Partners for Possibility

About the Project

This project is one of the 2016 WISE Awards finalists.

This project is one of the 2018 WISE Awards winners. 

Partners for Possibility (PfP) by Symphonia for South Africa is a program that improves education quality by capacitating principals in under-resourced schools and building their leadership skills through partnerships with business leaders. Recognizing that quality education is the key to breaking South Africa’s vicious cycle of poverty, PfP works to achieve this by focusing on school principals, the people tasked with leading school communities and creating an environment that supports high-quality teaching and learning.

Context and Issue

Around 75% of schools in South Africa (SA) are considered to be “failing”. Over 10 million children attend these dysfunctional schools, most of which are in the poorest areas of the country. Almost 80% of children in SA cannot read with comprehension after 4 years of schooling and around 50% drop out of school and receive no educational qualification. Most of these young people join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. This helps explain why in 2020, 26 years after democracy, youth unemployment in SA reached an all-time high of 56%. Despite a wealth of research which shows that the leadership of school principals is a key determinant of student achievement, particularly in schools serving disadvantaged communities, most principals in SA are not being sufficiently equipped with the leadership skills they need to lead the change that is desperately needed in their schools. Leaders in SA’s business sector, by contrast, are very well trained to assume leadership positions and manage change. This is a key reason why SA accounts for almost 25% of Africa’s GDP and has the second-largest economy on the continent behind Nigeria.

Solution and Impact

PfP, the flagship program of Symphonia for SA, taps into an abundant national resource to develop the leadership capacity of principals in under-resourced schools by facilitating partnerships between principals and business leaders. Both partners participate in a 12-month structured leadership development program, while simultaneously tackling challenges together in schools and learning from and about each other. Since 2011 the PfP program has been launched in 1,401 schools, impacting 1,401 principals and their business partners, 35,025 teachers and over one million students. Findings from the latest independent evaluation of PfP, published in 2019, shows that significant and sustained changes in the principals’ leadership practices were confirmed in 96% of participating schools. With their enhanced leadership capacity, PfP principals are overseeing improvements in various areas of their schools.

Future Developments

Several independent evaluations have found that PfP’s impact has been profoundly positive in participating schools. This, together with PfP’s scalability, sustainability and sound governance explains why Symphonia for SA has been ranked among the world’s top 100 NGOs and why the organization is determined to implement PfP in at least 2,000 schools by 2022.

May 26, 2018 (last update 02-14-2021)