Checkmating Challenges – Meet Marisa Van Der Merwe

Marisa van der Merwe, a founding member and trustee of the Entrust Foundation, has a heart for empowering people.  And that is why she is so passionate about being part of the Entrust Foundation which helps equip learners, in disadvantaged communities, with essential skills to prepare them for a successful school career and life thereafter.

The Entrust Foundation was founded in 2016. Since then, they have collaborated with community- and business leaders to implement the MiniChess play-innovation programme inside the school curriculum in disadvantaged communities. They do this by empowering in-community youth with critical skills including ongoing trainings and mentoring as well as business start-ups and contracting them to deliver the Entrust Foundation’s programmes to schools and organisations in their own communities.

“Our main drive is to impact young minds during the critical window period of early development to prevent school drop-out and to let them thrive in a fast-changing world, from academic excellence to socio-emotional empowerment and 21st century STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths)-skills development”.

Through the MiniChess play-innovation programme, the Entrust Foundation, helps learners gain valuable skills like creative problem-solving, entrepreneurial thinking, value-based decision making, empathy and more. These skills, which cannot be performed by machines, will become more valuable in the future in the age of smart machines. This programme also helps prepare them for school and to combat school drop-out rates.

According to Van der Merwe, only 18% of original school starters pass matric and only 5% with university exemption. “A child who drops out of school, will most probably be grant-dependant for life, will not be trainable or employable, and will most likely never contribute to the tax base of the country. Addressing this is therefore vital, as it will establish a population that contributes to economic growth and the tax base of the country.”

The MiniChess play-innovation programme sets out to address these challenges. An example of the success of their programme is a three and a half month impact study that was done at the Mvelaphanda Combined School in Tembisa with the University of Pretoria.

They ran weekly MiniChess classes with a test group of grade R learners. Educational psychologists measured the impact in the test group, and a control group, over the seven areas of early child development. They found that all early childhood development backlogs were corrected in the test group to achieve school readiness. In the control group, on the other hand, none of the children achieved school readiness, although they were in a centre of learning.

Three year later the educational psychologist collected data from the schools of the learners from the study. They found the test group learners were all in Grade 3, and doing either well or very well, while the control group, who were not school-ready 3 years earlier, had not a single child in Grade 3.

This is why Van der Merwe believes in the value of what they are doing to develop human capacity from the early ages. With her passion for skilling up young minds to thrive in the 21st century, it is no wonder that Van der Merwe won the Shoprite-Checkers Woman of the Year 2012 Award in Education. “The process started with two MiniChess teachers wanting to nominate me. I thought it was too early, that we were not ready yet.” But the nominations were submitted together with 1400+ other nominations nationwide. Specialist educators grilled them over a three-day screening period. “The glamorous award-evening on 9 August 2012 came with overloads of stress, dress mishaps and forgotten speeches, but by then we had developed wonderful friendships amongst the participants. I was blown away when I won, and hugely honoured,” says Van der Merwe.

This event brought a lot of media-coverage. “After that I was invited to many global education conferences. I then started The Entrust Foundation programmes to empower our country’s youth towards a sustainable future through our play-innovation programmes. We won some more national awards, including SACBW Business Woman of the Year 2018 and EduWeek ECD Supplier of the Year. Our team of social-entrepreneurs are inspiring!”

So far, 100,000+ learners and 140+ in-community entrepreneurs have benefitted from the Entrust Foundation’s Initiative, and Van Der Merwe has big plans for the future.

‘In 10 years from now, we want to be seen as a wave of human-capital energy sweeping over our human landscape with a turn-around social and economical destiny for our country. This does not happen with quick fixes and token gifts, but with dedication and passion – not only doing things right, but also doing the right things.’

CSR NEWS
Corporate Social Responsibility News South Africa (CSRNEWSSA) is South Africa’s leading Corporate Social Responsibility news, media and publishing firm. We create content on social responsibility, helping government, corporates, consultants, NPOs and NGOs to reach their target markets through appropriate, targeted development news.

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