Waves for Change – Surf Therapy for Violent Communities

Research & Impact

Demonstrating effectiveness is perhaps one of the most important, and difficult, challenges facing nonprofit organizations (Forbes, 1998; Letts, Ryan, & Grossman, 1999; Murray, 2005; Sowa, Selden, & Sandfort, 2004). A common theme emerging from research on nonprofit evaluation is that a nuanced, multidimensional approach is more appropriate than a one-size-fits-all approach.

For these reasons Waves for Change is committed to frequent assessment and analysis which enables us to continually learn and improve the program for child beneficiaries and coaches. Internal tracking helps us understand progress of participants from their perspective as well as from discussions with their coaches, parents, and teachers. Waves for Change also collaborates with independent researchers to document evidence of the program’s effectiveness. Recent studies show benefits across the community.

Note: Since this article was published we’ve also published our Impact Report for 2016.  The report contains details of 2016, which has been a very exciting and productive year for Waves for Change.

This year, we have collected survey, interview and observational data from our child participants, parents, teachers and coaches. Here are some preliminary results:

2015 Formative Evaluations
Last year, evaluations were conducted in partnership with the Monitoring and Evaluation Master’s Degree Programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The aim of these were

  1. To assess the plausibility of the Waves for Change model (theory of change) and
  2. To highlight areas on which to improve.

Both evaluations deemed the programme theory to be plausible:

“The W4C model is feasible and suitably targeted. If delivered as intended it should lead to improvements in beneficiary well-being”

Areas were highlighted on which W4C could improve (read full report)


  • More than three-fold increase in female participation numbers from 24 (in 2015) to 84 (in 2016). In fact 30% of our beneficiaries are now female.
  • Our target was for 75% of our beneficiaries to be exposed to 75% of the curriculum. So far (Aug 2016) 85% have been exposed to at least 75%.
  • We have also improved our diversity, monitoring capacity and provide better support to our coaches.

2015 Randomized Controlled Trial Highlights (Read full report)
W4C participants were compared to a control group of peers from the same classes that were not participants in W4C (children placed on a wait list). Data are collected prior to the program start and after 6 months and a comparison shows what can be attributable to W4C.

  • Compared to a control group Waves for Change participants:
    • reduced fighting (63%)
    • reduced exposure to trauma (20%)
    • showed improved agency (26%)

2015 Child Participation Study
One of our staff members focused her PhD research to explore how children construct and assign meaning to the “self” within two urban communities of Cape Town in South Africa. Using a child participation methodological framework data were collected using Photovoice and community maps with 54 participants between the ages of 9 and 12. Feelings of safety, social connectedness, and children’s spaces were found to be central to the ways in which the participants constructed and assigned meaning to the “self.” The study provides implications for intervention programmes aimed at improving children’s well-being to be inclusive of activities aimed at improving children’s self-concept, including the construction of safe spaces for children to play, learn, and form meaningful relationships. Read the published study here.

Waves for Change commits to sharing research with partners and the public. In addition to providing transparency and accountability, we hope it encourages other organisations to use our evidence-based curriculum to reach those we cannot. In 2017, as part of our Ashoka Globalizer work, Waves for Change will host international surf NGO’s in Cape Town to exchange ideas and agree on common measures and goals.

Waves For Change Resources Library

AMAZA Magazine
AMAZA Magazine is the first surfing magazine developed specifically for the townships