Eye on the future

The MTN SA Foundation has over the past year largely directed its focus at the merging of technology with special-needs educational processes, says its GM, Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi

Eye on the future

Philanthropic organisations are typically faced with a serious challenge in how to build the masses of support required, a challenge the government has addressed by prioritising those that drive development. Education is one of those priorities because it is seen as an enabler to uplift individuals out of poverty.

When you combine learning advancement with technology, it’s a sweet mix but there is a sector within child education that is often overlooked – that of the special-needs children. This is where the MTN SA Foundation is playing a huge role. Set up by its corporate founder MTN South Africa, the foundation is directed to invest in the development needs of the country and address societal challenges. In 2018 those included health, enterprise development, arts and culture and, most importantly, education.

The foundation has been contributing specialised multimedia centres, learning materials and data connectivity to special-needs schools for some time but recently deepened its involvement in the sector through its partnership with Bellavista SHARE and non-profit US company Curious Learning, by introducing to SA the award-winning child literacy app, Feed the Monster. ‘Feed the Monster helps make learning the fundamentals of reading more meaningful and fun, and it does so by bridging the gap between literacy skills and fluent reading,’ says Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, GM of the MTN SA Foundation. ‘We have also facilitated the localisation of the solution into the 11 official languages, which means we can scale up the MTN SA Foundation’s literacy impact further. ‘It also bridges the digital divide and prepares children for a future in the information age, especially for children growing up in rural communities so that they too can access the same educational facilities as their counterparts in metro areas.’

When you look at the collective CSI initiatives that the MTN SA Foundation is actively engaged in, the numbers reflect the impacts. The first figure, R54 million of investment in 2018, is viewed by Mtunzi-Hairwadzi as not nearly as important as the 31 special-needs schools supported; the 1 350 mainstream schools that have been connected; and the 2 000 children benefiting from the donation of bicycles. ‘The 21 Days of Y’ello Care, an annual event, sees the foundation’s team travel to rural communities to distribute school shoes, bags and other such amenities – and the bicycles, specifically donated to children who walk some 10 km or more to get to school,’ she says. ‘For the MTN SA Foundation, it’s not about the rands of financial support we provide but how we can be actively involved in solving the challenges facing our communities, and being able to identify projects or programmes where we can manifest maximum and lasting impact.’

Education aside, the MTN CSI programmes also include technology and connectivity to stimulate entrepreneurship and facilitate access to healthcare. But before it even considers supporting an initiative, three criteria must be satisfied, explains Mtunzi-Hairwadzi. ‘Firstly, they must be relevant and align to both MTN as a corporate and the country’s national socio-economic priorities. Secondly, we look at sustainability and the long-term impacts. And, finally, [the initiative must] realise shared value for all. ‘The latter requires effective stakeholder engagement and strategic partnerships with those aligned to our ethos.’

The MTN SA Foundation thus partners with private and public entities, such as the departments of Social Development and Basic Education, ZTE, Huawei Technologies and Parliament to ensure it maintains the status of being a good corporate citizen. Validation of this status comes from strict monitoring and measuring of CSI projects, which the foundation does through project visits and quarterly reports.

It follows an implementation plan that outlines deliverables and timelines, as well as output and outcomes. Strategies are implemented on a three-year basis and at the end of that term, an external party is engaged to ensure the desired outcomes have been achieved by the MTN Foundation and corporate MTN South Africa. ‘What we have to achieve is deep and equitable changes in the social conditions of the collective,’ says Mtunzi-Hairwadzi. ‘I believe transformative leadership is driven by the principle that material realities and disparities outside the organisation have to impact on the success of an individual, a community and the MTN organisation as a whole.

‘The diversity of the social ills in South Africa touches my heart and challenges me daily to look at better ways to serve and make a difference to the various stakeholder groups we encounter. Personally, I think my purpose is to empower those in need for a better South Africa, which is very much aligned to the MTN ethos.

‘The MTN network infrastructure has not only provided millions of South Africans with the ability to connect and communicate but also opened a new window to the world of societal transformation, premised on the notion that everyone can lead and has a role to play.’

By Kerry Dimmer