A Passionate Nonprofit Leader Dedicated to Improving the Lives of South African Youth

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A Passionate Nonprofit Leader Dedicated to Improving the Lives of South African Youth

Published on: August 3rd, 2023

Source: 2023, CIO Views

Marc Lubner, Group CEO of Afrika Tikkun Group, lives by the adage made famous by Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Recognized as one of South Africa’s leading NGOs, Afrika Tikkun supports the development of over 20,000 children a year from early infancy until the time they find careers and jobs. It has a non-profit development entity, an enterprise & placement business unit, and a private equity investment holding company, and all net revenue flow towards funding the nonprofit.

Marc is also co-Founder and currently Executive Chairman of the Smile Foundation, a nonprofit organization that started 20 years ago with a personal partnership with Nelson Mandela, which then extended to include Proffesor George Psaras then head of surgery at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.

Smile’s focus is primarily to partner with State hospitals providing surgical access, as well as psyco social supports to disadvantaged children and their families, including care for kids with facial malformations. It has been instrumental in effecting over 900 surgeries through public and private partnerships with over 12 state hospitals.

Marc is Executive Chairman at other notable humanitarian and corporate organizations, such as the South Africa Israel Chamber of Commerce, a non-political entity focused on promoting bilateral trade, bringing technological solutions to SA commerce and industry beneficial to the country. He has also worked as a strategy consultant to large corporates and government departments, with a specific specialization in Corporate Social responsibility.

As the Chairman of the Lubner Family Foundation, Marc was in charge of long-term investment strategy planning, property portfolio management, the management and development of strategic business linkages both locally and internationally, and offshore investment entity structure.

He is also the past Chairman of the South African Friends of the Beit Issie Shapiro Home for handicapped children, and past Chair and current member of the Young President’s Organisation (YPO) – belonging to the Johannesburg Chapter.

A Successful Entrepreneur with A Passion for Service To Others

Marc received his education at Johannesburg’s South Africa’s Hyde Park High School and went on to major in Business Economics while attending the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he earned his Bachelor of Commerce in 1979. He then earned his MBA Masters in Business Administration, with a focus on organizational behavior and marketing in 1987, from the North Western University Kellogg Graduate School of Business in Illinois, USA.

Before joining Afrika Tikkun on a full-time basis, Marc spent 11 years in a business that was built by his family in the automotive glass industry. The PG Group grew to be a dominant player in the glass industry in South Africa, and family members grew the international business through the Belron Group, into what is today one of the largest global providers of automotive glass to the after-sales market.

When Marc was managing director of Formex, a PG Group subsidiary, in 1989, he was in charge of turning around the company’s Australian laminate and board wholesale and retail operations and managed the sale of the asset as the Group’s exit strategy.

As Managing Director of Knep Timbers (Pty) Limited (also a PG Group subsidiary), he was in charge of every area of its bottom-line profitability. The company rose to become the dominant distributor of timber and board products.

After leaving the family business, Marc was involved in commerce for about 25 years, in businesses such as Consumer Electronics, which imported Sega TV games and other forms of IT entertainment software. He built the business from Rl5mil per annum to more than R40mil per annum and ultimately sold it to the entertainment group, CAN-GalIo.

From 1997 to 1999, Marc served as CEO of Umbono Corporation Limited which was responsible for funding black economic empowerment equity investments. Under his leadership, market capitalization increased from roughly R50 million to approximately R150 million.

The company grew into a full-service financial services provider with private equity investments in the security and healthcare industries, a division for mergers and acquisitions, a division for corporate finance, and a company with real estate listed on the stock exchange.

As a leader who is passionate about service to others, Marc’s daily activities include his responsibilities as CEO of Afrika Tikkun, Executive Chairman of Smile Foundation, Executive Chairman of SAICC (South African Israeli Chamber of Commerce), and Trustee of his family’s global investment portfolio.

Within the social impact organizations, his role is to strategize their direction and outcomes, ensure appropriate measurable business plans, enable the plans with appropriate resources (both capital and people skills), and monitor the performance against pre-determined goals and objectives.

“In support of this, I’m actively involved in networking with existing and potential stakeholders. One of the more important roles is to ensure the values of our organizations are lived daily by all staff. My typical workday starts early and invariably ends late at night, which is when I get to respond to emails and manage calls in different time zones,” says Marc.

Eradicating Unemployment and Poverty With ‘Responsible Kindness’

The vision of Afrika Tikkun is to eradicate youth unemployment and child poverty. The organization achieves this using a holistic strategy that starts in early life and concludes with productive adults accessing the economy. Their Cradle-to-Career (C2C) 360° strategy has cemented their position as one of South Africa’s most influential organizations.

Afrika Tikkun delivers a cradle-to-career development training and placement organization for township-based children and youth aged 2 to 35 years of age.  It serves over 20,000 children and youth working with public, private, and NGO organizations, and collaborates with donors, volunteers, and business investors to develop and upskill the lives of young and aspiring South Africans.

“We have grown to become South Africa’s largest NGO and NPO in revenue, and we have been voted number one by donors and peers. We take pride in our culture of ‘responsible kindness’ marrying business principals with philanthropic objectives,” Marc observes.

Both of Marc’s social impact organizations, AT and Smile Foundation, are built on the promise of “responsible kindness,” which whilst philanthropic at their core (kindness) consider it their responsibility to ensure that they do not perpetuate victimhood and dependency.

“Whilst we embrace principals such as equality, transparency, and integrity in all we do, we also have to ensure that we are cognizant of the long-term game plan to ensure our beneficiaries will one day no longer be dependent on us but can contribute themselves towards the betterment of less fortunate individuals,” Marc insists.

A Cradle-To-Career Strategy That Leads to More Effective And Productive Employment

Afrika Tikkun’s Cradle-to-Career (C2C) programs are designed to enrich young people from ages 2 to 35, with an emphasis on education, good nutrition, health, social welfare, personal growth, and the development of skills that nurture young lives into self-assured, competent adults.

When Marc joined Afrika Tikkun 18 years ago, it was servicing approximately 1200 beneficiaries with a budget of R14 Million. The group revenue across all entities within Afrika Tikkun was approximately R480 Million, and they would directly assist approximately 30,000 children and youth through its cradle-to-career programs.

“Afrika Tikkun has spent 29 years proving that Cradle to Career development programs lead to more effective and productive employment; we have done this through operating our own centers and employing our own staff,” states Marc.

Afrika Tikkun is now taking the cradle-to-career concept to the national arena by coordinating and consolidating the efforts of multiple community bases NGOs, together with the private sector within specific geographies. It hopes to ensure a more efficient model that powers training specific to the commercial opportunities, within each geography.

Marc notes that, from a funding perspective, Afrika Tikkun is building social impact bonds with Government and development agencies as its model, which leads to employment and saves government funds with social grants. There is, therefore, an investment case where the government will pay for such savings.

Afrika Tikkun will grow its future through strategic partnering relationships, with the private sector, Government departments, and other like-minded NGOs. “I believe that there is too much fragmentation in civil society, and to avoid duplication of unnecessary costs and ensure more effective outcomes, NGOs big and small need to collaborate more strategically and get rid of the ego that prevents integration,” Marc insists.

“On my own, my boundaries are defined, but dynamically together there are no boundaries and everything is possible.”

Lowering Unemployment with Afrika Tikkun Services (ATS)

Afrika Tikkun Services (ATS) is a Level 1 Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) advisory, recruitment, training, and placement company that seeks to lower unemployment through supporting youth.

It offers demand-driven specialized skills training in the retail, finance, manufacturing, ICT, and hospitality industries, in addition to its signature work-readiness course. These programs combine in-person facilitation, online training, and practical work experience.

The ATS’s career development journey with young people is built on the Employability Training Service. This training is one of the most important instruments for equipping young people with the essential skills they need to prepare for the working world, given the high rates of youth unemployment in South Africa.

The program’s main goal is to assist young people without jobs from underserved neighborhoods to get ready for, access, and continue their education after matriculation. It was created to provide applicants with the conceptual framework and linguistic tools necessary to advance their professional behavioral competencies.

These comprise intrinsically-motivated fundamental skills, self-mastery, and professional competencies. Companies who sponsor this program will benefit from the development of South Africa’s youth and can use their investment to satisfy SED/CSI/CSR requirements set forth by the B-BBEE regulations.

Training and development take place for private sector clients who will see the benefits of investing in the future workforce, which should impact youth unemployment materially. The corporate clients of ATS are assured that their assistance is enabling youth to make their own decisions about their futures while also receiving B-BBEE benefits.

Afrika Tikkun’s Youth Employment Service (YES) aims to create one million work opportunities for unemployed black youth in South Africa. It was started to improve the lives of these young people while also assisting the expansion of the enterprises in which they are employed.

The YES placements directly relate to ATS’s mission to economically empower youth from ages 18 to 34 years. Businesses can increase their B-BBEE level by up to two levels by taking part in YES. Afrika Tikkun assists companies interested in the YES Program with recruitment, assessments, onboarding, induction, work readiness training, host placements, candidate management, and reporting as one of their implementation partners.

Afrika Tikkun Trust and Investment is a B-BBEE Level 2 private equity fund that seeks to invest in businesses that support the Tikkun ethos of youth empowerment, environmental sustainability, social impact, and good corporate governance. It works alongside major banking and institutional investors to originate and structure investment opportunities that meet global ESG principles.

“Getting kids into jobs they are well suited for requires an investment over time that provides a seamless transition from infancy to career,” Marc observes. “We have created thousands of Alumni with good values, and have secured more job placements than the average company,”

“To give, to love, to live.”

How Smile Foundation Is Helping Overcome Shame and Stigma

The Smile Foundation is regarded as an integral service provider within the state medical fraternity, supporting not only patients but also providing skills training to surgeons and nurses, provision of equipment, and creating international linkages.

Marc explains that Smile Foundation’s vision for the future is to grow its outreach to communities where children with facial deformities are still hidden due to community shame. By offering a solution, community attitudes invariably change toward the families who have disfigured children.

In addition, Smile Foundation is bringing new technologies into the hospital environment to psychologically ameliorate the trauma that children experience when going in for surgery. The introduction of tactile sensory rooms which are designed to calm children before surgery is one such program.

The Smile Foundation will also be partnering with other NGOs so that when a child is in hospital for any period, they can access education online.

The industry watchdog, Trilogue, which monitors the performance of NGOs and NPOs, reported that Afrika Tikkun was voted the Number 1 NGO by both donors and its peers. Smile Foundation has equally ranked in the top 3 performing NPOs over the last three years.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  – Winston Churchill

Leading With Personal Recognition, In-House Rewards, And Sharing of Strategy

In addition to being very active in the world of philanthropy and social responsibility, Marc is also an active sportsman, wildlife enthusiast, and family man. As the oldest grandson in the third generation, Marc’s family, which has been in a leadership role in community and commerce, is one of the driving forces in his life.

In addition, service leadership has always been a motivator in response to the gratitude that he feels for his abundant life. His Mandela partnership with the formation of Smile Foundation is another source of inspiration.

In terms of the challenges and roadblocks that he overcame, Marc recalls that one of them was proving his own identity against the background of a very successful father, who was a controller. Another challenge that he overcame was proving his authenticity and integrity as a white man in the field of developing black youth, where there was no room for ego, as that proves unproductive.

Marc shares one of the most valuable lessons he learned in his professional journey, which was to learn to listen to all stakeholders, from cleaners to board members. His definition of success is in creating an integrated team, based passionately on an agreed objective and outcome (coordinated skills that support one another) and motivating outcomes that benefit others more than just individuals and the gift of giving.

“The way I motivate my teams is to ensure that they are paid a fair market wage, but are rewarded through public profiling, and with our successors and their involvement in this way, our staff develop a level of respect and pride within their communities,” he observes. “Personal recognition, in-house rewards, and sharing of strategy with those who have to implement are some of the leadership models I engage.”