David Liknaitzky

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 2000
This description of David Liknaitzky's work was prepared when David Liknaitzky was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000 .


David Liknaitzky was so moved by stories that people told of their experiences growing up under apartheid in South Africa that he felt compelled to work more deeply with the inner oppression that prevents people, especially young people, from realizing their true potential. He has designed a program to deconstruct the psychology of apartheid that still exists in the minds of most young South Africans.

The New Idea

Apartheid was a carefully constructed system that took decades to instill in people. The absence of a systematic program to now disassemble it means that many South Africans, particularly young people, suffer from an inner oppression that prevents them from reaching their full potential. David has developed the first program to address this inner oppression among out-of-school and out-of-work youth. "Facing the Future with Courage" enables youth to take control of their lives and find self-worth and personal accomplishment. As part of the program, David has developed a unique methodology focused on what he calls "appreciative inquiry." Young people are encouraged to examine their homes with an appreciative eye and uncover the living, positive aspects of their communities, which are generally perceived as impoverished, crime-ridden, and hopeless.

The Problem

One of the more insidious legacies of apartheid is the psychological oppression that still afflicts many South African young people as they attempt to find the bridge from school to a productive adult life. Some had their education disrupted by social and political upheavals, while others were deprived of proper education and socialization owing to social and family circumstances. Many of these young people find themselves unemployed and unemployable after leaving school. In disadvantaged areas, the combination of an inadequate education, depressed socioeconomic circumstances, and low employment prospects makes young people vulnerable to the temptations of crime, drug abuse, and other dysfunctional behaviors.

A recent study by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry revealed that of approximately eleven million South Africans in the sixteen to thirty age group, 52 percent were unemployed, only one in five had progressed as they wished in their studies, and one in ten had been victims of political violence. Additionally, 5 percent were considered extremely marginalized (imprisoned or involved in crime), 27 percent were marginalized (unemployed with little education and little likelihood of maintaining a job or legal income), 43 percent were at risk of becoming marginalized, and 25 percent were identified as being "fine" (employed or likely to be employed). In effect, three out of four young people in South Africa require programmatic intervention if they are to continue or complete their education, earn a living, relate in a healthy manner to society, and have a positive sense of self.

The Strategy

Facing the Future with Courage offers nine modules that run over nine consecutive weeks. The first module sets the theme for the rest of the program by addressing teamwork and cooperation. Subsequent modules cover issues relating to personal development, interpersonal skills, community development, job searching, and life planning. To build self-confidence, learn interviewing skills, and become engaged in the community, the youth go out into the community and gather stories in the oral tradition. They learn to look with appreciation and openness at what they encounter and to imagine what their community could become. They also learn how to start a small business.

The program is participatory and experiential and includes daily arts and crafts in the afternoons. It encourages participants to manage their own learning process and to develop a capacity for independent thinking, creativity, and extending their limits. Follow-up is conducted through a local community center. Young people apply for the program, and applications are carefully screened by the community-based host of the program. Only youth who are committed to self-development are invited to participate. David requires that they pay about eight dollars to attend, on the theory that people value what they pay for and also to avoid perpetuating the welfare mentality. David uses his experience as a consultant in the private sector to forge partnerships between his program and the business community. These partnerships connect program participants with companies for mentoring, part-time, or full-time work.

Four programs have been successfully conducted in Alexandra township, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, Stichting Klaverblad, Triodos Bank, and Grinaker Construction Company. Five programs were conducted in 2000. David plans to move into a new community every six months. He expects to make each program sustainable by training and mentoring trainers and by tying each project to an established community center with a youth development infrastructure. David envisions that the program will eventually expand into a broad-based national initiative in South Africa. His approach has already been replicated in Brazil, at a prison for young offenders in Porto Alegre.

The Person

David Liknaitzky sees himself as a maverick, and has always been dissatisfied with conventional approaches to knowledge, development, and even morality. He grew up in South Africa's middle class but was angered by the injustice that surrounded him. Disenchanted with academia and lacking interest in the corporate world, he started a leather business with his wife. David had a vocational crisis in the 1980s and returned to school, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology.

From 1983 to 1988, David worked with the Organisation Development Institute of Southern Africa. In 1985 he co-founded a community development organization, the Centre for the Art of Living, through which he helped establishment Baobab Community College in Alexandra, a township in Johannesburg. The center also started a Waldorf school in Alexandra, the first in a black community. Since leaving ODISA, David has been an independent consultant, mainly in the private sector, focusing on development.

While working with a South African company, David was given charge of a program to heal relationships among employees. During a very successful series of emotional workshops in which people shared their stories, David discovered the depth of inner oppression among his fellow South Africans. He became interested in personal change, which he believes can have a broad effect since every individual has a social sphere of influence. David decided to create a program that would enable youth to focus their energy and excitement on fulfilling their potential. An employee from the company at which he held the workshops joined forces with him to develop his idea for Facing the Future with Courage.