November 14, 2016

Recognising the critical role of partnerships in education

On Wednesday, 19th October 2016 the Zenex Foundation hosted the “Conversations with Zenex Trustees”, a gathering of education stakeholders in Johannesburg, as a reflective conversation on partnerships and developments in education. Based on the Foundation’s experience over 21 years, it was an opportunity for stakeholders to engage the Zenex Foundation Trustees; acknowledge their long and dedicated service to the Foundation and meet new Trustees appointed to the Trust.

“Partnerships are the essence of how we do our work. What the Foundation brings to the table is funding and expertise developed over the years, and we essentially need partners to do the work that we want to do. The kinds of partnerships we’ve developed include with government because we are working in the education sector and the mandate to deliver sits with government. So government is the most important partner in the work that we do”, said Gail Campbell, Zenex Foundation CEO. “We also partner with education NGOs; schools, more specifically, the school management teams, teachers and learners in schools; other funders, and the research community”.

A highlight of the Foundation’s work is the development of a relationship with government over time. The Foundation has found a median where it can be seen as supporting rather than as competing. The gathering affirmed the Foundation’s positioning as a critical friend building a knowledge base to support government to develop education.

This was the point of departure of the keynote speaker, the Director-General in the Department of Basic Education, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, who reiterated the need for partnerships and business involvement to tackle the intractable challenges in education. He picked up on the call made for an active citizenry that will agitate for change in education, which elicited wide resonance among the guests.

Mr Mweli’s address drove home the interconnectedness between various issues in the country, more specifically between basic education and the conundrum of the call for free education in higher education. The revelation that 87% of public schools in the country are non-fee paying schools was a sobering fact. As such, he hastened to add that the challenge posed by the #feesmustfall campaign should have been anticipated by government and civil society equally. This topic was enriched by comments of the out-going Chair, Mr Sizwe Nxasana, in a recorded interview with Mr McKaiser. Mr Nxasana could not join the guests as he had to make representations at a meeting with the Department of Higher Education and Training on NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding. Listen to the recording here.

Changes in the Zenex Foundation Board

Mr MaLlele PeTje noted that “Governance in Zenex Foundation is vested within the Board of Trustees who are assisted by an Executive Committee for decision making. The Trustees provide strategic organisational direction, set the standards for efficiency and create enablers for stability and sustainability. Functional governance requires a good measure of capability and commitment. The Zenex Foundation Trust has, since inception, had a good mix of qualifications, skills, knowledge, experience and diversity. Amongst the Trustees are Chartered Accountants, bankers, investment managers, entrepreneurs, legal experts and education specialists. The Trustees have over 115 years of combined knowledge and institutional memory. All these bring much needed individual and collective strength to the Foundation. However, capability and commitment aren't sufficient in the exercise of leadership unless underpinned by transparency; credibility; integrity and accountability. These are mandatory requirements for leadership at all levels of organisations for proper governance and good professional practice”.

The engagement coincided with the implementation of numerous changes on the Board of the Foundation. Longstanding Trustee, business and civil society leader, Ms Thandi Orleyn, will now lead the organisation as Chairperson. Ms Orleyn took the reins from Mr Nxasana, who had Chaired the Board since inception of the Foundation as an independent Trust in 1995, and will remain a Trustee. The appointment as new Trustees as of October 2016, of Ms Sindi Mabaso-Koyana, a corporate leader and champion of transformation, and Mr Grant Barbour, a UK-based legal expert, adds to the financial and governance skills, and is expected to infuse new perspectives into the Foundation. Notwithstanding the changes, a unique feature of the Zenex Board is its stability, institutional memory and commitment to advancing mathematics, science and language education.

Reflections on Education

In a conversation facilitated by renowned social commentator and talk show host, Mr Eusebius McKaiser, a panel debated and shared their reflections on education in South Africa. Ms Orleyn, and Trustee Mr Michael Richardson raised critical issues on education. Professor Mary Metcalfe, as a respondent with extensive experience in education, added commentary on the issues raised. An energetic and insightful contribution from the education experts and service provider organisations added a dimension from the “coalface”.

The Trustees were at pains to emphasise that as an independent Foundation, it was important that the Foundation’s compass was one of integrity, aligned to the educational policies and constitutional imperatives of the country. The Zenex contribution to education, which extends beyond bringing funding to the table, to its expertise on education development and programme management informed by a history spanning 30 years in the sector was commended by speakers and guests alike. The Foundation’s ability to openly share lessons on what worked and did not in its programmes, in an effort to contribute to knowledge building in the sector, was particularly highlighted as a corollary of its independence.

The engagement made for an insightful and frank discussion of very pertinent education issues currently facing the country. In the journey ahead, the Foundation will continue to work closely with its partners to support education delivery, in recognition of the significance of partnerships in bringing the best of the disciplines that exist in the sector.

Mr McKaiser gave a fitting summary of the proceedings by noting the need for re-imagining civil society towards a paradigm shift to partnership.

See image gallery for some of the moments captured at the event.