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Could You Graduate From Harvard With Just a Windup Computer?

03/10/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

This article originally appeared at Fast Co Exist.

Jacob Lief is the Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund. His new book "I Am Because You Are" is a powerful story that captures his personal journey of building Ubuntu while also challenging the development sector to rethink how we invest in disadvantaged communities. It will be published by Rodale Inc on May 12th.

We construct a school in an impoverished, rural community, a place where hungry students crowd into a small building without electricity or running water to learn from a barely literate teacher. Few can read, even fewer canwrite. We then expect these same students, now equipped with a textbook and classroom, to graduate from high school, attend university, and lift their communities out of poverty. We are disappointed when this success is an exception rather than the rule; some of us even withdraw our support.

Yet, when it comes our own children's university acceptance, we will spend thousands of dollars on a seemingly endless number of expenses--tuition for private pre-schools, dozens of extra-curricular activities, tutors, summer camps, volunteer trips abroad, doctor appointments, and counselors.

This disconnect permeates every facet of my work within the nonprofit sector.

Take, for instance, a woman who refused to donate to a capital campaign that my South African organization, Ubuntu Education Fund, launched in 2006. We had outgrown our current space in Port Elizabeth's townships and wanted to build a $7 million headquarters, containing a pediatric clinic, counseling spaces, classrooms, a theater, and gardens. She questioned our plans, asking me, "How dare you spend so much money on one community when there is so much poverty in the world?" Yet, her own children attended The Dalton School, a $40,000-per-year private school with infrastructure far more expensive than the Ubuntu Centre.

A few years later, a major donor lowered his pledge, because he was concerned with Ubuntu's "high" cost per child (we spend an average $5,500 per client per year); just two months prior, he had thrown his son a$40,000 birthday party. Still another long-term supporter was infuriated that Ubuntu had "wasted money" on a pink graduation dress for a university student to wear on a day celebrating her years of resilience, hard work, and strength.

What frustrates me is not that we want to send our daughters to elite high schools or host lavish celebrations for our sons. I spoil my own kids rotten. Does my three-year-old need a five-foot tall stuffed giraffe or another Bob the Builder truck? No. Do I want him to get the best education that I can afford? Yes. Going to the end of the Earth for our children is a parental instinct that cuts across all social groups.

What does baffle me, however, is that we balk at the notion that children who live far below the poverty line would need the same investments as our own kids to lead healthy, prosperous lives.

Read the whole story at Fast Co Exist