Inside Ubuntu's rebranding roll-out

Ubuntu Education Fund is now known as Ubuntu Pathways. Photo from Twitter

MANILA — Most organizations rebrand to change their image, or to reflect a shift in focus or approach. For Ubuntu Education Fund, however, the opposite reason is prompting an edit: The name had fallen behind the NGO’s evolution.

When Ubuntu Education Fund was founded in 1999, its founders were focused primarily on providing educational opportunities to orphaned and vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In the years since, however, the nonprofit has become known for its “cradle to career” model of development, providing education through to university, while integrating interventions to address health, psychosocial, and home needs.

Its name had not exactly “caught up” with that evolution, said Jordan Levy, the nonprofit’s managing director and external relations officer. And the mismatch meant that community members and donors sometimes didn’t grasp the breadth of its work.

“Ubuntu Education Fund sometimes doesn’t give that picture right away,” he told Devex. “As somebody personally who sells the organization quite often, often with the donor you don’t get that long to describe what you do. So you want your name to really put you in a good position where right off the bat [it can] explain what you do and the ethos of what you do.”

Ubuntu knew it needed to revisit its branding and invested significant time in rethinking it. The organization has also established quite a following in its 18 years of operation, so changing the name wasn’t as easy as it might be for a newer organization. It needed to consider its stakeholders as well.

The opportunity came when a donor agreed to help fund its plans to revamp its website to make it “a little more friendly” both to those browsing it online and mobile phone users.

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“We decided, OK, if we’re gonna go through the process of revamping the whole website, now would be a good time to make that name change if we were ever going to do it,” Levy said.

What took place next was a painstaking process that involved multiple consultations with the organization’s key stakeholders, external and internal; careful considerations of the different elements of the brand — from the name, logo, tagline, and its whole visual representation down to the messaging around it; as well as planning on the rollout.

“Often people will just see your logo and your name, or something very simple about you, and you want to make sure that the first visual impression comes across well and truly represents your brand,” Levy said.

The new Ubuntu

After months of deliberating on its brand, in early October the organization finally launched Ubuntu Pathways, with a clean, crisp logo that Levy said is reflective of the organization’s development approach as well as a visual representation of the organization’s center in Port Elizabeth.

“We have the Ubuntu center in the center of the community in Port Elizabeth in South Africa … and the architect who helped build the center always talked about the way that the center [operates] is almost part of a pathway where young people and families come through. It’s a place you stop to gain academic services, psychosocial and health services. You’re on your pathway somewhere. You’re taking this journey from cradle to career. And Ubuntu is there to help you along your way, along this pathway,” he said.

“We liked it also because we saw different pathways within it,” he added. “We really believe that there’s no cookie-cutter solution. We’re all about individualized pathways.”

They also carried over their famous tagline: “cradle to career”.

Levy said retaining Ubuntu in the name was an obvious choice. They knew it was always going to be part of the organization, as the term fittingly reflects who they are and what they hope to accomplish. Ubuntu describes the concept of humanity, relating to others in the community.

“Ubuntu is a powerful concept in terms of uniting humans, and that was always the essence of what this organization is about — a community coming together to take care of their most vulnerable, and a model that could be looked at as a great way to take care of the vulnerable children and their families,” Levy said.

The decision is also strategic and practical. Ubuntu itself already has name recognition, and many are familiar with the organization. The last thing they want to do, Levy said, is cause confusion.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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