Some journeys start with a packed car, a thermos of coffee, and a clear route to a definite end in sight.

Others, start tentatively, with a series of seemingly unconnected waypoints to an unimagined destination. And it is only in hindsight, that one realises that each way point served to prepare and provide the traveller with the necessary knowledge, skills and empathy, for the work ahead.

Each way point on my journey has been a stepping stone. While they might appear to be unconnected, the next step only occurred because of the one before it, and each continues to influence my work.

I’m Ashling McCarthy: anthropologist, creative, writer, and social change maker and facilitator.

Studying as an anthropologist laid the foundation for my work in the field of social development. I learnt that there is beauty in diversity, that everyone has something to contribute – regardless of class, race, religion, education level, etc. And because of this,  everyone should be given to the opportunity to participate in solving problems that directly affect them.

Over this nearly twenty-year journey, I have found three areas that create the perfect meeting place for human-centred design and thinking to take place:



I am a social development consultant who combines anthropology, creativity, and writing to the social development sector.

I enjoy working on projects specifically aimed at bringing about social change in South Africa. Real change is possible, but requires a transformation in thinking, and more importantly, requires a human-centred approach. This means meaningfully engaging with the people we serve, understanding their contexts, wants and needs, and allowing them to participate in the process of finding solutions to the challenges they experience. Because the brain that holds the problem, most often holds the solution.

Additionally, I believe painting is a way to encourage conversation and collaboration to improve the lives of people through social upliftment projects.


Books and publications





  • 2017: Design Thinking for Innovation | Coursera online studies
  • 2015: Copy-editing and Proofreading | Writers College online studies
  • 2013: Creative Writing | Get Smarter – Random House/Struick Publishing
  • 2009: MSc, Anthropology | University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • 2002: Craft and Product Development in rural Zululand | MAPP SETA / CREATE SA
  • 1999: Digital Graphic Design | Mediatek


Client list


A sample of clients worked with between 2012 and 2019:

  • Container World |Documenting Corporate Social Responsibility projects
  • The Development Bank of South Africa | Documenting success stories
  • Centre of Advanced Science and Mathematics Education | Annual Report 2017 and 2018 (pending release)
  • iSimangaliso Wetlands Park | Craft and product development
  • South African Property Owners Association |Research and writing of coffee table book
  • DNA Economics for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation | Impact evaluation
  • Umhlanga UIP | Research paper on social action and inclusion
  • Save the Children South Africa and OXFAM | Success Stories
  • The Development House for USAID Financial Sector Program and CSIR | Finance manual for small business owners, and traders
  • NACOSA | National research project – rapid assessment
  • Tulane University (United States) | National research project – Supporting children in bereavement
  • TRIAS South Africa |Research – baseline assessment of business chambers
  • Ebenezer Designs for the eThekwini Municipality | Policy and strategy for vulnerable groups; Maths, science and technology education
  • Lindsey Napier Architects for eThekwini Municipality | Cultural and Creative Industries Draft Policy)
  • Gabrielle Wills – State of Engagement, for the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation & Inanda Seminary School | Identify drivers of success




  • 2019: The Paul Harris Fellow Award in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.


Corporate Social Responsibility


I Learn to Live – Ngifundela Ukuphila

I founded I Learn to Live – Ngifundela Ukuphila, an education and social capital development NPO, in 2010. The organisation provides education opportunities to school children and youth in rural Zululand. Providing rural children and youth with opportunities to create a meaningful life, in which they contribute towards their community and society at large, is a key focus on the organisation.

I play a management role, working with a small team to deliver programmes and services onsite, as well as to local primary schools.

NPO: 083 351 | PBO: 90036798 | SED: 100% | BEE: 100% | Sector: Education