Susannah Farr
Ashoka Fellow since 2014   |   Rwanda

Susannah Farr

Susannah is providing leadership and life skills education to young people in schools through a structured extra-curricular model that capitalizes on peer pressure to create a ripple effect of…
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This description of Susannah Farr's work was prepared when Susannah Farr was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.


Susannah is providing leadership and life skills education to young people in schools through a structured extra-curricular model that capitalizes on peer pressure to create a ripple effect of youth-driven, positive change making.

The New Idea

Young people in African countries have fewer opportunities to access the knowledge, skills and confidence to achieve their full potential and influence positive change in their schools and communities. Susannah created Generations of Leaders Discovered (GOLD) to develop social capital in African youth. By employing a structured three-year curriculum, GOLD trains and educates potential young leaders and role models in schools and communities who educate, guide and mentor their peers. These young leaders urge their peers to adopt a positive way of thinking about their lives and encourage their peers to overcome the social challenges they face.

Susannah’s model is built on three axes: (1) leadership training, (2) peer pressure and (3) social engagement in their communities. This is an integrated extra-curricular model that helps young people exit the education system as accomplished and confident change leaders in society. GOLD recruits learners from various schools and provides them with intensive leadership, peer education and life skills training to transform them into qualified peer educators who spearhead positive behavior change in schools and communities. Susannah employs a methodology that runs parallel to, and complements, the school curriculum without actually interfering with it. The participants graduate with a leadership and peer education certificate that is accredited and recognized within the South African National Qualification Framework and can be used to access employment opportunities. Susannah’s ultimate objective is to increase the employment opportunities and employability of young people by creating the development of a recognized career option in youth leadership and Peer Education. This makes GOLD more than just an informal youth-leadership course or life skills training program.

The trained peer educators then strategically use peer pressure, a powerful force among the youth, to influence positive behavior change in their colleagues both at school and in the communities they come from. The viral effect of this outreach ensures that the negative effects of peer pressure are diminished and replaced by positive behavior change. This aspect of her work minimizes the ill effects of negative peer pressure, such as drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, abortions, teenage suicide, school dropouts and other criminal behavior. As a result, young people are more focused on their education and other constructive engagements that boost their academic performance and improve their chances for further education and employment opportunities. Finally, GOLD stimulates the spirit of social change and community action in youth by inspiring them to be change leaders through designing and implementing their own community activities. The peer educators are confident and inspired to identify resources in their communities that can be used to create solutions to their problems.

The sustainability and spread of GOLD model is based on the viral effect of peer education, in which accomplished educators advance to the next level of the program and recruit and help educate new entrants into the program. This ensures that the principles of GOLD are entrenched in the schools and communities even after trained peer educators have left to seek other opportunities outside the community. After its inception in South Africa in 2004, the model expanded to Zambia in 2009 and has now started in Botswana. To date, GOLD has trained more than 2,800 peer educators in over 58 communities, working with over 13,000 youth. Through an income-generating arm of GOLD, Susannah has adapted the model to create a product called Peer2Peer, which is a branded ‘do it yourself’ package for peer education. Peer2Peer is franchised out to organizations working in youth education that have plans to incorporate peer education into their programs. Susannah has established a partnership with South Africa’s Department of Education to pilot the Peer2Peer package, which is now being implemented in nine schools in the Western Cape Province. She plans to do the same in Zambia and Botswana.

The Problem

African youth grow up in challenging environments and confront many social issues that inhibit their ability to acquire an education and positively shape their future. Most communities are challenged by high rates of poverty, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies, abortions, suicides, school dropouts, substance abuse, sexual abuse and violence. Young people have to contend with these challenges, as well as the pressure of their education, while making decisions that affect their future. This is further complicated by a lack of access to information that can help them make positive choices for their futures.

The UN World Youth Report (2011) indicates that only 18 percent of secondary schools in South Africa incorporate complete HIV/AIDS education in their curriculum and that 75 percent of youth in Zambia and Lesotho aged between 15 and 19 years old do not know that an HIV positive person may look healthy. Most organizations, including the government, are working to provide youth with life skills education over and above the education curriculum to help them understand the social issues in their environment. This information is also made available through the media (for example, on TV, Radios, in Newspapers and on billboards). However, these programs do little to enable positive behavior change in the absence of reliable role models for young people both at school and in their communities.

Peer pressure is the most influential force on young people and their life choices often reflect what is considered the ‘norm’ in their social circles. Negative peer pressure is one of the leading causes of young people adopting risky behavior patterns. These behavior patterns lead them to make poor choices that have lasting negative implications or their lives. The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health Journal (2010) indicates that most adolescents are introduced to alcohol, drugs and sexual behavior through peer pressure. Young people that lack appropriate guidance and role models to shape their behavior are more susceptible to making poor decisions that rob them of a bright future. Most of the social challenges facing young people today, such as substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, school drop outs, crime and gangsterism, are influenced and perpetuated by peer pressure.

In addition to these challenges, young people also lack the confidence and leadership skills to complement their academic education and enable them to become responsible change makers in schools, communities and workplaces. The academic curricula in most African countries, including South Africa, is still biased towards theoretical skills and places less importance on practical skills development. As a result, students graduate from their studies with educational qualifications but lack the confidence, capability and drive to act upon social challenges in their environment and influence change in their communities. They also have difficulty coping with an increasingly dynamic and quickly changing workplace environment in which employers expect them to be proactive problem-solvers. However, most existing informal leadership training and skills-development do not equip young people with recognized and accredited qualifications for these change making skills that supplement their high school education.

The Strategy

Susannah’s entry point is to identify a willing and proactive Community Based Organization (CBO) that already works with the youth in the community. She then recruits the CBO as an implementing partner and it plays the pivotal role of delivering the curriculum and also serves as a point of contact with other stakeholders in the community. The CBO then recruits the first round of Peer Educators who are out-of-school young adults in the community to become GOLD Facilitators. This group then undergoes a three-year intensive skills training, leadership and mentoring program (including a practical internship) to become GOLD Facilitators and peer education experts. With their GOLD Facilitator qualification in hand, these youth are employed by the CBOs, GOLD or even other youth organizations. These Facilitators are the key agents who are responsible for the training and mentoring of new GOLD Youth Peer Educators in various schools and communities The Facilitators reach out to learners from different schools and communities to recruit them as the first cohort of Peer Educator trainees.

At the heart of its work, GOLD focuses on empowering children and adolescents from Eighth Grade onwards with confidence and leadership skills as well as equipping them to be Peer Educators. These adolescents who are still in school but want to participate in the program have to apply and undergo a selection process. After acceptance into the program, they join Track One of the peer education program to become Junior Peer Educators. After a successful year at this level, the learner then moves on to Track Two to become Senior Peer Educators and he or she has to recruit a specified number of learners who, in turn, enter the process by joining Track One. The Track Two recruiter is required to assist with the training and mentoring of those they recruit. From Track Two, learners then proceed to Track Three to become Mentor Peer Educators. They help train and mentor the participants in Track 2. The model therefore provides a continuous cycle of training as the learners go through the curriculum all the way to Track Five, to become Master Peer Educators. The training helps the adolescents reach their full potential and in turn, empowers their peers and other young learners to make purpose-driven and positive decisions across all areas of their lives. By this time, these adolescents may choose to exit the program (as they may also be finishing their high school degrees) or they may choose to continue with the program and join the GOLD Facilitator course to develop a recognized career in youth leadership and peer education.

The GOLD curriculum incorporates modules like leadership, community action, communication skills, self-development, sexual and reproductive health, gender relationships and human rights among others. The peer educators participate in skills training sessions, mentoring, lesson deliveries, talk groups, strategic chats and community action projects as part of their education through the distinct levels of the program. The educators are also empowered to critically analyze crucial problems and social challenges faced by the youth in their particular communities and discuss what they can do as individuals and collectively to catalyze positive change in their lives. Peer educators also are responsible for identifying peers that are stressed and going through personal problems and are trained to offer basic counseling and support services and to refer them to relevant people who can help. This teaches them to be empathetic, feel a sense of responsibility for other people’s wellness and to reach out and help where necessary.

The other facet of the model, called Future-Forward, aims at providing necessary information, to out-of-school young adults who want to enhance their skills and access further education and employment opportunities. Future-Forward helps youth navigate the job search and provides them with information on how they can become visible and employable in the face of massive youth unemployment in their countries. Through this program, GOLD trains the youth on communication and presentation skills, job sourcing through various media, drafting a presentable CV, how to apply for an ID, interview skills, work place etiquette, applying for tertiary education and also small business entrepreneurship skills.

Currently, GOLD has operations in Zambia, South Africa and Botswana, working with a total of 13 CBOs in over 58 communities with about 60 operating sites and schools. The program has trained over 100 GOLD Facilitators and more than 2,800 qualified Peer Educators who work with almost 13,000 peers and younger children. GOLD has developed a ‘do it yourself’ product called Peer2Peer which is a methodology based on GOLD’s Peer Education Model. Peer2Peer is part of Susannah’s scaling strategy. This is made available, for a fee, to other public and private schools and organizations (that are not directly part of GOLD’s current outreach strategy). This product is being implemented in 9 communities in the Western Cape in South Africa and 5 communities in Botswana and negotiations with other school and community authorities in Zambia are underway. Through this comprehensive model, Susannah is using positive peer pressure to influence positive behavior change among young people and simultaneously unlocking employment opportunities for youth by developing and spearheading new career prospects in youth leadership and education.

The Person

Susannah grew up in a mixed family with three fostered siblings of African origin. At an early age, she noticed the inequalities that existed between people of different races, social classes and cultures in apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately, her father lost his job and was unemployed for a long time. During this period, Susannah started buying and selling pencil cases in primary school to supplement the household income and contribute to fuel expenses. In high school she started an advocacy project to spread knowledge on HIV/AIDS among her peers after she saw the risky sexual behavior that her fellow students were engaging in. After high school, she started a pregnancy help center to work with pregnant teenagers. It was after this that she started a movement, called Think Twice, with a vision to empower young people with the knowledge that they can help themselves and their peers reach their full potential.

Susannah studied advertising after high school because her parents wanted her to have a professional career in addition to her passion to work with vulnerable communities. After graduating, she volunteered for an orphanage in a nearby Muslim community and, through this experience, she realized that young people are not free to express themselves and talk about social issues in their lives (for example, sharing their feelings about sex and their sexual experiences with their parents). Susannah wanted to understand how other communities with similar challenges reach out to young people and help them develop the confidence and freedom to express themselves and learn from other people’s experiences. She was 23 years old then and she decided to move to Egypt and work and live with the youth in the slums of Cairo. Upon her return home, Susannah wanted to work with young people who face social challenges in low-income communities. She established LUBE Media, an organization that encouraged youth in schools to produce and sell magazines that could be used in classrooms to spur discussions on social issues affecting young people. One of the projects under LUBE media, called OIL, targeted teenage opinion leaders at a grass roots level and encouraged them to use their influence to positively affect behavior change in other young people.

In 2004, Susannah changed the narrow focus of OIL into an integrated Peer Education and youth leadership model that led her to establishing GOLD. After witnessing the impact it has had, Susannah now wants to infiltrate and infuse the GOLD model into the mainstream education system in Africa, complementing the academic curriculum rather than interfering with it.

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