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Partners for Possibility (PfP) is a creative solution to South Africa’ education crisis – it is a co-action, co-learning partnership between School Principals and Business Leaders, enabling social cohesion through partnerships, and empowering Principals to become change leaders in their schools and communities.
Partners for Possibility (PfP) is the flagship programme of Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), a registered Non-Profit Organisation and Public Benefit Organisation, which has a bold and audacious vision: Quality education for all children in South Africa by 2025.
We aim to strengthen the fabric of South African society by mobilising business, government and civil society to work collaboratively towards meeting the educational challenges facing South Africa.
We lead and initiate projects that are intended to engage South Africans in processes of nation building so that we can truly be a country that is “alive with possibility”. Through the PfP flagship project, the School Leadership Forum (SLF) programme, and Community Building workshops, we promote and facilitate leadership development opportunities for business leaders, school principals and their school management teams.
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Social Impact Statements
The Social Enterprise Mark criteria includes a requirement that the applicant can demonstrate that social and/or environmental objectives are being achieved.
In support of this, new applicants and renewing Mark holders are asked to respond to a set of social impact questions, which are designed to help them think about the social impact they create, and to articulate this clearly and succinctly.
Updated February 2018
1) What social differences and changes have you aimed to create (or supported)?
South African school children are consistently ranked at or near the bottom in international tests of literacy and numeracy and in this respect South Africa lags far behind other middle-income countries. In the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, South Africa scored lowest out of 50 countries for reading ability, with 78% of Grade 4 children being unable to read with comprehension after four full years of education.
Research shows that early reading deficits cause most children to fall further behind over time and helps explain why around 50% of South African students drop out and never graduate from secondary school. Students who drop out tend to join the ranks of the unemployed or accept low-productivity, low-pay jobs. The current state of the South African education system is thus perpetuating inequality.
Symphonia’s aim is to reverse this situation by contributing to sustainable improvements in the country’s education system and by creating opportunities for people to cross boundaries, learn from each other and develop bonds and relationships that strengthen the fabric of our society and build our nation. Because we believe that South Africa belongs to ALL its people and the future of the country is our collective future, we mobilise business, government and civil society to work collaboratively towards addressing the challenges in the education system. We also provide a structure in which active citizens can use their talents and skills to help ensure that ALL South African children receive a high-quality education and can embrace their potential.
2) What actions have you taken to address the above social aims?
Decades of research has consistently shown that the leadership of school principals has a powerful impact on education outcomes. While the role of a school principal is an inherently challenging one, in South Africa, which is one of the most unequal societies in the world, the majority of principals face formidable additional leadership challenges which arise from factors including poor school infrastructure, under-qualified and demotivated teachers, and students who are often hungry and ill, do not have proper clothing and lack parental support.
Despite this, school principals are not being properly equipped or supported to manage in such challenging contexts, let alone to lead the major turnaround that is needed in the country’s education system.
Symphonia’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility (PfP), was established in 2011 to develop the leadership capacity of school principals in under-resourced and consequently under-performing public schools while simultaneously providing practical support to improve the functioning of those schools. The programme partners principals with experienced business leaders who work alongside them in schools as part of a structured 12-month leadership development programme. To date, the PfP programme has been launched in 709 schools across South Africa.
The programme consists of several components for which participants need to commit at least 150 hours over a one-year period. Around 70% of their learning occurs within the school environment, 20% through networking, collaboration and developmental relationships, and 10% through formal training. The components are as follows:
- Participation in five days of formal training, inclusive of course material and books
- Coaching from a professionally qualified executive coach
- Participation in regular facilitated communities of practice in which a group of school principals and business leaders meet to share ideas and best practice
- Action learning whereby each partnership identifies challenges in schools, develops plans to address them and leads change by spending several hours per month collaborating and implementing actions to bring about change within their schools
- Access to a pool of research, ideas and historical best practice models
- Journaling - participants compile a journal which details their learning and partnership plans, activities and outcomes. They also have the option of completing a Portfolio of Evidence which is moderated by the University of the Western Cape and supports their learning through evidence gathering, reflection and sense-making.
A key feature of the PfP programme is that it is not a mentoring programme in which the business partners are seen as having all the answers to the challenges that principals face in their schools. Instead PfP partnerships are co-action, co-learning and mutually-beneficial relationships in which the partners learn together and from each other. While business partners share their knowledge of leading teams and managing change with principals, they learn a great deal from the principals about leading in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments where the challenges are immense, the resources scarce, and the solutions by no means clear. The business partners also learn about the realities of life in South Africa’s marginalised communities and the schools that operate within them.
In addition to PfP, Symphonia also established the School Leadership Forum (SLF), another programme aimed at strengthening school leadership. In 2012, in partnership with the Universities of the Western Cape and Johannesburg, Symphonia launched the SLF programme to empower principals and other school leaders to deal with challenges in schools by providing them with practical solutions to the problems they face. The programme is sponsored by the Woolworths South Africa MySchool programme that supports effective education improvement initiatives. The SLF consists of a series of talks and panel discussions that take place approximately 6 weekly and are open to all school leaders who can attend the sessions in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The events are recorded and broadcast on social media to extend the programme’s impact. Hundreds of school leaders and stakeholders have attended these events, often regularly, since the programme’s launch.
3) What has changed and what benefits have been realised as a result of your actions?
To date, 709 school principals, most of whom had received no previous leadership or management training, have joined PfP together with their business partners. More than 500 partnerships have completed the 12-month programme.
Outcomes for school principals include new awareness, knowledge and skills which have significantly strengthened their leadership and management capacity and thus their confidence. Specific changes in principals attitudes and practice include: having become better listeners, more open to new ideas, more relaxed and able to delegate, less threatened, more nurturing, better able to adapt to challenges, better organised, more assertive in expressing their expectations, more effective at facilitating stakeholder engagement and connecting stakeholders to their schools, and better able to manage people and resources.
As a result of principals’ increased confidence and improved leadership practice, school management teams have become more cohesive and are managing school resources and activities more effectively. Many schools have experienced improved teacher morale and motivation. Teachers have reported feeling a greater sense of ownership and empowerment over important school matters because principals are proactively involving them in decision making. Some schools have seen a reduction in teacher absenteeism, which has ultimately increased students exposure to learning opportunities at those schools.
The 2016 external evaluation by Dr Hartnack found that there had been improvements in academic in results in 30% of the schools that he visited and investigated in detail. It is worth noting that not all of the schools he visited were able to make academic outcome data available to Dr Hartnack. Moreover, as the PfP Theory of Change indicates, it can take up to five years for the effect of enhanced leadership capacity to result in improved academic outcomes and some of the schools examined in detail had only completed the programme one or two years prior to the evaluation.
The independent evaluation by Quest Research Services also found visible improvement in academic outcomes in 15 of the 20 PfP schools they examined in detail, even though the principals in these schools had only recently completed the programme. The 153 secondary schools whose principals have completed the PfP programme to date are performing better than the national average in respect of the percentage of students who graduate, particularly in those schools which serve the poorest communities. Furthermore, the number of students in PfP schools who drop out in their final year of secondary school is also lower than the national average.
The leadership skills of business partners have grown significantly through working with school principals in environments that are outside their comfort zones, where the challenges are huge, the resources scarce and where they have no authority. Crucially, the business partners, some of whom are high-profile individuals with considerable influence, are gaining real insight into the immense complexity, ambiguity and challenges faced by South African school principals and into the social issues that are driving some of the major dysfunction in South African society.
A key objective of the PfP programme is to capacitate principals to mobilise parental and community involvement and support for their schools. Most PfP schools have experienced an increase in involvement by parents in school activities and in some cases this has risen dramatically as a result of principals’ new skill and proactivity in engaging with them. Many more parents, and grandparents too, are now assisting schools in various ways, which include classroom support and working in school vegetable gardens and kitchens.
PfP is generating real nation building impact by providing participants with access and exposure to communities with whom they would not normally engage. In South African society, very few senior business leaders (represented largely by white men) normally spend time in the poor communities where principals (represented largely by black men and women) lead most of the country’s under-resourced schools. ‘I had direct exposure to communities that I would not normally have through my current social and business network’, said one business partner. In bringing together people across cultural, racial and gender boundaries, PfP is strengthening social cohesion in South Africa.
4) How do you and other people know your aims are being achieved? Or how will you know?
As described in the summary on page 2, a Monitoring and Evaluation Team led by Dr Magali von Blottnitz, uses a variety of mechanisms, on an ongoing basis, to identity, assess and report on changes (be they intended or unintended, positive or negative) that the PfP programme has generated. Mechanisms for internal evaluation of programme outcomes and impact include:
- Feedback provided by programme participants to their sponsors
- Interviews with programme participants and other stakeholders
- Reviews of participants Portfolios of Evidence
- In-depth case studies of partnerships (based on site visits to schools and stakeholder interviews)
- Presentations and videos created by participants for programme completion celebration events
The end-of-programme celebration events, for which partners create presentations and videos to share their experiences, are designed to create an opportunity for them to reflect together on their journey before sharing the highlights with key stakeholders in their lives. Rather than being a ‘bolt on’, these celebration events represent an accountability process that is built into the structure of the PfP programme.
Reports detailing the outcomes and impact of the programme are produced on a regular basis and made available to PfP participants, sponsors and other relevant stakeholders.
As the summary explains, numerous independent assessments of the effectiveness and impact of the PfP programme have been conducted. These include an external evaluation conducted in 2016 by Dr Hartnack of the Sustainable Livelihood Foundation. An independent evaluation of PfP’s impact by the University of South Africa is currently underway.
In addition to the measurable outcomes directly related to the programme, there is a widespread societal perception of the PfP programme being a highly effective way of bridging societal barriers and addressing the education crisis in South Africa. Both within and outside the country, the programme is recognised and quoted as being a social innovation that is both impactful and robust.
The below questions are not mandatory, but Mark holders are encouraged to answer them where possible, to provide a fuller account of their social outcomes and the social value they create.
5) How many people have benefitted from your actions?
The reach of the PfP network extends far beyond the numbers of citizens actively engaged in partnerships and those that benefit directly from it. Tens of thousands of individuals and large numbers of organisations engage with the programme in order to make their contribution to education and actively follow the progress of PfP and Symphonia for South Africa.
6) What examples can you provide of a typical service user experience, that helps illustrate the benefits they have experienced as a result of your actions?
Mary Kihn School for Hearing Impaired Children, Cape Town
From the first day that Whita Tunyiswa visited the Mary Kihn School for Hearing Impaired Children when she joined PfP as partner to Principal Jillian Wilmot in 2015, she became acutely aware of her own ‘disability’, as she was unable to communicate with the children and some of the staff members. She decided to learn Sign Language in order to feel included in the unique environment of the school, but she soon discovered that this also enabled her to communicate with a number of work colleagues who also have hearing impairments.
Some of the outcomes for the school that have resulted from Whita and Jill’s partnership include:
- An improvement in teamwork between Jill and her School Management Team
- A shift in the school ethos as ‘appreciation days’ and ‘staff awards’ made the teachers feel valued and the experience of being really listened to encouraged them take ownership of the school
- More actionable and effective management of the school’s planning processes
- A strengthening of Jill’s negotiation skills, which have been productive in her relationships with various school stakeholders
- More outreach to parents and the community, with weekly programmes for parents and organisations involved with hearing impaired children
- A more committed School Governing Body which has organised a number of action days including a Sports Day and Family Fun Market Day with the involvement of other similar schools as well as local businesses and community members.
Nyavana Primary School, Xihoko Village, Limpopo Province
When she began her partnership with Jan-Louis Pretorius, Principal Shibulana made the following comment:
‘At the beginning it was a bit strange. It was the first time in my life that I had a white partner. According to me before, the whites had their own world and I have my own world. But we did overcome this. Now I regard him as my brother’.
Juliet acknowledges that she was initially attracted to the PfP programme by the prospect that she would acquire much-needed financial resources for her school. She soon realized, however, that the skills she could develop through PfP would be more valuable than money, remarking a few weeks into the programme that ‘nobody will take it away from me’.
The leadership skills that Juliet gained through working with Jan-Louis and from the PfP formal training enabled her to bring cohesion and ignite passion among the members of her School Management Team and School Governing Body.
‘Every participant in the school has grown’, Juliet says, adding: ‘before, I never thought that a vision has to be developed in a proper way. The one we had in our school was so long. I learnt that this mission and vision is not for the principal only, it is for the entire school community. Teachers, parents, learners. Everyone must know it, own it and activate it.”
After working alongside Juliet for a year, and having committed to keep their partnership active, Jan-Louis reflected:
‘In many ways she gave me hope and respect for the incredible work that principals do, the genuine desire that she has for making a difference in the lives of those children, and stepping on a path that changes the future of our country. In fact, it was not only Juliet, but the other principals in their own special ways. That inspiration put my own privilege and responsibility into perspective and gave me a purpose.”
Kholwani Primary School, Jabulani, Johannesburg
Busisiwe explains how her participation in PfP has impacted her and the school:
‘Regent Lighting Solutions has supported our school with many infrastructure projects, especially around lighting in the classrooms as well as new ICT facilities for Grade 4.
However, the most significant impact of my participation in the PfP programme for our school is that the programme has created a family for us through our business partner. We are now able to share ideas through management and leadership skills. My business partner continues to assist us in managing our school as a business organisation, and we are trying to turn it into o huge success.
The whole Kholwani team has felt the impact: our meetings are more interesting and lively now, as everybody is treated as equal thinker. It has contributed much in shaping my creativity and leading my team beyond the walls of basic education. Teacher’s morale is very high, workshops such as interrelations, communication, how to appreciate one another, time management and project management have changed their behaviour and attitude. This has led to great improvement in the children’s performance.
We have also developed a website which serves as a communication tool with the outside community, and have held community building workshops with parents. After these, the parents and the community, as important stakeholders, have volunteered their services to assist our school to be developed better. We have witnessed people offering assistance in a way that has never happened before.’
7) What additional social benefits have you been able to deliver within your core services that distinguish you from other “for shareholder profit” providers?
Through collaboration with Labournet South Africa, Symphonia helped to facilitate 12-month paid learnerships in administrative roles for unemployed young people at 52 PfP schools during 2017. Labournet anticipates being able to place another 300 unemployed young people into PfP schools during 2018. These opportunities, which are sponsored by the business sector, are providing invaluable work experience and development, which will earn the young people a qualification, while also offering much-needed support to admin teams in schools.
Symphonia is currently offering a number of internships in its own team. One unemployed young person will join the M&E team in February 2018 and gain valuable work experience and training on the collection, analysis and reporting of outcome and impact information. Symphonia is also currently offering internships in its Finance and Marketing/Communications departments and excepts these offers to be taken up soon.
Symphonia’s CEO, Louise van Rhyn, established the Western Cape Education Coalition to bring together different groups of people who are working to improve education and create opportunities for people to get to know each other, to learn together, to share good practice and lessons learned, and to facilitate collaboration. The idea behind this coalition is to ‘cultivate the social field for collective impact’ so that citizens who are committed to quality education have opportunities to develop trusting and generative relationships that will empower them to work together in a more aligned and cohesive way to improve education. This coalition is being piloted in the Western Cape with a view to idea expanding it nationally in due course.
Louise has been working closely with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on the conceptualisation of this Coalition and as a result, has been asked to lead the design team for the Western Cape Education Conference to be held in July 2018, with the intention that this will influence WCED’s 5-year strategic plan. This and all of Louise’s work with the WCED is done on a pro-bono basis.
8) What other social benefits have you contributed that go beyond your core delivery activities (ones that are completely unrelated to your main services)?
In addition to its core purpose of developing school leadership and helping to place schools at the centre of their communities, Symphonia contributes social value in a number of other ways, some, but not all of which occur through the PfP programme. Examples include:
The PfP multiplier effect – we have extensive evidence of the fact that through the PfP programme resources and support far in excess of the cost of the programme are mobilised around every participating school. The partnership focus upon each individual school creates a multiplier effect in terms of the resources which become accessible to schools. Examples of resources which have been made available in schools as a direct result of PfP include:
- ICT equipment and training
- Maths and Science programmes
- Tutoring and mentorship programmes
- Study skills programmes
- Staff development and team building
- Library establishment and stocking
- Sports facilities, equipment and programmes
- Bursary schemes
- Career guidance
- Assistance with water sustainability
- Financial literacy training
- Psycho-social support programmes
- Social worker internships
- School administration learnerships
- Teacher supply
- HR and legal support
- Infrastructure development
- School foreign exchange programmes
- School vehicles, furniture and equipment
- Support for school gardens and feeding schemes
- Provision of internet connectivity
Through its strong presence on social and other media, and constant networking and information-sharing efforts, Symphonia plays an important advocacy role in inspiring South Africans to change their vision and their discourse about the country’s education crisis. We encourage people to become actively involved in efforts to improve education, rather than simply commenting on or complaining about the situation.
In February 2018 Symphonia hosted an event to introduce Capetonians to resources developed by Water for Cape Town. This event, which took place in a PfP school hall, was specifically aimed at mobilising young people to take action with regard to the Cape Town water crisis (caused by drought conditions) and developing their leadership skills.
In May 2018 Symphonia will be hosting an Ethics in Education workshop where school leaders and other key education stakeholders will have the opportunity to engage with members of the South African Ethics Institute. This will launch a Symphonia-Ethics Institute collaboration that is aimed at empowering school leaders with the requisite ethics awareness, skills and competencies to enable them to successfully navigate the challenges of ethics governance and leadership in the schools and communities.
The cost of attend the WISE summit and hosting the information-sharing events referred to here is approximately ZAR60,000 (£5,500).
9) What social and environmental benefits have you created from internal operational policies and actions?
Members of the Symphonia staff team, who all participate in the training courses that are part of the PfP programme, frequently mention that these courses, in particular the Time to Think training (based on the work of Nancy Kline), have helped them enjoy healthier relationships with their life partners, children and others.
Members of the PfP community often remark that their involvement with the PfP programme gives their lives a sense of meaning and purpose because they know they are building the nation.