Top executives from some of South Africa’s most prominent companies traded their usual routine of boardroom meetings for classroom lessons when they participated in the one-of-a-kind Execs Back 2 School event in Cape Town and Johannesburg this month.
The event, organised by Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), was created to expose business leaders to the working environment and challenges faced by school leaders in South Africa’s chronically under-resourced schools.
Each executive was given the opportunity to spend the day at a different government-run school, and accompanied the school principal as they performed their daily duties.
The business executives engaged with learners and parents, attended classes, and met with teachers and school management to understand the operational realities faced by the school. The day forged closer ties between school principals and top executives by providing a platform to share knowledge and leadership experiences, while exploring the potential for enduring, cross-sectoral collaboration between schools and the private sector.
According to Itumeleng Kgaboesele, CEO of black-owned investment holding company Sphere, which partnered with SSA to deliver the event, all South African businesses have an obligation to support disadvantaged schools:
“As business leaders we all have our schooling to thank for giving us access to further study and professional life. To succeed as a country, we need thriving communities built around successful institutions like schools that offer pupils hope and opportunity.”
“Over the last three years, working with two different principals, I have seen the positive impact that sharing management experiences with the principals can have on the school community and on learners’ achievements.”
This year, much-loved role model, Lucas Radebe, participated in the programme, spending his morning at Soweto’s Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela Primary School speaking to learners, attending classes, and meeting with teachers and school management to understand the daily life of the school. Explaining his participation, Radebe said supporting education should be a national imperative:
“Schools are the centre of our communities and are an essential building block for the nation’s future. Effective schools equip the next generation with the values, skills and education they need to fulfil their individual potential at work and as active citizens contributing to sustainable communities.”
The Execs Back to School day is a spin-off of New York City’s successful ‘Principal for a Day’ initiative. SSA organised this event to complement their internationally recognised, award-winning Partners for Possibility programme, which pairs principals and executives on year-long leadership development journey.
Collaboration between the educators and the private sector contributes to social cohesion and strengthening the nation’s social fabric, believes Robyn Whittaker of SSA:
“Sometimes I think it’s the CEOs who learn from the principals when they step out of their comfort zones and become personally involved. Building direct relationships with a school and its principal makes support for schools more effective and teaches executives powerful management lessons,”
Execs Back 2 School will be repeated next year. Companies and executives interested in joining a Partners for Possibility programme or signing up for next year’s Execs Back 2 School day should contact Symphonia for South Africa on 011 259 4031, send an email to email@example.com or visit www.PfP4SA.org.