“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist
Magna Rautenbach was ready to ‘semi retire’ with her husband to their tranquil country retreat – but then she discovered SOLE and everything changed.
After a rich and rewarding career, she had moved to a game farm near Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, in a region called the Magaliesberg Biosphere.*
And it was in this unlikely location that she discovered SOLE and made the connection with what she’d wanted to achieve in the business world for so long.
Frustrated by the “too little, too late” approach to training management-level employees in sustainability, Magna realised SOLE could get the message across where it can make a real difference – at school.
The success of SOLE globally appealed to Magna and she immediately saw the possibilities for South Africa. She particularly liked that SOLE is both transformative and supportive of the current curriculum, knowing that education reform has a track record of stalling when attempts are made to change it.
The biggest challenge is taking SOLE into underserved schools. There are a total of 25,574 schools in South Africa, with only 4,639 of those really well-established with computers and Internet connectivity. The majority, largely in rural, underserved areas, do not have any technology; some do not even have electricity.
To make SOLE accessible for the majority of children, SOLE South Africa has created the SOLE in a Box project. This consists of 10 tablets, Internet connectivity and a copy of the SOLE Toolkit in a plastic wheelie crate, all supported by a mentor for that school.
Mentors – who could be a parent or a local business person – are central to what SOLE South Africa is trying to achieve. They all have an affinity with their particular school, which provides the purpose and passion for inspiring learners.
SOLE South Africa is training these mentors to assess the teachers, as their development is also key to the project’s success. “Teachers in South Africa are really disillusioned by education because they don’t have the necessary resources and changes are made to the curriculum in a seemingly haphazard way,” says Magna. This also has a knock-on effect on the children, with many just dropping out.
Magna is an idealist, but also a realist. She knows that SOLE can’t completely solve South Africa’s education challenges.** However, she views SOLE as a very real approach to developing the kind of future-fit leaders she’s passionate about nurturing by 2030.
For the past 13 years Magna has been a pioneer for sustainability in business, even though people didn’t take her seriously when she told them a decade ago that this was going to be the ‘next big thing’. Now she wants to develop the kind of future leaders that possess empathy and a conscience. “We would like to help parents and teachers to nurture and develop our children – to spark the empathy that is so often lacking in the business world today,” she says. “SOLE is an ideal vehicle to do that.”
In many ways, she’s now returning to her roots, but taking on-board all she’s learnt from the business world. A high school teacher by profession, Magna got ‘bitten by the entrepreneurial bug’ and left after 13 years to work in business ethics and sustainability. While training management-level employees she realised it would be much easier if the foundations for this kind of approach were laid much earlier.
“Kids play in nature and naturally get excited about it,” she says. “Somewhere along the line many of us lose that close connection to nature. If we can get them to treasure that connection right into business, then we might get closer to closing the gaping chasm that exists between the world we need and the world that exists.”
SOLE South Africa has developed their local Big Questions by linking to the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) for 2030, which cross through year groups and subjects, such as: How would fracking in the Karoo impact the people living there?
As with many ventures of this kind, SOLE South Africa’s future is dependent on funding. The registered non-profit is currently funded by Magna and her husband, Marcel. They have so far managed to bring on-board two other executive directors who currently work pro-bono. The organisation also appointed their first two non-executive directors earlier this month.
They have put business proposals into foundations but not yet had any success with their applications. However, it’s going to take more than a few setbacks to keep them down. “It will not deter us – we will keep trying,” says Magna. “There’s a limit to what we can do with our own resources and to be able to really make an impact we will need more funding support. But in the meantime we can focus on the schools that have the technology already and work with them to bring SOLE into the school and track progress over time.”
Magna is determined to show the education community in South Africa that SOLE delivers measurable improvements, and so a formal impact assessment research project will commence shortly.
The sky’s the limit for SOLE South Africa right now. This country’s learners—if given the right motivation and education—could provide the impetus to make Silicon Cape as big as Silicon Valley. That’s the dream and now they are growing a movement to make this happen. The global SOLE community is going to be rooting for them every step of the way.
If you would like to support the SOLE in the Box project, please visit the fundraising page.
* designated by UNESCO in June 2015
** UN data shows that SA allocates a higher proportion of its budget toward education than the US, UK and Germany, but they were ranked 134th out of 138 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report