Garth C. Japhet

Year founded: 
South Africa


Heartlines seeks to use the power of mass media and new technologies to bring about positive social change on a mass scale.

Focus: HIV/AIDS, Civic Participation, Communications/Media, Education, Enterprise Development, Health
Geographic Area of Impact: South Africa
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 11 million (2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 4 million (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 10%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

As a physician working in Soweto in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Garth Japhet became increasingly frustrated that his medical skills were doing little to improve the health and quality of life of his patients in poverty stricken townships. Lack of information on issues surrounding health and poverty was the main "disease". Existing educational programmes had little effect because they did not reach enough people, and the information was delivered in a manner not conducive to learning; so Japhet turned to the media. In South Africa radio reaches 98% of the population, television 76% and print media 46%. By making education entertaining, he believed knowledge would be retained and debate stimulated.

Innovation and Activities
Heartlines uses multimedia venues to enhance debate, discussion and action on shared core values, including responsibility, forgiveness, perseverance, self-control, honesty and compassion. Through these values, Heartlines helps to impact core societal issues such as HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality and violence against women, as well as complex developmental issues like land rights and access to banking services.

Recognizing that television, radio, music, theatre and print reach different audiences and can serve to reinforce messages, Japhet first opted for a multimedia approach. The second focus was quality; programming had to attract large audiences with compelling plots and characters. Third, rather than a documentary or talk show, he chose to create a drama, which is the most popular form of television in Africa and one of the best ways to deal with social issues. Finally, he decided to create a popular social brand that would provide credibility to all initiatives with which it was associated.

Heartlines has produced eight international award-winning films for prime time television, which spearheaded a national conversation on the country’s major social issues. Each film focused on a different value and was introduced by Nelson Mandela. The organization has currently embarked on a new strategy of web and cell phone-based social networking called “forgood”, that enables people to connect with each other based on location and interests, in an effort to make a difference in their communities. It is supported by content and location data, and includes the use of mass media and the mobilization of faith-based organizations and schools.

The Entrepreneur
Garth Japhet was brought up in South Africa during apartheid. Committed to making a difference in the development of better health facilities for his fellow citizens, he pursued a career in medicine. He realized, however, that to change the environment in South Africa he would have to create an interesting access to knowledge in this particular field. This idea crystallized into Soul City, a multimedia "edutainment" NGO he founded in 1992, which examines health and development issues through prime time drama. This now reaches 45 million people across 12 countries and has 110,000 children in children’s clubs. Soul City is considered to be one of the world’s leading examples of social change communication. Japhet modelled Heartlines on the success of Soul City. He became a Senior Ashoka Fellow in 2008.