Florian Zech provides distressed youth with education opportunities, employment training and alternatives to crime and violence by establishing a dense network of safe and appealing spaces in townships across South Africa. These spaces operate as ‘docking stations’ for a cross-sectoral alliance of youth development organizations and their respective programs.
The New Idea
With SAFE-HUBS, Florian Zech has established a network of safe physical spaces for youth development with replicable infrastructure, content and financial model. First established in Khayelitsha, South Africa’s largest township, notorious for the world’s highest per capita murder and rape rate, the hubs provide distressed youth with education opportunities, employment training and alternatives to crime, violence and substance.
By influencing provincial and now national youth policy, Florian has made SAFE-HUBS the standard for addressing marginalized youth in South Africa. Given that each hub can be self-financed via a range of income generating services – small businesses within Safe-Hubs, rent from office units or banners ads – and a social franchise model, Florian will be able to run 100 HUBs by 2030. This high density of the SAFE-HUB network creates an unprecedented proximity of youth development offers to the community, schools and families with a maximum distance of approx. 3000 feet to the next SAFE-HUB.
SAFE-HUBS combine sport facilities with a community college, ICT training zones, startup incubators, psychosocial counseling and social support. Operating as ‘docking stations’ for government bodies, community initiatives and civil society organizations and their respective youth programs, SAFE-HUBS enable all actors to align their activities and thereby become more efficient and effective. Florian meticulously monitors all activities in terms of their social impact allowing a rapid response to unsuccessful interventions or gaps within the personal and professional development paths the youth go through.
Four fully functional HUBs already exist, the establishment of additional 69 SAFE-HUBS is already part of the budges schemes of the “Transversal Youth Development Policy for Western Cape Government” that Florian has co-created.
In South Africa, a large part of the youth population is held captive by a negative inter-generational cycle of poverty and dysfunctional communities. Youth suffer from a lack of a sense of belonging, boredom and are influenced by deviant peers. Since all most of them can expect from life after graduation is just unemployment anyway – about 50% of South Africa’s youth is currently unemployed – they have developed a negative attitude towards school, learning, progress and self-development. Surrounded by, and experiencing, violence on a daily basis has led manyto engaging in violent behavior themselves. These factors lead to high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment in South Africa – particularly in the country’s notorious townships – and reinforce the existence of dysfunctional families and communities, which in return contribute yet again to the lack of sense of belonging and discouraged attitude of the youth.
To address this negative cycle countless youth support and development programs emerged over the years. However, these programs are not strategically and evenly dispersed; they are out of reach for the majority of the deprived youth in the townships. Moreover, a majority of them is unsuccessful in getting a grip on their target group and properly deliver their programs due to a lack of spacious, inviting and, most important of all, safe physical infrastructure. Surrounded by a violent community and under more or less constant threat of getting mugged, mostly by peers, they simply don’t feel welcome and safe enough at most places and youth development programs have little to no chance to deliver on their long term vision.
An additional problem most youth development programs suffer from is the fact that most operate in silos from one another. That results in a loss of synergies between different offers on the one hand – training programs by NGOs may operate in complete disconnect from employment programs by the government or psychosocial counseling from a community initiative. On the other hand, youth face the problem of having to travel long distances between programs. Both issues make it very likely that youth never benefit from the full range of empowerment opportunities being offered, when one or some of them area clearly not enough to break the vicious cycle of dysfunctional communities, poverty and violence.
Besides the lack of inviting physical spaces and an obvious disconnect between programs, another problematic issue is the lack of funding for most youth focused NGO’s. If anything they depend on financial support through donations from local and foreign donors, often resulting in a ‘mission-drift’, a lack of independence and situations where the vision of the program clashes with the vision of the parties providing the finance.
Florian’s aim is to break the negative cycle via a dense network of SAFE-HUBs: physical, safe and appealing spaces in townships across South Africa that offer youth a truly welcoming home away from home and place for self-development. The basis of each SAFE-HUB is a predefined infrastructure and fixed set of programmes. Both to incentivize and motivate youth to first come to the Safe-Hubs as well as to teach them important lessons about respect, teamwork and dealing with setbacks through play, Safe-Hubs boast large and very well equipped soccer and sport facilities. Their “Fair Play Football” program – rewarding respect, teamwork and fairness – enjoys great popularity among youth in areas surrounding the Safe-Hubs; 200 teams of over 3000 children and teens are formed per SAFE-HUB. Another nearly 500 young adults engage in the Safe-Hub’s “Night League”, providing a daily meaningful alternative to drugs, alcohol and violence in the crucial hours between 7 pm and 12 am – which led to 5 times lower crime rates in areas surrounding Safe-Hub’s compared to other parts of the townships. A “Life-Skill” program, a systematic, 10 months long approach to teach social competence, teaches various soft skills like creativity, imagination and teamwork, and enhances the youth’s self-esteem, mostly taught through the means of play. The “Playmakers Programme” provides unemployed youth with an accredited qualification as sports administrators or social workers and guaranteed employment at the SAFE-HUB or its partners. The program is very successful in creating role models as a pull for other kids. If needed Safe-Hub in parallel also offers a daily “Tutoring” and homework support program to make sure the youth stay on track with their formal education duties at school. The educational offers of the SAFE-HUBs have led to a 50% improvement in attendance and results in schools surrounding SAFE-HUBs.
Florian’s organization AMANDLA is the umbrella of all SAFE-HUBS and franchisor for local SAFE-HUB managers. It provides franchisees with the training and support to run a local HUB. Once the infrastructure is established, the business model of SAFE-HUBs allows them to be self-funded via a whole range of different options: They rent office space to small businesses and startups that pay moderate rent, on the outside off Safe-Hub’s banks and other businesses can provide their services and pay rent or fees, too, and advertising in form of banner ads surrounding the HUB’s or digital ads on their WIFI network bring also bring in revenue and income. In order to scale the model beyond South Africa, Florian is currently setting up a impact bond for financing the roll-out SAFE HUBS globally. He is building a global network of potential, wants to become the largest social franchise in the world.
In order to create a dense network of SAFE-HUBS that reaches all deprived youth, Florian made his model a provincial and soon national standard for youth development. He engaged with different departments of the regional government, convincing them of the benefit of the evidence based, scalable and self-funding SAFE-HUB model. The outcome of those cross-sectoral conversations was the “Transversal Youth Development Policy for Western Cape Government”, putting the establishment of 69 SAFE-HUBS on national budges schemes. Four fully functional HUBs already exist and Florian aims to create 100 more until 2030. With this number of HUBS, he will be able to create a dense network in the townships, with each SAFE-HUB reaching out to approx. 5000 persons in a radius of approx. 3000 feet around the SAFE-HUB. This proximity to their schools and homes strongly increases the likelihood of youth to attend the programmes of the HUBs. Based on a specifically designed urban planning algorithm, Florian is able to find the best possible locations for the SAFE-HUBs, taking into account social, ethnic and geographical criteria. For the establishment of each SAFE-HUB is, the local community (such as schools, safety networks, etc) is closely involved.
Based on the insight that it is impossible to address all needs of the youth alone and observing how little harmonized youth programs of other actors were, Florian created SAFE-HUBS as docking stations for government, non-profit organizations and businesses who provide services and offers: State approved education and employment programs are offered inside Safe-Hub’s Academy – with success rates of 80% placement of participants into jobs –, the “Youth Café” offers meeting spaces for the local community, initiatives or festivities and “IT Cafés” provide access to the internet, technology and IT-Literacy trainings. Via partners Safe-Hub’s also deliver enterprise and startup development programs, youth and family counselling and psychosocial support, health and safety workshops and support with job placement. Transversal office spaces’ provide safe and professional commercial spaces for young entrepreneurs and local startups. The partnerships have led to a an integration of various programs into one holistic ‘value chain’ covering most if not all a young person may need to develop and break out the negative cycle they were locked up in. For the partners, this approach is particularly attractive since it pledges infrastructure, funding, impact and a shared a participant pool.
In order to make sure all activities achieve the intended impact, Florian thoroughly monitors and evaluates his activities. Accurate and reliable attendance data is the foundation of evaluating results. AMANDLA’s biometric finger print attendance monitoring system allows real-time accurate tracking of daily attendance across all programs. Regular and consistent attendance (75 % of possible attendance), over a period of at least 3 – 5 years, is what it takes to have a real impact on the youth’s personal development. Monitoring young peoples’ attendance over a multi program-cycle is fundamental to understanding the development path of each individual. AMANDLA is using a simple and effective set of measurement activities, including; surveys, focus group discussions, and competence assessments that are administered before, during and after the 10 month program cycle. With the objective of gaining deeper insight into the impact of the Safe-Hub model, AMANDLA has established research partnerships with private institutes, universities, inter-governmental agencies, and government. A research carried out by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) showed that AMANDLA’s first Safe-Hub in Khayelitsha has contributed to the prevention of youth violence, and other risky behavior, through fostering positive school attachment, and other resilience related protective factors.
Florian Zech grew up in a multi-ethnical family of entrepreneurs and teachers. He started to be a leader very early in his life. As a kid, he was passionate about playing handball and was captain of the team. He used to be a boys scout for many years and as a teen he became leader of the entire organization with over 70 members. Another early passion of his was his interest in the African continent to which he “always had an unexplained affinity”, he says. At a fairly young age, he devoured books about the continent and convinced his parents to take a private sponsorship for a kid in Zimbabwe which he started writing letters with.
In 2007, when Florian was 19, he did a year of civil service in an orphanage in a township in Cape Town, South Africa. He saw the extreme contrast to his own, happy upbringing and it struck him how little opportunities the kids he worked with had. He knew that he wanted to take action. After three months, he co-initiated a pre-school for the orphans to equip them with better starting conditions into the educational sector. He fundraised the money from personal connections, the pre-school still works today. Little later, he and a group of volunteers started a football league for 40 orphanages of the whole city in order to take kids from the streets and give them something to do after school. Because the league was exclusive and had expensive transport costs, he raised funds for artificial football pitch next to orphanage for all kids from the community. That was the birthplace of Safe-Hub. He started using football as an introduction to educational activities, gained momentum and supporters through the world cup and founded AMANDLA. He enrolled in law and managament, but quickly realized he was unable to finish his studies next to AMANDLA. 10 years after his civil service, Florian is still in South Africa, fully integrated into the local community and at the edge of making AMANDLA the world's largest social franchise.