About us


Founding and funding history

The Zenex Foundation was born out of the vision of its parent company Esso Oil, later known as Zenex Oil.

When Esso Oil disinvested from South Africa in 1987, it advanced a loan to a Trust with the provision that the Trust had to allocate 5% of its profits to support skills development and education in South Africa.

The Trust paid back the loan by 1994 and the assets of Zenex Oil were sold. The proceeds of the sale led to the creation of an endowment fund registered in Jersey, UK as the Zenex 1995 Trust. Interest generated from this investment helps fund the Zenex Foundation, which was established by the Trust in 1995 as an independent donor organisation focusing on education.

More specifically, the Foundation’s focus was on creating a mathematically and scientifically literate society in order to improve the quality of life in South Africa.

From it’s inception, the work of the Zenex Foundation has been closely aligned with the national imperatives of:

  • supporting previously disadvantaged learners;
  • providing the necessary resources for teaching Mathematics, Science and language; and
  • promoting the professional development of Mathematics, Science and Language teachers in line with the National Framework on teacher education.


Improving access: 1995 - 2005

By the late 1990s, the Zenex Foundation was well established as an independent grant-making organisation with wide-ranging support for educational programmes covering, inter alia:

  • educational infrastructure (school buildings and community facilities);
  • human resources (career guidance, adult basic education, management training and teacher in-service education and training);
  • educational resources (books, study materials, teaching aids, equipment and furniture); and
  • tertiary institutions (academic support and outreach programmes).

During the 1995 – 2005 era, the Foundation gave preference to providing once-off funding to year-long projects – while prioritising monitoring and evaluation.

Innovating, testing for improved quality: 2006 – 2013

During this period the Zenex Foundation reduced its emphasis on physical infrastructure as Government increasingly supported this aspect of education on a more equitable basis, and shifted focus to human resource development in schools.

Recognising the persistent Mathematics, Science and Language needs in schools, the Strategy aimed to achieve improved learner performance in the Foundation, Intermediate and FET Phases, under four programmatic areas, namely:

  • the Learner Support Programme;
  • the Teacher Development Programme;
  • the School Development Programme, and
  • the Research and Development Programme.

These four programmes were supported by rigorous evaluation in order to develop a ‘learning culture’ within the Zenex Foundation’s operations, supplementing internal experience with independent evaluations of its most extensive or significant projects.

In terms of grant-making, the Foundation shifted its approach to focus on impact and provide longer-term support to fewer, but larger projects.

Partnerships for systemic programmes: 2014 – 2018

Shifting trends in education and the Zenex Foundation’s maturing role in South African grant-making has prompted the Foundation to adopt a new five-year strategy for 2014 – 2018. This five-year strategy responds to an education landscape characterised by an increased appetite for collaboration across all stakeholder groups, and a systemic and integrated approach to improving the quality of education.

The Foundation has identified the following areas to contribute to the further strengthening of Mathematics, Science and Language education in South Africa by 2018:

  • increased partnerships with Government and working in multi-stakeholder initiatives, and typically on large scale projects through the Systemic Programme;
  • testing new models of teaching and learning in strategic areas of literacy and numeracy, and learner support in Mathematics, Science and English; implemented at a small scale to explore the causal mechanisms and learn from these with the intention of uptake at wider scale. This is done through the Schools Programme;
  • using research to build better understanding of teaching and learning in specific areas of Mathematics, Science and Language through the Research & Development Programme;
  • Strengthening individual and institutional capacity in the education and monitoring and evaluation fields in support of educational interventions in Mathematics, Science and Language through the Sector Strengthening Programme.

The new strategy is informed by the literature on ‘what works’, Zenex’s evidence (from commissioned research, evaluations and monitoring) as well as the experiences of other donors. The Strategy balances the Foundation’s long and short term imperatives to maximise its impact on the education sector. It combines innovative work in Mathematics, Science and language with systemic efforts underpinned by research and evaluation activity.

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