This is a guest post from Partners for Possibility, a social enterprise that works with under-resourced schools in South Africa.
Of the approximately 25 000 schools in South Africa, 20 000 are grossly under-resourced and in need of assistance.
Many of these schools look like Nyavana Primary School (pictured) in the Xihoko Village in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Here, child-headed households, crippling poverty and high levels of adult illiteracy are common.
Children at schools like Nyavana are at risk of graduating from those deprived schools with an inferior education that does not prepare them for meaningful work and the ability to further their education. This is happening despite the South African government and the private sector spending inordinate amounts of money every year on education.
Educational reforms are not working and research has shown the lack of effective leadership in schools to be the main reason for this.
Against this background, and recognizing the wealth of leadership skills present in South Africa’s business sector, Partners for Possibility (PfP) was born. This innovative programme partners business leaders with the principals of struggling schools with the aim of capacitating the principals to turn their schools around.
The two leaders connect in an authentic way as they, together, strive to put the school at the center of its community. And, as the executives get their hands dirty in a world far removed from their comfort zones, they develop the skills and compassion required to manage in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
And so it was that Juliet Shilubane, Principal of Nyavana Primary, was partnered with Jan-Louis Pretorius, Director of agricultural company Groep 91. Jan-Louis became Juliet’s thinking partner and initially, it felt strange for Juliet to “have a white partner”. But as their relationship grew to deep mutual trust, Juliet felt empowered and learned to apply strategic planning, conflict management principles and many other skills in her school.
Reflecting on her initial expectation of receiving funding, she stresses that what she’s gained is much more valuable: “nobody will take those skills away from me”.Jan-Louis has also been transformed: “It has put my own privilege and responsibility into perspective and given me a purpose.”
Partners for Possibility is not a charity exercise but a service to the school and its community. The corporations that allow their executives to be involved are making a social investment of a special kind. It’s about shared value and about serving your stakeholders according to the tenets of good corporate citizenship and conscious capitalism.
It is also about impact: Over the last six years, close to 600 school communities have been touched, like Nyavana, by the re-ignited passion of their school principal. Participating schools report improved academic outcomes, greater cohesion among staff and management and greater community involvement, to name but a few.
The possible application of the principle in other areas is exciting. If it works in education, why shouldn’t it be effective in healthcare and local government, for example, too?
The programme crosses the traditional boundaries of race and culture in a nation-building exercise that tackles a major obstacle to growth and prosperity in the country. Above all, it provides an opportunity for active citizenship, for people to stand up and do something instead of staying on the stands and criticizing.
And as, one by one, those 20 000 schools become more functional and those children go into the world with a better chance of success, the rebuilding of the nation becomes possible.
For more information on Partners for Possibility, please visit pfp4sa.org.