At SAYes we aim to inspire and inform leaders of social change.

As with many organisations in the developmental sector we want to understand how best to improve a large number of lives using the most efficient and effective levers for change. In this respect the most common approach is usually some combination of information, opportunities and resources. The challenge though, is that by themselves these things do not typically inspire social change.

Consider this for a moment in the context of your own life.  Is access to a gym the best explanation for the state of your exercise routine? Is knowledge about nutrition the best explanation for your choice mid-morning snack? Change is hard, even when we are conscious of and enthusiastic about the process.

At SAYes we think of social change as a relationship-driven process. In other words we think that whatever the nature of an intervention – exercise, healthy eating, school attendance, job readiness, inclusiveness, gender equality – impact can be vastly improved if the intervention is delivered within the context of a supportive and strategic relationship. Transition Mentors leverage the power of social motivation and strategic planning to help us do good better.

The theory of change for all programmes run on the Transition to Independent Living (TIL) platform is fundamentally social motivation. It is the motivation and strategic direction created through the mentoring relationship that converts information, opportunities and resources into successful and fulfilling transitions.

We are continually testing and refining our theory of change as well as our logic model using the best methods available.


We believe social motivation is a powerful causal input for behaviour and perspective change, especially in settings where there is very high social inequality. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. This is not just in terms of wealth, but also in terms of the differences in networks of introduction and opportunity (social capital) that are available to different groups of people. We believe these differences affect behaviour such as risk-taking/impulsivity/discounting through many different causal routes, including importantly, the motivated response to specific threats and opportunities affecting one’s relative position in a social hierarchy.


Conditions of social inequality adversely impact goal setting/attainment and psychosocial functioning among young people, especially during times of rapid transition. We design, deliver and support evidence-based interventions for transition-age youth targeting improvements in independence (informed choices) and well-being (healthy practices). All interventions are delivered on a mentoring transition platform, levering the power of social motivation to improve impact.


Alongside our academic partners, we enlist the support of Child & Youth Care Centres to collect evaluation data. This has allowed us to begin to populate a national database on youth outcomes, using standard tools/measures relevant to both practitioners and social scientists. Enquiries about our scientific evaluation toolkit may be directed to Dr. Andrew Dellis and/or Prof. John Pinkerton. 

Evaluation is not only about speaking to the programme and scientific community. It is also about providing volunteers with tangible feedback on the impact they are making. We provide volunteers with independent and qualified ratings on the impact of their mentoring (whilst maintaining confidentially for mentees). Enquiries about our mentor feedback  toolkit may be directed to Dr. Andrew Dellis and/or Prof. John Pinkerton. 


The gold standard of evaluation is a randomized control trial (RCT). SAYes is working in partnership with academics in the UK and Ireland to design and carry out a multisite RCT on the impact of youth mentoring for young people in care.

In addition we have made available several white papers outlining research questions directly relevant to our work. If you are interested in funding, collaborating and/or tasking/supervising graduate students on any of these protocols please make enquiries to Dr. Andrew Dellis.


We regularly engage with the scientific community as well as with our peers in the development sector to discuss, debate and improve our thinking and practice. Good explanations thrive on critical scrutiny.


What’s in the Numbers? Child Welfare Statistics and the Children (NI) Order

Hayes, D. & Pinkerton, J. 04 Jul 2016 In : Child Care in Practice. 17 pp., 1209904.

Home on a care order: who the children are and what the care order is for

Fargas, M., McSherry, D., Pinkerton, J. & Kelly, G. 07 Jun 2016 In : Child and Family Social Work. 9 pp.


Internationalising the Social Work Curriculum: A Working Toolkit for Higher Education Facilities

Anand, J. C. A., Das, C., Campbell, A., Davidson, G., Dill, K., Duffy, J., Hayes, D., Montgomery, L. & Pinkerton, J. 15 Oct 2015 The Higher Education Academy. 60 pp.

The experiences of LGBTQ young people in the care system in Northern Ireland

Carr, N. & Pinkerton, J. 18 Mar 2015 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Health Inequalities. Policy Press, Vol. Bristol


At Home in Care: Children living with birth parents on a Care Order

Fargas Malet, M., McSherry, D., Pinkerton, J. & Kelly, G. 12 Nov 2014 Belfast: Queen’s University Belfast. 82 pp.

A Review of Literature on Disabled Care Leavers and Care Leavers with Mental Health Needs

Kelly, B., McShane, T., Davidson, G. & Pinkerton, J. 2014 Queen’s University Belfast.

Care Leavers’ Experiences of Transition and Turning Points: Findings from a Biographical Narrative Study

Pinkerton, J. & Rooney, C. 2014 In : Social Work and Society. Vol 12, No.1, 12 pp.