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Apr17

#24 Giles Gillett – The Power Of Data and Making a Positive Impact on South African Education

PODCAST: Episode 24

Giles Gillett – The Power Of Data and Making a Positive Impact on South African Education

In episode 24 of the Future Minds podcast, we speak with Giles Gillett. It has been so fascinating speaking with such brilliant minds creating positive change in education.

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About Our Guest: Giles Gillett

Giles Gillett is the founder and CEO of the New Leaders Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to driving change in South African education. A former teacher himself, Giles has taken on the vital task of bridging the gap between data and decision making in education.

giles gillett

Giles is driven by his passion to make a difference, as well as an inner entrepreneurial spirit. He has built a truly unique organization that’s driving real change in South African education.

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Topics Discussed

  1. Why data is so important?
  2. The challenges posed by COVID.
  3. How he thinks about education in South Africa.
  4. What the future may look like.

Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Giles Gillett. Giles is the founder and CEO of the New Leaders Foundation, a nonprofit organisation committed to driving real change in South African education.

A former teacher himself, Giles has taken on the vital task of bridging the gap between data and decision-making in the education sector. Driven by his passion to make a difference, as well as his inner entrepreneurial spirit, Giles has built a truly unique organisation that’s driving real change.

In this episode, we discuss why data is so important, the challenges posed by COVID, how he thinks about education in South Africa and what the future may look like, and a range of other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Giles, and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I bring you, Giles Gillett. Giles, great to have you on. Thank you so much for making the time.

Giles Gillett: Absolute pleasure.

PvZ: For any of those who don’t know who you are, I think it would be lovely if you could just introduce yourself, tell us what you do and give us a little bit about your background.

GG: Sure, so my name is Giles Gillett. I’m currently the CEO of a nonprofit company called New Leaders Foundation, and I’m the founder. I started it in 2009. The problem that we’re solving is working with the department systemically to improve learner outcomes.

And we found that the best way of doing that is to focus on something that can be changed because there are a lot of problems. And our key solution that we’ve been offering is working with data and helping the department figure out how they can collect the data so that the right insight is being given to the right district official, circuit manager, teacher, principal. So that they can make a better decision around what intervention a child needs so that they can get better outcomes eventually.

So it’s a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s around getting data into the hands of the right people at the right time to make better decisions. That’s kind of like the solution and we’ve got a big national program working with the department, so they’re our primary focus. And we’ve been doing this main project for about eight years now.

PvZ: And what was the inspiration originally?

GG: So I was a teacher originally and I worked in Cape Town, at two schools. I worked at Milnerton High School for two years and I worked at SACS for three-and-a-half. And then I went into management consulting and did that for about four years. And while I was in management consulting and seeing how much money and resources and time corporate South Africa and the private sector were piling into leadership development, change management, how to help leaders and their teams drive change for better outcomes. I was like, there must be a way that we can link my previous life with what I’m learning now.

And so I started coaching a school principal in Alex and saw that if you give people attention and you support them in what they’re trying to do and help them with their thinking and decision-making, you can really make a difference in driving change like we were seeing in the private sector.

So I then looked to my friends and said this is something I think I could do. I looked at doing it as a part-time gig with what I was doing in management consulting. And then I got very fortunate to be introduced to the Oppenheimer family and they, over a period of time, listened to my story. I put quite a bit of meat on it and we got some seed funding and I started New Leaders Foundation.

And in those early days, our work was really around helping township schools and districts that support those schools to come up with a plan. And then we would send coaches in to support those school principals and their school management teams and the district officials to drive better interventions into schools.

So it’s essentially like, what’s your action plan? We can help you implement it.  And what we found, Phil was that there wasn’t any accessible or aggregated data. So at a district level, there was just nothing. It was very hard. They had some, but it was often all positioned around the matric results, which is a lag indicator and we know that it’s fraught with problems anyway.

So that’s a little bit of the genesis. So then we realised data was an issue. You can’t really drive change if you don’t know what’s going on, and you don’t have the right indicators or aggregated systems to help you see the bigger landscape. So that was what then drove us to start exploring what could a data project look like.

PvZ: That’s incredible. If I think about the South African education system, there are many areas of improvement that one can point to, but one that isn’t too obvious is data, as you mentioned. So if we just take a step back and we look at the macro picture from an infrastructure standpoint, our public schools obviously have a problem. From an administration standpoint, the Education Department has certain hurdles to overcome.

In terms of the data that you collect and the service that you provide, can you point to one or two data points that you feel may have been overlooked in the past that’s now being used to drive action and make decisions that previously were inaccessible?

Finding Insights That Drives Action

GG: Yea, it’s been part of our journey, Phil, to try and figure out what are the insights that really drive action? What we found is the difficulty is you’ve got a multitude of users. You’ve got your efficiency users that like the system because it gives them cool reports that make their life easier. So what took them 2 weeks now takes them 15 minutes or 15 seconds, depending on how fast they can press the button and print out the report.

And then you’ve got your users that need it for more on a curriculum basis and so there’re different data points that are helpful for them, and that’s the area that I think is more interesting. So, we try to figure out what those insightful data points are that are going to drive like an oh, s–t moment. That is going to be like, okay, so this is really bad, what do I do? Either let me speak to my friend or my colleague. But now suddenly I can sense that the schools I’m responsible for, whether I’m a curriculum official or a district official, I can now be driven to action.

Because we’ve got such a big data set, we’ve helped them. I suppose the success of our program has been on the daily collection side mostly. Because you’re working with the department, you say, hey, guys, we’ve now got to collect all this data, put it into a system, and then we can make interesting visualisations and come up with cool reports that can help drive change. But we had to get that data collection thing right first because if you don’t have the data you can’t do anything.

So that’s been a really interesting process and I think a success story for the department to feel really proud about. Because most of us feel, jeez, government gets it wrong more often than not, and what we found on the data collection side is that they can, actually. Help them with some tech, help them with some innovation, help them with some clever tools. Be catalytic on the side as a partner, and then support them to standardise that and make it systemic.

Before COVID, we had about 10,000 schools uploading their attendance data every week, which is radical, like a zero base. So the potential is there and then from there it’s okay, what do we do with this data? So your question around what are those data points, we’ve had some really amazing success around learners that drop out.

We’ve had some interesting success stories around what we call a Learner Intervention Planning report, which, because we’ve got such a big data set, you can put together algorithms. We’ve got data analysts and data scientists that are doing that work. And based on this big data set in Term 1 and Term 2, we can predict kids that are going to potentially struggle, or fail a subject.

PvZ: Yes, and identify it early.

GG: Yea, so it’s an early warning system that then says, okay, in this school, in this subject, these are the kids that are potentially going to fail. And for any teacher or any subject advisor in a district, that’s like gold. And that that drives the kind of oh, s–t, moments – okay, now I need to do something, and what could that be?

And that’s where we are at the moment, so it’s how far do you push into the solution space? Because it’s not us – we’ve helped them visualise the data, and we’re thinking about how do we make it more user-friendly and so that you can have more insights. But they’ve still got to come up with the solution, which might not be easy to do.

PvZ: And do you work directly with schools, or do you work at a slight distance? So, are you in contact with every single school that’s on your database, that you generate reports from and then you generate feedback with? And what does that look like from an operational standpoint, because you’ve got thousands of schools to coordinate?

GG: So, Western Cape is the only one that’s not on the dashboard. So the program’s called the Data-Driven Districts program, and the genesis was to support districts. So you get aggregated data of all their schools so that they could make better decisions and improve learner outcomes. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.

We started in 2012 and pre-COVID we were getting all the provinces, except for the Western Cape, and I’ll explain that in a minute, to give us their termly data and sometimes their weekly attendance data through a very simple application. Where they upload their data, and then it gets visualised on a website that they can access, and it’s theirs. So it’s not ours.

We’ve partnered with the department and we’ve helped them with some of the tools. So we work at a provincial level, mostly, and a district level through a train-the-trainer model. To support them on how to use the dashboard, how to use the data collection tool. Because all the schools have got a free software school administration system, like a MIS for schools, and so we built this on top of that.

So we used what they had. We didn’t come in with a completely new solution. We said, you guys have got this, it’s free, it’s been given to you by the department, we’ll put something on top to help you access it. The Western Cape doesn’t use it. They’ve got their own school administration system.

COVID’s Impact on Education

PvZ: Looking at the South African education system whether it’s public or private. From your unique perspective, what do you think are some of the immediate steps that can be taken to mitigate some of the learning loss that’s taken place over the last 12 months?.

If we look at the socio-economically disadvantaged schooling districts, a lot of data from the World Bank, I believe, shows that these are the individuals, or these are the groups, that are most affected by coronavirus, by the lockdown measures taken over the last 12 months. Is there an immediate solution, or is this going to be a slow grind back to normal over the next couple of years?

GG: Yea, look, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I think it’s a big hole. And I think the time-on-task and kids having an opportunity to learn was always a challenge, even pre-COVID. There was quite a lot of research done around comparing various levels of economics and how that impacted your child’s ability to access learning. So now it’s just bigger. People that had the devices, people whose parents had been able to make a plan and do homeschooling.

And now we sit with a trimmed curriculum and I think the department has done a pretty good job in thinking through policy around the curriculum. But the implementation, I think, will be difficult because a lot of the government schools are still only at half-time right now. Schools that have been able to get prefab classrooms have been able to mitigate that, and I think it’s going to be tough.

And COVID’s still with us, so there is an underlying fear factor because we’ve got a fairly old teacher group and they’re nervous that they’re going to get sick, which I can understand. And their colleagues pass on, and the second wave has been a lot more intense for everyone, and I think obviously that has an impact for them.

So my feeling around these solutions, Phil, is that collaboration and partnership is the only way. We can’t, and I’ve looked at some of your stuff, no piece of tech is going to revolutionise our education system. It’s got to be done in partnership with many role players. And I think this is a perfect example, and we struggle to do that. It’s not an easy thing to do.

PvZ: That’s a really good point. I think those public/private partnerships have the potential to make real change. If you look at some of the mobile carriers being able to potentially provide dataless education applications, working in partnership with some of the hardware providers to gain access to large volumes of tablets or laptops or things of that nature.

Unfortunately, I think the biggest problem in that regard still lies in the socio-economic legacy issues that we have in the country. Because although you could potentially fill a school with laptops, the problem is how secure they are? How long do they stay there? And unfortunately, that’s a problem that we face in this country.

Now, shifting gears a little, do you have kids?

GG: I do. I do. Two boys, Grades 2 and 3. They are both in a government school, so I’m seeing it unfold in my own life.

Navigating Education During Lockdown as a Parent

PvZ: As a parent who has some deeper level of insight than almost anybody into what really goes on in the education space, how have you navigated the last 12 months? This has been an unprecedented time, and I think, disproportionately, parents have been affected, especially those that are working, running their businesses, or working full-time positions.

GG: Yea, maybe the conversation with me and my wife would be probably a little bit different. But the one thing we’d both say is that it’s been hard, it’s been super hard. We both work and feeling like you’re not doing anything well was common. That was like the average day.

So, I think we’ve been lucky. We’ve got resources, so we’ve been able to get tutors to help with reading and getting the work done. And our kids are at a government school, but the school did the best they could with work packs and that kind of thing.

But the smaller kids can’t self-manage. You can’t just pop them in front of a screen and say, here are the three YouTube clips that you need to watch, and here’s the worksheet you need to do, and I’ll see you in two hours. They’re like, cool! You’ll come back, they’re playing Minecraft, you know what I mean? It’s been amazing.

PvZ: Yea, I can imagine. It’s a crazy time, and I think everybody’s tried to handle it in the best way possible, in the best way that they personally could. And there is no single prescription for how to handle such an unprecedented global event, but-

GG: I think your points around equality was the thing. If you’ve got resources, you can create alternatives. If you don’t, what do you do? It’s super hard.

PvZ: Yea, that is difficult. One thing that I think happened in the last 12 months, I mean, many things happened, but a sort of positive outcome has been the fact that I think a lot of people have reflected on the lives that they lived pre-COVID. And reflected on what it means to be a family, and what’s important, and what’s not important. And sure, we gradually move back to normal and forget about those things.

But to a large degree, I think that there’s a lot of positives that have come out of this crazy time. And I just hope that schools, that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, similarly to obviously the Healthcare Department, just get back to normal as soon as possible, for the sake of the kids. You don’t want to have that sort of lost generation that had two or three years of their formative, critical, foundational years just missing.

GG: And we’re struggling with that anyway. One of the things I’m hoping and I’m not really close to the trimmed curriculum and where the focus is at all. But I think that they’ve made some good policy changes around that, and that might be something that has a really strong knock-on effect. Because it’s saying, what are the important things in our curriculum? In a primary school, do we need to focus on everything? Whereas this trimmed curriculum is let’s just focus on these things, and that could be a great outcome for us. It’s moving in the right direction, regardless of whether we’ve got coronavirus or not.

The Importance of Math

PvZ: That’s true. That would actually be super interesting, it would be. So your education background, or at least your professional background as an educator, reflecting on that, what can you tell us about the importance of maths? Given the fact that we’re a maths company, you’re deep in the data space. Data and maths are interconnected. Why is maths important throughout those formative years and beyond, for kids?

GG: So I think my answer is going to be pretty stock standard, but I’m just thinking about my own life. You can’t survive without maths, basically. If you can’t do the basic sums, if you don’t understand fractions, if you understand ratios, if can’t add, even just a little bit in your head, you’re going to struggle to be a functioning adult and contribute in any meaningful way to any job. So for me, it’s a basic requirement.

But I think more and more when I think about my own kids and I see them navigating the foundation phase and I think how do I help these kids with their careers? And in a world that’s changing so fast, and innovation, engineering, problem-solving, all those things, creative thinking or critical thinking, and being creative are so important. And I think maths as a cognitive discipline does a whole lot of things that you could probably tell me the detail around. But neurologically, it does so much in your growth as a child, that you need it for all those things. It’s connecting dots that are critical for you to be able to do things that are going to make you successful in life. That would be my-

The Definition of Successful Education

PvZ: Yea, maths is the foundation of logic and critical thinking, as you just said. And especially the data overload in the world that we live in right now, you have to be able to think critically. You have to be able to separate the relevant from the irrelevant information. And I guess at the end of the day, we’ve got to ask ourselves, what does it mean to have a successful education and how do you define a successful education? And I guess for everybody, that’s different.

But coming back to what you just said about integrating into a society where you’re a fully functioning adult that can contribute, that can communicate, that can think critically. That’s what we hope for the next generation.

GG: And I think there are so many problems to solve, especially in this country. At the moment there’s this narrative of I want to go and see what else is out there in the big, wide world. And that’s cool for any young person, to be ambitious and wanting that. But I think there’re so many interesting things here, the problems here, it’s the land of milk and honey of problem-solving.

And I think one of my big takeaways from having built New Leaders Foundation has been the quality of the people that we’ve attracted into our business. And it’s a nonprofit company, sure, so it has a strong purpose element, and we’re working in education.

But young South Africans, highly qualified, we’ve got actuaries there, we’ve got people with Masters in Economics. There are many things they could do, but they’re choosing to come and solve this problem of education and contribute to that. And whether they fall into the millennial group, and there’s all this talk about why millennials are looking for purpose, and I get it.  I’m seeing it and that gets me excited because they’re learning to contribute and they’re solving a great problem.

Unemployment In South Africa

PvZ: That’s truly inspiring. I think it’s great seeing millennials wanting to opt for a more purpose-driven career than simply chasing the career. But speaking about, sometimes in a country like ours, you don’t always have that option. I guess that comes down to the unemployment problem that we have, and there’s obviously a deep link between education and unemployment. So how do you see unemployment play out over the next couple of years in SA? And what are some of the key things we can do to combat the unemployment problem that we have in SA?

GG: Yea, it’s a double whammy because you’ve got to try and fix education and that’s going to take generations. For me it was initially I was like, no, we can do this in 10 years, we can make it happen, but I’m 12 years in and not much has changed, so it is deflating.

But at the same time, we’ve got to look after the kids that have had a poor education and how do we set them up economically and create opportunities. And, Phil, I think it’s a holy grail. I look at organisations like Harambee that have emerged in the last 10 years. The YES Campaign. FirstRand has got a program around youth employment. So those guys are leading the way, I think, in linking private sector money and opportunities around the supply side. And then your demand side is, I mean, the other way around, around the demand and then the supply is what’s coming from the system.

That’s on the kind of the ‘now’; they’re solving the now problem. They’re like, there’s a company that needs X skill. Can we match that with what exists? And how do we help young people enter into that supply and demand conversation so that you can maximise it? And I think those kind of organisations have done amazing work. Harambee, if you haven’t got them on your show, you should think about them.

PvZ: I’ll definitely reach out, yea.

GG: They’re a great story. But yea, it’s challenging. The obvious thing is vocational training which is a curriculum shift and the Minister’s been driving a 3-stream approach for a while and talking about it. But it’s going to take years to see that come to fruition. The speed around it isn’t fast enough.

But you hear stories about a country like Austria, 70% of their population’s vocationally trained. 70%, and that’s a first-world country! And here we are grinding away, trying to get our kids through an academic route and they can’t even get to work necessarily. Obviously, 10%, or whoever gets through to that final space, should get a job, but it’s not guaranteed. So I think there’s a big mind-shift change in our decision-makers at the top to say, look, let’s create more electricians, more coders, more-

PvZ: Yea, that’s such an important point because it’s a complete paradigm shift that needs to take place. But I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that the large majority of students don’t respond well to the traditional academic environment where it’s input and output. And you’re expected to perform on paper, and then you leave university or you leave high school with no real-world skills, and you’ve got to almost start from scratch. So I fully endorse that. I think that the vocational trade-type option should be there for students, and I hope that gets implemented sooner than later.

GG: Yea, it would significantly change things.

The Future of Traditional Education

PvZ: Yea, so what do you think education looks like in the traditional sense 10 years from now? Are we still sitting in classrooms, or have we migrated to more of a hybrid blended learning approach where kids are spending most of their time at home?

GG: I can’t see it happening here. I think here the next 10 years it’s the same chalk and talk. I’m talking about the base.

PvZ: Yes, yes, yes.

GG: I think your private schools will lead. They’ll be following innovation that’s happening in Finland and wherever the real cutting-edge education is happening and doing their best to keep up with that. And the good government schools will do the same, or the more well-resourced, not necessarily good, the more well-resourced. But I can’t see that kind of big change happening at scale here. I think there are just too many constraints.

But what does education look like for the resourced? Jeez, man, this has got to be the biggest, craziest time. I look at the access to any learning online, it’s just amazing. Will universities even exist for our kids? I don’t know. I think they will but in a different way. And I think homeschooling is going to ramp up. I think it already has, I don’t know the stats on that, but I’m sure it has ramped up significantly.

PvZ: Yea, I believe, on Google Trends, South Africa ranks second in the world for the search term ‘homeschooling’, which is interesting and it’s obviously a problem that needs to be tackled. We don’t have the homeschooling resources that first-world countries have at their disposal.

And I think that that homeschooling demand is part shifting away from the norm and having that paradigm shift as a parent. But I think even more so, it’s out of desperation. I think for the parents and for the child, I think it applies to both. For the child, it applies in the sense that some children just aren’t emotionally or psychologically suited to be in this traditional 25-person stacked classroom, and they need to find alternatives.

And I also think for some parents, it may simply be that they’re looking for something better, but they can’t afford what they’re looking for and they’re trying to find alternatives online. And the problem in SA, well, it’s not a problem, I guess, but it is something to take note of. Part of the reason why many of the public schools had to go back at a point last year, potentially prematurely during the lockdown, was again coming back to the socio-economic problems because kids get fed at school. A lot of families rely on schools to feed them.

GG: It was just amazing to see how the civil society rallied. I wasn’t involved directly, but how many NGOs shifted their operations to just manage that challenge. It was impressive. I think there still was a big gap, but there was some amazing work done.

PvZ: Maybe we should shift away from the morbid. Look, it’s not morbid, it’s not a completely dire situation. Fortunately, there are organizations, like you said, that are really making a difference, like your organisation. For somebody like yourself to commit yourself to this sort of non-profit business, obviously, there’s a lot of passion involved. Obviously, there’s a lot of purpose involved. What is that key driver for you personally? If you had to look at yourself, what’s that personal philosophy that drives you?

GG: So I think for me it’s always been around purpose and doing something that I feel is making a difference. And I love being a teacher. It was the easiest thing to do. Every day I woke up, I loved it. I always woke up with energy and excitement. And it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, without a doubt.

But I think inherently I’m more of an entrepreneur and wanted to see what else I could do. And so I think I’ve been driven by both the purpose and the opportunity to create and lead and influence and build something that’s supporting something bigger.

So I’ve been driven by both the activist/purpose piece, but then within that, it’s just been such an amazing journey around working with just such a wide range of stakeholders, both in the private sector and in government, around solving a problem and being creative. And I feel like I’ve just been on this winding river of solution-ing.

And even when we got onto the DDD Program, where it was like, okay, this is where we’re going to go, that’s continued. And then it was about building a business, and how do you work with a staff of 45 people? Or how do you even get there? And that’s been fascinating. That was completely unintended.  I didn’t feel like I would have ever been an entrepreneur, it just happened, which I’ve really enjoyed.

PvZ: So what is the DDD Program?

GG: So the DDD Program is this program that I was talking about, it’s the Data-Driven Districts. Now we’ve helped the department get the data in. We visualizsd it for them on a dashboard and they use that. And the challenge is that we don’t have the kind of usage on the dashboard that we should have. So we’re the only product at the party, and we still don’t have the usage that we should have.

So it’s like at what point did people start using Internet banking? It would have done this for a long time and then suddenly it could have done this, and we just haven’t seen that. And so at the moment, we’re really wracking our brains. Some of it’s about us and some of it’s about the user. But it’s around how do you package this thing differently and be really, really user-centric? And so it’s an interesting thing about innovation, tech, and problem-solving. Ours is in a context of education that can really unlock change, unlock solutions and drive change.

So that’s what’s been really fascinating. And working with such a big, big system where you can be catalytic, I said it earlier. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud about is that we’ve worked with the government to help them succeed in something that they didn’t have before. And now they’re the ones that have done it. We’ve helped them get there, it’s certainly not our success. We’ve been just part of it.

But you were looking for a good news story, and I think that for me is this. If the private sector can be innovative and patient and walk the journey. If you can get the right kind of funder and we haven’t spoken about the funders and that’s an interesting story as well. You need a funder that’s entrepreneurial, but in it for the long haul, because systemic change takes time. We want like a quick fix, and funders are often just like, if it isn’t working, there’s no ROI, I’m out of here.

And in this case, we’ve had a funder that’s really stuck in it, and then you’ll see change happen. But then it’s shared value, and it’s not just about somebody being the hero and coming up with the clever tech that then changes the landscape. So it’s been very interesting to see the department do well.

The Make-Up of a Good Leader

PvZ: That’s super interesting. So your name is the New Leaders organisation you’ve obviously got experience as an educator, but then also as a coach, as a leader, as a mentor. What, in your mind, can parents do to instill those characteristics of a leader in their kids?  I guess everybody wants their kids to be leaders one day, whichever industry they end up going into. What makes for a good leader? Is it genetic or is it something that you can train and you can build?

GG: Yea, I think everyone’s a leader, and I think some people are just obviously more naturally drawn to it. It’s in their DNA more directly. But we all need to lead our own lives. We’ve got to figure stuff out. Having been a teacher and worked with young people over time, they’ve all got the potential to lead.

And in fact, they have to lead otherwise they’re not going to be successful. But the ones that pop out as these amazing leaders, there are probably some genetics there. It’s like the nature/nurture discussion and are they born or are they made? And that’s why there are so many leadership books out there, because it’s so difficult to define and understand. But I think everyone’s got that potential in them.

And funny enough, I created the name New Leaders because I was wanting to see a different kind of leadership in our system, and the data came later. That was, as I said, in the river of problem-solving. It was like, oh, okay, jeez, the guys can’t lead because there’s no data, so let’s fix that. And then I can be a better leader because I’ve got data.  It’s like trying to run a business without management accounts.

PvZ: Well, fantastic. That brings us close to the end, so what we like to do is to ask guests a couple of questions, just quick the first one is what books would you recommend everybody read? Just one or two books that come to the top of your mind.

GG: So it’s kind of left field, but there’s a book by a guy called Hermann Hesse, called Siddhartha, that I read when I was in my 20s. And it’s a fable around life, I suppose, based on the story of Buddha essentially, but its lessons are widely applicable. So, I’d say that’s a book that’s really influenced me.

And other books? I think there’s so much literature out there at the moment … I love biographies, I’ve read some really interesting ones and I’m drawn to understanding leadership and people that have failed and succeeded. I’ve read biographies from the Mandela one to Bruce Springsteen, to Mbeki, to many others, and I really enjoyed those.

PvZ: Yeah, that’s super interesting. I heard Andre Agassi’s biography’s apparently brilliant.

GG: Yes, I’ve read that.

PvZ: And then what do you believe about the education system, or about education in general, that you think would be an unpopular opinion amongst most?

GG: Well, I think the idea that we’re going to be able to fix South African education, I think is unlikely, and that’s hard for us to hear. Is it going to ever get fixed? Ever, ever? Deep down, I hope that it will, but I’ve seen enough now to go, well, I think it can for a lot, but it’s not going to be fixed for everyone. Our history has put us in a very difficult position. I would say that probably the cynical side of me is that it’s going to take years and I can do what I can do. I can’t see it being fixed, certainly not in my lifetime.

PvZ: To end off, where can people find you, whether it’s funders or institutions interested in connecting and collaborating? How can they find you and get in touch?

GG: Sure, our website is newleaders.co.za, and then the DDD Project website is dbdashboard.co.za.

PvZ: Well, Giles, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. It was a very interesting conversation, definitely something different. And I think you’re tackling a problem that’s mostly overlooked, but critical.

GG: Yea, I think the systemic space is just hard, and I think that your choice as a leader in the NGO space, or in any kind of social entrepreneurial spaces, are what can you fix? Are you going in to fix the six schools that need help? And that’s an amazing effort because you’re going to fix that community.

And the systemic changes is much more around the long road with the government’s partnering. And I think that’s where I would say our success story or one of our big success factors has been the ability to partner because you can’t do this thing on your own. And I think as a civil society, you’ve got to just get stuck in and walk the journey with the government.

And there are amazing people in government, that’s the other thing that I’ve learned. There are enormously talented people that are both incredibly skilled and super purposely passionate. So are their pockets.

PvZ: Well, that’s brilliant, and that’s very inspiring to hear. So good luck to you, and thank you so much for coming along.

GG: Thanks.

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Sabrina graduated from the AAA School of Advertising with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications and prior to joining the Smartick Team she started her own digital marketing agency in 2014.
She is the founder and producer of Smartick's podcast called Future Minds with Phil.
In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys horseback riding, reading, and going to the gym. She also loves to travel!
Sabrina Jansen van Vuuren

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