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UBUNTU is the glue: A unifying philosophy


It's the fall of 2020. The covid-19 pandemic is raging. Forced isolation to control the spread of the virus is the norm. Professionals in the entire Cooperative Extension system are working hard to figure out how to serve communities across the nation in new ways. One of our internal support efforts for Extension professionals focused on the nineteen 1890 institutions.

Toward the end of a Zoom meeting with the 1890 Extension Leadership Academy design team, one of the team members asked if I'd heard of Ubuntu. Indicating it wasn't something I was aware of she encouraged me to look it up. Before leaving the meeting she said it was something to study but more importantly to become. Her "mic drop" powered my intrigue to find out more.


It's an African social philosophy focusing on community, human relationships, and our interconnectedness. The concept comes from a Zulu phrase that means "I am because we are". This powerful philosophy highlights that our identity and well-being are interconnected to all members of a community.

It's the belief that each of us has our own worth, our own dignity, that is bound to our ability to contribute to any community. The philosophy emphasizes sharing, cooperation, and collaboration to achieve common goals which support collective well-being.

Key Principles

  • We all belong to a global community
  • We all have a responsibility for community well-being
  • We should respect all human experiences as inherently diverse
  • We have the capacity to treat others with kindness, and understanding through the display of empathy and compassion
  • We should focus on healing and reconciliation over punishment through forgiveness in restorative justice

Wow! This was it! Quickly realized she had given me much more than a social philosophy, she had given me a gift! It's what we needed as the cornerstone of the 1890 Extension Leadership Academy. It's what we needed to help us through the loneliness of the pandemic. It's what we needed to come together as Extension professionals.

“We believe that a person is a person through other persons. That my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore, you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"I can't be all I can be unless you are all you can be. I can never be threatened by you, because the better you are the better I am."
-Glenn "Doc" Rivers, NBA Head Coach

To live Ubuntu we have to put our hearts on the line. We have to sacrifice for each other. Living Ubuntu helps make us better people and better teammates. It teaches us how to be resilient and compassionate. Live Ubuntu, it is the glue!

*Thank you, Ms. Matthews (Lincoln University) for your gift and for all you do to influence Ubuntu across our nation!

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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