Social Change
Photo Credit: Supplied

Ashling McCarthy uses her creativity to make social change. Through her art and NPO, she’s helping create opportunities in tech and beyond, for underserved communities in Zululand!


KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (29 September 2023) — Like a massive blank canvas yet to be filled, social change can look daunting. Where do we begin and how do we know if we’re doing enough? As the artist’s adage goes, sometimes it is as simple as trusting the process. More importantly, it can be as simple as starting.

A broad term like social change often requires broad strokes and a refined vision. For Durban-based creative Ashling McCarthy, her vision for social change narrowed down to positively impacting and facilitating educational opportunities in rural Zululand. The strokes to create this vision required creativity and commitment, both of which Ashling has great talent in.

As a graphic designer-turned-social anthropologist, Ashling combines her art and academic insight to spur the change textbooks talk about.

After time in the craft development sector where she lived and worked with rural women of craft, she became inspired to get her master’s in social anthropology which greatly changed the course of her life.

“It gave me a better understanding of the complexities and inequalities prevalent in South African society,” she adds.

She now runs I Learn to Live — Ngifundela Ukuphila, an education non-profit based in Zululand.

“It provides children and youth with opportunities to expand their horizons, through relevant and creative programmes, encouraging problem-solving and personal accountability. This includes coding, robotics and music,” she explains.

Recently, I Learn to Live — Ngifundela Ukuphila celebrated their team winning the Campus INOV8 Hacka/MakerThon (a tech competition held in Johannesburg), which goes to show what happens when passion and social change join forces.

She uses proceeds from her works to channel back into Ngifundela Ukuphila, like ‘First Flight’ (a piece that captures children watching a drone take off for the first time). These funds support the robotics and coding programme.

Then there is her Tanzanian Story of Dance, inspired after she watched a YouTube of kids performing a dance to Master KG and Nomcebo’s song, Jerusalema.

She asked to paint them, and set up a similar channel of fundraising so proceeds could help them with a camera fund.

“I believe art is a powerful medium to convey social change messaging,” she shares. A step further (as her path reveals) is that it is also a powerful medium of action.

When she’s not painting, Ashling writes to impact, with her Poacher’s Moon Crime series (set in Zululand) another sector of social awareness she has spotlighted.

Sources: Ashling McCarthy
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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