work hard can achieve. This belief is inculcated during tutor training in order to create an ethos of excellence, by inspiring learners to believe in their abilities and realize their true potential (iv) Future Focus: learners need a reason to commit their time and energy to their studies. During the Holiday Program, Ikamva conducts career guidance workshops and exposes learners to diverse post school opportunities, helping them to make the connection between academic achievement and accomplishing their dreams; and (v) Peer-to-Peer Support: the most important element of Ikamva’s model, which promotes a culture of learning and supporting one another. Stronger performing learners assist those who are struggling. The goal is that everyone achieves--together. Graduates stay on with the program as tutors, thus creating a sustainable plough-back development process.

Ikamva centers are set up in township libraries and community centers in collaboration with the relevant municipal authorities in charge of facilities. This makes the model cost-effective and easy to replicate in terms of infrastructure. These centers offer after school support to learners from grades 8 to 12 three times a week as well as intensive full-time holiday programs that normally cover a span of two weeks. To register, students need only be from a disadvantaged school. The average tutor/learner ratio at Ikamva is 1:5 to ensure that each learner receives individual attention and assistance during tutorials and discussions that are propelled by the learners themselves.

In addition to the tutoring program, Ikamva operates computer literacy classes to expose students to technology and information (through the Internet) to help them make informed decisions that affect their lives within and outside the academic space. The organization also runs career guidance workshops in partnership with a wide-range of organizations. In workshops, learners participate in activities like science practical lab sessions (i.e. most township schools do not have science labs) and photography sessions that expose them to knowledge and decision-making skills equal to their counterparts in well-resourced schools. Ikamva also partners with health institutions that conduct HIV/AIDS counseling and voluntary testing twice a year at all the centers. Further, in the final year of schooling, each learner is paired with a mentor who is either a university student or a professional to guide them through the process of career choice and tertiary and financial aid applications.

Since graduating from a tertiary institution and attaining employment is Joy’s goal, she partners with corporates, such as Capitec Bank so they can hire Ikamva tutors from their cohorts in each branch. Then, in partnership with their HR departments, Ikamva runs job readiness workshops using corporate staff as tutors. The most committed Ikamva tutors and graduates receive bursaries, scholarships (25 full scholarships to date) and job offers. Ikamva also hosts a portal for its community with job ads and career guidance. Through this model, they have placed 90 Ikamvanites in jobs and are launching a new opportunity with a “base-of-the-pyramid” market research firm to hire Ikamva youth as field researchers with mobile phone data collection technology.

The objective of all these programs is to better equip students to take their future in their hands by broadening their experiences and learning perspectives. The average cost for a learner to be taken through Ikamva’s entire program is about R5,000 (US$500) per year. This amount includes all the administrative, indirect and organizational costs, as well as learning materials, salaries and other operational costs including the student’s application costs for tertiary education and financial aid (which usually accounts for 25 percent to 40 percent of the total cost). As a means of comparison, the per-learner cost of similar programs run by private institutions can range from R35,000 (US$3,500) to R240,000 (US$24,000) per year. However, the sustainability of Ikamva’s model is based on learners that have graduated from the program who then return and become volunteer tutors and mentors to others.

IkamvaYouth currently operates seven branches (learning centers) in three South African provinces: Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape (Grahamstown-opened in 2013). To date, more than 1,370 students have gone through Ikamva’s program. Through the model, IkamvaYouth manages to achieve graduation results that are on par with the best private schools in the country. Since 2005, the lowest annual graduation pass rate at Ikamva is 85 percent. More importantly, Ikamva’s youth managed to achieve the pass levels that qualify them for university entrance and overall 77 percent have gone on to tertiary education, internships, or jobs within two and a half months of graduation. A recent independent study conducted by economists from Stellenbosch University indicated that 61 percent of all Ikamva graduation candidates wrote and passed mathematics, against only 21 percent for all South African graduation candidates. The proportion of all Ikamva graduation candidates who achieved 40 percent or more was 28 percent versus 14 percent for all South African candidates. It concluded that Ikamva also successfully manages to encourage students from across the ability spectrum to raise the bar, by entering subjects which the typical student from weak schools would usually avoid, and then achieve success comparable to that of candidates selected in terms of ability and from higher socioeconomic groups.

Joy plans to continue to expand Ikamva’s reach and to adapt the model for rural schools. She also plans to work more closely with universities, since they can enable her model to scale further by providing course credits to students, waiving application and registration fees for committed learners and volunteer tutors, availing campuses for holiday programs, and connect alumni of IkamvaYouth with on campus support offerings. Joy is working with University of the Free State and Durban University of Technology to award course credits and waive registration fees to incentivize committed student volunteerism.

The Person

Joy was born and raised on a farm in a small rural village in KwaZulu-Natal. Growing up during the transition years to democracy, she understood the ill effects of apartheid, reflected in societal inequalities among people of different racial and social backgrounds. Joy was the first person in her family to go to university and she experienced firsthand the power of education to open a myriad of opportunities and transform an individual’s life for the better. This experience triggered her interest and passion to assist disadvantaged youth to access opportunities to study beyond graduation and broaden their horizons. Joy tutored students and was convinced that it was only way to end unemployment and poverty in South Africa’s townships.

Although IkamvaYouth was founded in 2003—when Joy was only 22 years old—in 2005 the first cohort graduated with a 100 percent pass rate and 65 percent were accepted into tertiary education. All the graduates were interested to return as volunteer tutors/mentors for the next cohort of students at Ikamva. This is when Joy realized the model is a platform to transform the social landscape of poverty and unemployment in the townships through meaningful education opportunities. In 2010, Joy quit her full-time job to dedicate her efforts to Ikamva and scale it to other areas, to reach as many young people as possible.

Joy was able to use her knowledge and experience in the education sector to develop and take advantage of strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations, laying the foundation for Ikamva’s model to minimize operation costs and maximize impact. An expert in Education and ICT, she understands the challenges inherent in South Africa’s education system. In recognition of Joy’s work, she and IkamvaYouth has received many awards, including the Mail & Guardian’s “Top 200 Young South Africans” (2011), and the first organization in Africa to make the WorldBlu List of the World’s Most Democratic Workplaces (2012).