Educating future leaders

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Fixing a broken system

Johnny Copelyn is CEO of Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited and Chair of the HCI Foundation. Johnny and HCI are major supporters of LEAP’s work, funding LEAP 2 and its engagement with partner schools Herzlia United and Litha Primary in Gugulethu.

I failed Grade 2 but my mother complained so much that they eventually passed me into the next grade. The following year the school watched me more carefully until I started coping better. So you can go from bad beginnings and do reasonably well – if you have a system that supports you. We can all play a part in developing an education system that really nurtures and grows young people.


Our challenge in South Africa is to overcome a backlog of decades of two racially defined education systems and provide a decent education to people who historically have been severely disadvantaged. At the heart of how to do this, is to help successful, functioning organisations spread their message, influence, standards and dreams to non-functioning ones. Business can naturally play a funding role but it can also play a critical part in drawing together a number of other players.

HCI is an unusual company in that it is owned and managed by people who have long histories of social and political activism before becoming involved in business. So we wanted HCI to be positioned at the forefront of corporate involvement in solving social problems. I think that the education crisis is, long-term, the most central problem to fix in South Africa. Health care, jobs, even corruption, can’t be corrected unless you have a functional education base.

But fixing broken things is very intense. You can have a whole lot of small interventions that touch on the problem in a minor way but it is not transformative. You need the bridge of functioning, successful and ethical institutions to spearhead development, and this is why we have chosen to partner with LEAP.

LEAP plays a leading role in reaching out to township schools, so its influence goes beyond its own students. It is not just that we love LEAP and its students – although we do! One of the important things about LEAP is that it does not define itself as an academy, taking only the cream of South Africa’s young people. LEAP welcomes average people who are prepared to work really hard at improving themselves and their circumstances. LEAP is also trying to extend its reach nationally and beyond just its own students. It has a programme that aims to get 10% of graduates to become teachers (the LEAP Future Leaders Programme) which is an excellent aspiration. We need to raise the status of teachers and also raise the status of the profession in the eyes of students.

People are not inherently failing in South Africa – there is something in the system that is broken. People who are successful have a responsibility to try to fix it. It is in all our interests.

The very nature of business is that it can scale up. There are a lot of hardworking, well-meaning and clever people in NGOs but I believe that business could do more to scale up the whole effort; to combine disciplines, stand together and say that we all want to live in a society where people are cared for. We hope that other businesses leaders will join us in supporting the transformation of education in South Africa.

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