Viewpoint: In conversation with education experts

Trialogue partners with Old Mutual and education experts, Prof Mary Metcalfe (MM), David Newby (DN) and Dr Allistair Witten (AW), in the curation of content featured in the school leadership and management section of the Trialogue Knowledge Hub. Here, they share their views on the complexities and needs of the education sector.



How has education progressed in democratic South Africa?

MM: There have been significant changes in the past two decades, including changes to policy frameworks and the curriculum. While we are not doing as well as we should be, international measures are beginning to show an improvement in learner performance.

AW: There have been some improvements in learner performance, but we need to focus more on how we can take successful improvements to scale, especially in schools that need it the most.

The range of challenges in education can seem overwhelming – from early childhood development (ECD) and literacy at foundation phase, to low take-up and pass rates for maths and science. How should corporates determine how to intervene, if the goal is to get more people into university?

MM: We can’t cherry-pick interventions to implement because we think they are interesting or important. We have to understand how they  t into the whole system and acknowledge the inevitable limitations of partial interventions. Getting students into universities should not be the only goal. We need to recognise that half of our young people leave school feeling rejected and like they don’t have a contribution to make. That’s the greatest threat to our country. We need to maintain and develop scarce skills in our country, but we also need to develop a complete framework of support from ECD level.

AW: We need a systemic view of what interventions are already being implemented and what else will be required to encourage collaboration in those areas. We also need to talk about what a continuum of improvement would look like and identify the incremental steps that are required for children to learn and develop. I refer to this as the ‘pathways of learning’. If we start from the early grades, what will this learning and developmental journey look like at every stage of the system? Where are the “Shift from creating isolated interventions to addressing systemic changes.” blockages that need to be addressed? These are important questions that take the contexts of living and learning into account.

Why is leadership important for ensuring the success of interventions at schools?

MM: School leadership and management is the most important complementary intervention that will sustain other initiatives in schools.

AW: Leadership is essential for the success and sustainability of any initiative that aims to improve learning outcomes. Without getting the school leadership and management team to create the enabling conditions that will optimise the effects of an intervention, the likelihood of sustaining those effects is minimal.

What advice do you have for corporates wanting to invest in education?

DN: Companies need to align and work in partnership with provincial and district education departments to ensure sustainability of their interventions. Provinces have already identified schools that need support based on important criteria, such as the capacity of the school, school infrastructure, and the potential to grow.

AW: Corporates must spend time conducting due diligence in the education field. In too many instances, the urgency of the moment compels organisations to want to intervene quickly, rather than first grounding their interventions in research and practice, and connecting with others working in the field to deepen their understanding of the education landscape.

MM: Meaningful and lasting change needs the buy-in of all stakeholders and takes time to achieve. Corporates need to have clear theories of change and measurement indicators. Interventions in education must be embedded into the work of the Department of Basic Education, otherwise they are not sustainable. Even when success is not achieved, there are still valuable lessons that are important to reflect on.

DN: Corporates must contribute with humility and recognise the limitations of their contributions because, even if all the corporate contributions are combined, it still makes up a tiny fraction compared to what is invested from the national fiscus. Understand the national plan for education and find ways to support those goals and priorities. Shift from creating isolated interventions to addressing systemic changes. Continuously evaluate the long-term impact of interventions and what will happen when the funding is withdrawn.
Corporates should view the non-profit organisations (NPOs) that they support as research and development departments that are going to have successes and failures. Since NPOs have the time and expertise to develop new ideas and approaches, they should be adequately supported to test those ideas so that they can be carried out in an integrated way and real learning can take place. So, instead of seeking return on investment, companies can look at supporting NPOs in the same way that they would support innovation in their business – it’s a shift in mindset.

AW: I think the concept of moral purpose as the underpinning philosophy for improving the education system in our country is key. We need to have a national conversation about that, with corporates being an integral part of that dialogue. Improving the educational and life opportunities of our young people should be the moral imperative of our society. It should form the basis of an education compact that connects all stakeholders around this common goal, and it should override all political and economic interests and influences.

What do corporate donors want?

Fundraisers ask it, corporate social investment (CSI) practitioners hear it and, after several years of hosting annual conference sessions in which non-profit organisations (NPOs) pitch their projects to a panel of corporate donors, Trialogue has rounded up some of the most consistent feedback to begin to answer the question on what corporate donors look for in fundraising pitches.

Trialogue’s 2018 research into the state of CSI in South Africa found that 78% of companies’ CSI functions proactively identified the projects that they supported; alluding to the increasing ineffectiveness of cold calling and unsolicited emails requesting corporate support. In this competitive funding landscape NPOs must master the art of the ‘elevator pitch’ and find engaging ways to grab – and keep – the attention of potential donors.

 Provide a comprehensive overview and then elaborate

Think of the first three minutes of a pitch as the executive summary of a report. The introduction should include all the most important information: what the organisation does; the specific social problem that it will address; the proposed solution; internal expertise and experience that make the organisation well-suited to the challenge at hand; existing funding; what additional support is needed and how the organisation can add value to the company.

Once this information has been introduced, the rest of the time can be spent elaborating on and discussing the details of implementation; monitoring and evaluation; and the social and business benefits associated with funder support.

Enliven a simple presentation with clear, passionate and accurate information

Presentations should be constituted of graphics, images and minimal, plain text. Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” A corporate donor wants to be sure that an NPO understands the problem that it is attempting to address and one of the best ways to convince them of this is for the NPO to be able to explain the issue accurately, clearly, concisely and free of jargon. Bonus points for NPOs that get corporate donors to share in their passion for the cause.

However, it is also important that NPO representatives know their audience. If a corporate donor has been investing in a development sector for a long time, they probably have a fair understanding of the context and do not need too laboured an explanation thereof. Mthobeli Tengimfene, formerly of the Vodacom Foundation, agrees that contextualisation is important. “Don’t start by telling me about poverty in South Africa. You need to pitch it at the right level. Give me the technical information about your project specifically.” Angie Maloka of the MTN SA Foundation also highlights the importance of context: “What is the problem that you are dealing with in your area? What are the needs and how will you assist?”

Avoid overstating an issue or the impact of an organisational response. Provide qualitative and quantitative facts to back up claims and assertions, whether it be related to the size of the need or an NPO team’s ability to deliver.

Identify relevant corporate funders and highlight business benefits

More companies are looking to support initiatives that are related to their primary business. “You have to make your pitch innovative and talk to the core of my company,” advises Maloka. “I come from MTN, so technology is what we look at. How can we use technology as an enabler to help with cutting costs?”

Trialogue advocates for strategic CSI which has significant developmental impact, as well as a positive impact on the business, beyond reputation. When pitching for corporate support, NPOs are encouraged to underscore both the social and business value of the potential partnership.

Rather than requesting support from a random list of companies, take the time to research, understand and tailor a pitch to the core business and developmental agendas of the companies that are being approached. For example, a healthcare NPO should start by identifying healthcare companies with similar focus areas within the sector and an organisation in need of specific resources should engage companies that manufacture and/or supply them.

Present potential corporate donors with various options for providing support. In addition to financial support, consider requesting a loan, goods or products, services or pro bono support, volunteer time, training or mentorship. Explain how the requested resources can be leveraged for business bene t such as enhancing the company’s brand, opening up new markets, empowering corporate staff with new skills or strengthening the company’s relationship with community stakeholders.

Also try to learn about potential corporate donors’ Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) scorecard needs and pre-empt your organisation’s ability to provide skills development or enterprise development points, for example.

It is important for representatives from NPOs to value their own organisational insight and social contributions and to understand the power that they hold in the communities that they serve.

Shift power dynamics and shake off the nerves

Angela Abrahams of the Vodacom Foundation says of the imbalanced power dynamics that plague the development sector: “We need to start considering the power that we hold as corporates. This is not perceived power. Economic resources and access to networks and resources are real power. When seeking NPOs to support, corporates need to consider whether the models that they recommend enhance partnerships or encourage competition. The power dynamics between NPOs and corporates impact on development. NPOs also have power within their own communities...”

It is important for representatives from NPOs to value their own organisational insight and social contributions and to understand the power that they hold in the communities that they serve. This perspective will help to shift the skewed power dynamics that can make NPOs feel intimidated by corporate donors. It should also allow NPOs to say no to requests from corporates that diverge from their mission. Similarly, it is important for corporate donors to remember that, while they have the  financial resources, they lack the necessary developmental expertise and insight to ensure impactful social development. Recognition of interdependence from both parties can help to evolve donor-recipient relationships into more balanced, collaborative and meaningful partnerships.

Additional elements of a successful pitch

  • Detail the organisation’s vision, strategy and leadership and demonstrate established credibility that ranges from a track record of success, to sound governance, compliance and accountability. Newer NPOs that are still in the process of establishing their track records should provide proof of financial, infrastructural, leadership and capacity competence and sustainability.
  • Specify the ask. Include a summarised budget in the presentation and a detailed budget breakdown in the supporting documentation. Maloka suggests that NPOs break their funding requirements into phases and explain which aspects of the funding they require most immediately, as well as in the medium and longer term. Tengimfene advises that NPOs demonstrate a degree of financial sustainability that lets the potential corporate donor know that the organisation will not be entirely reliant on their single source of support. Because applicants are unlikely to receive full funding from one organisation, they should specify how much they have already raised, what their target is and what they will attempt to raise from other donors.
  • Prepare an operational and time-bound plan that details milestones, resources and execution. It is, however, important to include a degree of flexibility in the proposed plan.
  • Profile the partnerships that will strengthen programme delivery. Chris Bornman, formerly of the Eskom Development Foundation, emphasises the importance of using community resources and engaging with other NPOs working in the same field. “Not only will they have similar or complementary skills that could be of use, but it is critical that you talk to one another to identify your community’s needs and work out how you can best support your community and one another.”
  • Embed monitoring and evaluation into programming. Include opportunities for reflecting on and sharing key lessons and reporting back to the communities that will be engaged. Tengimfene explained that because corporate donors are expected by their own companies to account for concrete deliverables, it is important for the NPOs that they support to be able to clearly articulate the outcomes that they are responsible for, while also acknowledging that they are often just one of many responders to a social issue.
  • Consider your organisational and project-specific risk management plans. Include details of the risks you have identified that may impact the achievement of the project goals, and what you have done to mitigate them. If possible, also include the risks to the funder.
  • Demonstrate commitment to an exit strategy. A mutually agreed exit strategy will reassure a corporate donor that the NPO is not overly reliant on this source of funding and will remain sustainable once the funding period ends. If the corporate support serves as a financial lifeline, it is particularly important for both parties to plan the exit strategy together, to ensure that the organisation does not collapse when the funding ends.
  • Provide tax and other legal information and documentation, including registration documents, the founding constitution or trust deed, proof of Section 18A approval, details of any restrictions on organisational activities, if relevant, and the organisation’s BBBEE rating and beneficiary category percentages.

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Source: Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2018. 



Tags: Case Study School Leadership