Industry and community leaders have been called on to become partners in the School at the Centre of Community project (S@CC), which aims to tackle educational challenges in South Africa.
The project is an initiative of Symphonia for South Africa, a company focused on developing leadership skills and the capacity of leaders in the country.
S@CC project manager James Eckley said: "Business and community leaders are not asked to just give money to schools to solve educational challenges, but are asked to be actively involved in seeking solutions."
The project came about when Louise van Rhyn, founder and CEO of Symphonia, looked at the challenges facing disadvantaged schools in South Africa and realised that education has to be a national priority, not just for government.
The cost of participating in the year-long leadership and educational programme is R30 000 (US$4 000) and covers the cost of training sessions, coaching and support for the school.
This could be paid for by the participant's employer or a sponsoring organisation.
Participation is not limited to business leaders – ordinary people who feel passionate about a school can also take part if they have the funds.
The cost covers leadership courses for the participating individual and the chosen school's principal, and community engagement programmes and seminars that address ways the school and the community can work together to get the best results out of their pupils.
Brian O'Connell, rector and vice-chancellor at the University of the Western Cape, said: "It is clear that we all underestimate just how deeply our history has hurt people and institutions, but if our country is to have any chance of transcending that hurt and if our people are to take full ownership of our future, then our schools must lead the way."
O'Connell is one of the S@CC project endorsers.
Partners for possibility
Community and business leaders are urged to use their experiences and connections when they partner with principals of their desired school. It is hoped that this will help identify community projects that benefit both the school and surrounding community.
Leaders will take up the role of Partner for Possibility (PfP). This is not a mentorship role, but rather becoming a "thinking partner" of the school's principal, helping him or her find suitable solutions for the school and community's challenges.
Dr Louise van Rhyn, founder and CEO of Symphonia, said: ""Being Ridwan's partner was without any doubt the most powerful leadership development experience that I have ever participated in. It was, for me, more powerful than doing an MBA or a Doctorate."
Van Rhyn was the PfP at Kannemeyer Primary School in Grassy Park, in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. The school principal is Ridwan Samodien.
Van Rhyn added that being the PfP taught her valuable lessons about a community she was detached from. "If all industry leaders were to experience this, it would be the beginning of the strengthening of South Africa's societal fabric," she said.
Activities for each school and community will be unique to the needs of both parties.
"S@CC appeals to all South Africans to become citizens and to become actively involved in the education of our children. Education is the key to securing a bright future for all our children," said Samodien.
Schools already part of the initiative
There are already a number of schools and communities that have already benefited from this project.
There are nine schools in Cape Town, four in Durban and 10 in Johannesburg.
These include John Ramsay in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town; Rippon Road Primary in Sydenham, Durban; and Bovet Primary in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
Sanlam, Nedbank Business Banking, Metropolitan Foundation, Aurecon, Hollard, Murray & Roberts and Gijima People Development are some of the companies involved in the project.
Benefits of the S@CC
Everyone from the organisation sponsoring the PfP, to the PfP, the school, pupils, and principal gain something from the project
The school will particularly benefit from the exposure to the company sponsoring the PfP.
Eckley said: "The PfPs spend a year working with the school and most cannot detach themselves from the school after that. Most of them stay on as the company usually ends up investing in infrastructure development at the school or sponsoring school events."
Due to increased involvement from parents, the community and teachers, pupils usually become more proactive in their studies.
A principal's job of running a school is also made easier as he or she is able to identify what it is the pupils and community need to make the institution more effective.
Through greater participation in the school's activities, the surrounding community gains a sense of belonging and relationships between individuals improve.
PfPs and the organisations they represent will learn a lot about themselves and their problem-solving capabilities outside their usual environment.