The Positive Third Space

In our mentoring, KI creates a positive third space – a space away from the troubles of home and the stresses of work and school. Adapted from the sociological theories of Ray Oldenburg (1989) and others, Kwakha Indvodza has developed 10 characteristics of this space, which can be used by other NGOs, mentoring programmes or youth groups.

To read KI’s full publication on the Positive Third Space, click here

Kwakha Indvodza’s Positive Third Space

KI’s positive third space must:

  • Be created by people not placesDSC_0858

A positive third space can be made on the side of the road, around a fire or under a tree. The physical space, whilst an asset to aspire towards, is unnecessary. What is crucial, however, is the people who create the space. They must be positive male role models, enthusiastic, financially independent men and free from excessive bad habits. A variety of professions, ethnicity, backgrounds and views is ideal in democracy, destabilising stereotypes, exposing participants to a variety of ‘types’ of masculinity.


  • Be disassociated from the home and the school/workplace

The space must be distinct in its separation from the first (home) and second (school/workplace) space of a young man. In many southern African contexts, these spaces often are adult-centred, implement negative discipline, and reinforce the hegemonic views and practices of a patriarchal society.

  • Be a male-oriented spaceDSC_0595

The dynamic of any space, especially an adolescent one, changes significantly when it is mixed-gender, resulting in awkwardness, contests of dominance and the construction and re-enforcement of social taboo. In order for our emajaha to feel safe and comfortable enough to speak and act freely, this space must be male-orientated, if not male-only during more sensitive issues.

  • Be safe and free from threat

Similarly, in order to gain the trust of any vulnerable young man, and to encourage similar values, the space must be free from all types of threat or negativity, as these environments do not reinforce true teaching moments.

  • Be regular, reliable and carefully constructed

Vulnerable young men need structure to develop. They also take time to trust, and suffer disappointments severely, so the space must reflect these needs.

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  • Promote independent consequential-based decision making

Prescriptive education in adolescents is rarely effective and evidence suggests that imperative messages, however commonsensical, are often ignored, even by adults. Instead, the positive third space must encourage personal moral development, through a consideration of the possible consequences of an action or behaviour. This process encourages empowerment, self-awareness and a sense of accomplishment once a decision has been reached, making learning more effective and increasing the chances that a positive behaviour change will be adopted and maintained.

  • Be free from doctrine, be it religious, political or social

Doctrinal teaching denies self-reflection, the development of reason and a strong personal moral code. Kwakha Indvodza’s activities, therefore, do not actively insist on one doctrine over another but instead encourage a process of reasoned and personal reflection before reaching a conclusion.

  • Create a sense of ownership, achievement and responsibility

The space should foster a strong sense of ownership, identity and sense of affiliation amongst the emajaha, many of who do not experience these positive affirmations elsewhere.

  • Challenge patriarchal stereotypes and taboo.The 10 point plan against gender-based violence

Patriarchy, like all hegemonic social practices, relies on the belief in stereotypes and stereotypical behaviour and the circumvention of social taboos in remaining unchallenged. Young men use these role models in constructing their own identity. The third space must therefore be a space that works to disassemble these oppressive social practices.

  • Encourage ideologies of respect, dignity and honour, and the individual interpretation thereof.

These ideologies promote strong and lasting behaviour change, especially in adolescents and young men and especially when the participants are encouraged to interpret these ideals into their own words and situations.



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