If you need inspiration for your CSI practice, spend some time with Khaya Tyatya, Programmes Director for the Zenex Foundation. The Zenex Foundation is an independent grant-maker focused on improving teaching and learning outcomes in language/literacy and mathematics in the Foundation and Senior Phase (Grades 8 and 9).
‘Our research and engagement show that supporting and improving education has the greatest impact on growing human capital, and in turn, increasing employment potential,’ says Khaya.
The Zenex Foundation funds and supports education interventions though pilots and at scale programmes, to achieve system wide quality teaching that will result in improved learner achievement. Four aspects of their approach make them unique, and particularly effective.
First, is their use of a systems approach. ‘We use a systems approach, so we work not only with learners and teachers, but also across the system – principals, managers and policy makers too – because we have seen that if we impact the whole system, it leads to real change.’
A crucial part of this approach is working closely with government education departments. Khaya believes there is a lack of synergy between government and CSI/philanthropic organisations.
‘Our experience shows that there is uptake by government, albeit slow, and that jointly finding solutions and sharing learning is best to effect long term change.’ Working directly with national and provincial education departments to co-design, co-develop and co-fund projects leads to better ownership by these departments. Ultimately, this cooperation expedites better and more sustainable learning outcomes for the learners.
Second, they pilot and test approaches to improving education outcomes. All education programmes should be context driven. Khaya describes one of their pilot programmes currently testing the use of technology-based solutions for Grades 8 and 9 learners, to address learning backlogs in mathematics and to foster independent learning.
Importantly, the programme is being tested in both rural and urban contexts because one cannot assume that programmes developed for one group will have the same impact on another. Once the pilot programmes are complete, they will take the learning, refine the model and find ways of scaling the programme to suit the specific needs of the target schools and areas.
Related to this systems and context-driven perspective, is Zenex’s emphasis on monitoring and evaluation (M&E), research and learning, the third aspect of their approach.
‘What makes us unique is our M&E rigour,’ says Khaya. The Zenex Foundation focuses on M&E from the design stage of programmes to ensure that they can measure impact at every phase of implementation. This strategy means that programmes are flexible and responsive and secure the optimum impact where it is most needed.
The fourth aspect of the Zenex Foundation’s approach is collaboration. Khaya is passionate about this, suggesting that ‘there is not enough collaboration in the CSI/philanthropic industry’. He attributes the lack of collaboration partly to the fact that organisations want to claim successes for themselves, and partly to the many challenges of controlling outcomes in a multi-donor project. ‘We work in silos, and everyone does their own thing,’ Khaya laments.
Collaboration means building trust through relationships which take commitment and energy. Building relationships in educational CSI work means working with government, schools, teachers, principals and donors – all combining areas of strength to ensure that the whole system is impacted – which really is the only way to effect lasting change.
‘It takes time and effort,’ says Khaya. ‘But once established, these relationships ensure M&E is more effective because people can be honest.’ Collaboration strengthens all aspects of a project to ensure that what is done and the way in which it is done, has long-term benefits for education.
Honesty, collaboration and building trust – these are the essential attributes that are giving Khaya Tyatya and the Zenex team real impact in the work that they do.
‘Seeing change in people’s lives, whether teachers, principals, governing bodies or learners, is everything to me. I want to make a lasting impact on people’s lives.’