Partners for Possibility – Transforming education in South Africa

The Partners for Possibility (PfP) programme is a creative solution to one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa– the country’s education crisis. It is a co-action, co-learning partnership between school principals and business leaders, which enables social cohesion through partnerships and empowers principals to become change leaders in their schools and communities.

PfP, the flagship programme of registered NPC Symphonia for South Africa (SSA), was founded in 2010 when Dr Louise van Rhyn, PfP’s Founder and CEO of SSA, became the first business leader to partner with a principal in an effort to improve that school’s education outcomes.

The programme seeks to develop the leadership capacity of school principals in under-resourced and consequently under-performing South African schools, while simultaneously providing practical support to improve the functioning of those schools. By placing the school at the centre of a community, PfP believes that radical transformation can be achieved in the education sector.

The structured programme of leadership development and support include the following:

  • Recruitment of school principals from under-resourced schools who are keen to strengthen their leadership capacity;
  • Recruitment of business leaders who have extensive leadership and management experience and are keen to contribute to improving the South African education system;
  • Establishing carefully matched partnerships between school principals and business leaders; and
  • Facilitation of a 12-month leadership development process with both the school principals and business leaders participating in formal leadership training while simultaneously working together to address challenges in their schools.

The programme comprises several components for which participants need to commit at least 150 hours. 70% of the learning occurs within the school community, 20% through networking, collaboration and developmental relationships, and 10% through formal training coursework. Several partnerships are clustered in a group which forms a learning community that meets regularly to share insights, discuss challenges, and provide mutual support. Each group is supported by a Learning Process Facilitator (LPF) who is a professional coach.


PfP generates important social value by helping to break down cultural, racial and gender boundaries in society by providing participants with access and exposure to communities with whom they would not normally engage. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world and very few senior business leaders (represented mainly by white men) normally spend time in the poor communities where principals (represented mainly by black men and women) lead most of the country’s under-resourced schools.

The positive impact of this exposure and deeper understanding of the South African context is reflected in much of the feedback received from business leader participants. They describe their experience of working with principals in these communities as “rewarding”, “humbling”, “impactful” and “life-changing”, and the awakening experienced by the relatively privileged individuals on the programme has proven invaluable for generating social cohesion.

PfP also adds social value through the material support generated for participating schools. PfP schools often become “magnets for contributions” and have received support in the form of financial contributions, donations of teaching and learning equipment, furniture and vehicles, upgrades and additions to school infrastructure, internet connectivity, IT training, and consultancy services. Levana Primary School in Cape Town, for example, received a gift of R1 million to build a library and school hall and a grant of R500 000 to equip the hall, while Gordon Primary School in Johannesburg received a new maths and science lab equipped with 40 computers.

Beyond material support, the fact that schools cease to function in silos and begin playing an active role in the lives of their respective community members, is of great social value. When schools open their halls to the neighbourhood to host functions, invite parents to use their computer lab, or simply when parents and elders are invited to festive school functions, a new social dynamic becomes possible in these communities which, after being systematically broken down by apartheid policies, are in dire need of opportunities to rebuild themselves.

The reach of the PfP network extends far beyond the numbers of citizens actively engaged in partnerships and those that benefit directly. Thousands of individuals and several organisations engage with the programme in some form or another – all in a bid to make their positive contribution to education, and to actively follow the progress of PfP and Symphonia for South Africa.

The PfP programme, in its almost decade-long existence, has garnered noteworthy recognition for the impact of its work this year.

Social Enterprises (SE) Mark’s Making a Mark competition announced PfP as the winner of its annual award in June 2018. The global competition celebrates the vast impact that accredited social enterprises make through their diverse activities. It also highlights examples of how social enterprises are creating considerable impact within their local communities and in wider society.

In July 2018, PfP was announced as one of six World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards winners for its innovative solution to a pressing education challenge and its measurable, positive social impact. Created by the Qatar Foundation, WISE is a thriving global, multi-sectoral community which seeks to generate fruitful dialogue and productive partnerships in education.

Funding and the retention of skilled staff are the ongoing challenges facing PfP. For the past eight years, PfP has worked tirelessly to obtain funding from corporates, philanthropists and business leaders to enable principals to complete the programme. The PfP Trust has now been established, with the main goal of obtaining funding to expand and sustain the programme.

In terms of PfP’s future growth, there is still much potential for expansion, as the more than 800 schools that currently benefit from its positive impact constitute a tiny portion of the approximately 20 000 under-resourced schools in South Africa.

“Our programme provides much-needed support and capacity building for school principals who have received little or no preparation for the challenging task of managing a complex organisation with very limited funds amidst crippling social challenges, such as poverty, child-headed households, drug abuse and gangsterism

Aside from supporting principals and partnering them with a business leader who works and learns as an equal alongside them, the programme also creates fertile ground for further interventions and support from business and social change organisations.” Dr Louise van Rhyn

Click here to make a donation to Partners for Possibility.

Contact details:

Tel: +27 21 913 3507 / 11 259 4031
Twitter: @PfP4SA 
Facebook: @partnersforpossibility
YouTube: Partners for Possibility
Instagram: pfp4sa
LinkedIn: Partners for Possibility 

This is the thirty-first NGO profile of my 2018 #NGOs4Africa Campaign.

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