Zimele was launched in 2007 by South African Rosetta Stander. She realised that despite the promise of a newly democratic South Africa in 1994, a strong legacy of apartheid remained throughout the country, and there was still much work to be done. A fresh approach was needed as decades of traditional foreign aid had largely failed  to lift many out of poverty.

Her idea of reform borrowed from a highly successful scheme in India, which focused on mobilising individuals into groups where they could work collectively to make positive changes in their communities. Given that women were often the most marginalised members of society, lacking the same educational and employment opportunities as men, it was decided that they would be the focus of Zimele’s work. These women were not viewed as victims, however, but as individuals filled with potential that could be true drivers of social change. The model has proved hugely successful.

Zimele UK trustees Rebecca Hands and Tom Ward-Jackson were living in South Africa when the Zimele project was born and have been involved from the start. They encouraged Rosetta to pursue her idea and formed Zimele UK on their return to the UK.