Execs Back to School: Engage for change

The inaugural 2018 Execs Back to School initiative was a resounding success. Some of the CEOs of the country’s most prominent companies participated in this initiative that was driven by Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), powered by Sphere Holdings, and based on New York City’s PENCIL Group’s ‘Principal for a Day’ campaign.

Read on to discover how the day unfolded, and what you can expect to experience if you decide to ‘go back to school’ this year

The CEOs and top executives form some the South Africa’s largest companies including Sasol, Vodacom, Pearson, HP, Ethos Capital, Consol Glass, Sphere and Africa Rising Capital swapped the boardroom for the classroom in October 2018 to participate in the inaugural Execs Back to School day – the first event of its kind held in South Africa. The executives spent the day at one of 27 government-run schools around Johannesburg, Soweto and Tembisa, and accompanied the school principal as they performed their daily duties.

The event aimed to expose business leaders to the working environment and challenges faced by school leaders in South Africa’s under-resourced schools.

Each business leader was given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the school environment by speaking to learners and parents, attending classes and by meeting with teachers and school management. 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 long-term, 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 day, all South African businesses have an obligation to support under-resourced 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 two years, working with two different principals on the Partners for Possibility programme, I have the positive impact that sharing management experiences with the principals can have on the school community and on each learner’s achievement.’’

Explaining his participation, Stephen Cornell, Joint President and CEO of Sasol, who visited Nandi primary School in Soweto said:

“Personally seeing the actual challenges and triumphs experienced by leaders in our schools has been a learning experience. There are many parallels between leadership in schools and business and countless lessons we can share. Sasol supports many education programmes, but gaining practical knowledge of what really works in education is hugely valuable, because we want to ensure sustainable value creation for society, especially young learners.”

School principals Frans Chiloane of Nandi Primary School in Soweto and Dave Fransman of Fordsburg Primary School readily welcomed the CEOs.

“It’s been a pleasure welcoming our business peers into our schools. We have found executives from the corporate world an invaluable source of new management perspectives and skillsets to help us improve our schools so our pupils can go as far as their aspirations and talent will take them.”

For author, businessman and analyst, Dr Mzukisi Qobo who spent the day at Fordsburg Primary School, business and schools have much to learn and much to teach each other.

“It is in our interest as business leaders for schools to educate our youth with relevant skills and winning attitudes. We should contribute what we can as our skills and networks can be extraordinarily helpful. This is our investment into the future. I would encourage other companies and executives to get involved next year.”

Overall, the feedback received from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. They felt that the experience offered them a real opportunity to gain insight into the operation and challenges of under-resourced schools, and also built a significant appreciation for the leadership role held by the school principals. Many of the executives also felt that they were able to build a ‘’significant’’ relationship with the principal, even though the time spent at the school was relatively brief. A number of the executives have continued with a commitment to build relationship with their respective schools.

The successful day culminated in a celebration event held the following day at the Inanda country club in Sandton. In attendance were the school principal and executive participants, Mr Kgaboesele who spoke on behalf of generous sponsors, Sphere, and special guest speaker Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi.

As a longstanding supporter of the PfP of the PfP programme through the 66 GDE Schools Project, Mr Lesufi said:

“Schools and the private sector should build closer partnerships and work together to improve education and help develop the next generation of leaders and active citizens.

We have a huge task ahead for us in this respect, but we need to change our education system to yield the necessary dividends, and to create a new narrative about education in South Africa.

Simply, if you can’t get education right, you can’t get the country right.’’

Lead organiser, Robyn Whittaker of PfP, wrapped up the event by emphasising the power of collaboration between the educators and the private sector, and how this can contribute to social cohesion and the strengthening of the nation’s social fabric.

“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.”

Companies and executives interested in joining a Partners for Possibility programme or signing up for this year’s edition of Execs Back to School day should complete an application form to sign up https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ExecsBack2School2019 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

30 November -1, 00:00