Focus Area

Early Security and Safety

Innovation Lever

Existing Product, Platform or Service


Proof of Concept



Founded in 1999, Ububele is a non-government organisation (NGO) focused on improving the emotional development and wellbeing of children under the age of 7. They are based in Gauteng just outside the township of Alexandra where the majority of their work takes place. Ububele’s work includes developing models of community-based psychological care and support for children; developing and running training programmes; conducting research; advocating for the right to child mental health care; and providing psychotherapy services to residents of Alexandra.

The Problem

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed significant additional strain on already burdened South African households. In poor and densely populated areas such as Alexandra, thousands of South Africa’s most vulnerable families are confined in large numbers to small informal houses. Not being able to adequately practice physical distancing and living with food insecurity are some of the factors causing families a significant amount of stress.

It is well researched that high levels of prolonged stress (termed toxic stress in academic literature), coupled with low levels of social contact (opportunities to connect with your social support system), negatively impacts on individual mental health and on the quality of family relationships. High levels of stress lead to increased tension and conflict in adult relationships, as well as parent-child relationships. In extreme cases, toxic stress both results in and is caused by instances of gender-based violence, child abuse and child neglect. The research is particularly unequivocal on the impact of toxic stress levels on young infants. Exposure to toxic stress (consistent and high levels of stress) in the first 1000 days of life (conception to 2 years) has a catastrophic impact on the infant brain.

The Response

Ububele’s ‘usual’ support is the development and implementation of the “Ububele First 1000 Days Basket of Services” which aims to enhance the caregiving environment (the relational experiences during an infant’s first 1000 days of life), for infants being raised in Alexandra Township and beyond.

All services within the Ububele First 1000 Days Basket of Services are relationship-building services and are (usually) made available at various easily-accessible sites including Primary Health Care Clinics (PHCs) and in homes around Alexandra Township.

Due to the SA nationwide lockdown (stay-at-home order), a number of the elements forming part of their ‘usual solution’ were rendered no longer viable (e.g., clinic and home visits.)

The Innovation Edge rapid response funding helped Ububele deliver their adapted solution to focus on accessing and supporting both healthcare workers and caregivers in new ways, including:

  • Using WhatsApp to help healthcare workers refer cases
    As a replacement for their ‘usual’ in-person system, Ububele’s team of trained psychologists are making use of WhatsApp to communicate with healthcare workers in the clinics and hospitals they work in within Alexandra. Healthcare workers use WhatsApp to refer pregnant mothers and mothers of children under the age of 2, who are in need of Ububele’s psychosocial support service. In addition to using WhatsApp as a referral mechanism, Ububele has started using the WhatsApp platform to offer advice and training to healthcare workers on ways in which to effectively identify and uncover caregiver support needs.
  • Using digital and telephonic channels to engage with the community and share information on parenting, mental health, and infant development in situations of extreme stress
    At the start of lockdown, Ububele started sending daily psychoeducational SMS’s to their database of 500 pregnant mothers or mothers with young infants. These psychoeducational messages, developed by trained psychologists on their team, include content relevant to COVID-19, strategies for calming down when stressed, information about how to promote healthy infant development in this time, information about hotlines for food parcels/gender-based violence support lines, etc.

This funding helps them to continue to run this service; to add WhatsApp and Facebook as additional communication channels; and to actively promote the service to more mothers in a bid to continue to grow their database.

Why We Invested

Ububele has a deeply committed and qualified team with a proven track record of delivering community-based psychological care and support service to the most vulnerable in our society. Through supporting this intervention Innovation Edge will enable immediate amplification of Ububele’s existing long-standing model and contribute to the overall growth and sustainability of the organisation in the medium to long-term. Their team had responded swiftly to the needs of their beneficiaries when the crisis hit and now see the opportunity to reimagine, redefine and adapt their operational model for the ‘new normal’.

The Project Team

Katharine Frost, Executive Director: Educational Psychologist (University of the Witwatersrand). Overall responsibility for the operational and clinical work at Ububele. Leading specialist in Parent Infant Psychotherapy.

Costan Rungano, Operations Director: BCom (Hons) Accounting (National University of Science & Technology). An experienced financial manager, who also worked in education for 5 years.

Nicki Dawson, Umdlezane Parent-infant Programme Manager: Counselling Psychologist (University of the Witwatersrand), holder of a Masters in Community-Based Counselling Psychology and is currently completing her PhD. She has 9 years experience working with Parent Infant Psychotherapy programs within the Alexandra community and has been with Ububele since 2012. She is a registered psychologist with the HPCSA.