Old Mutual continues to strengthen its impact on education through various bodies that focus on securing a better future

The Old Mutual Education Trust and Old Mutual Foundation work hard to make a measurable difference in the education space. Here, the respective heads share their views on the impact their organisations have made by supporting SA’s learners.

Leonie Sampson 
Head of the Old Mutual Education Trust

Old Mutual Education Trust
Leonie Sampson is the Head of the Old Mutual Education Trust, a vehicle set up 16 years ago to help secure tertiary opportunities for the dependents of the members of Old Mutual’s partner trade unions. To date, the trust has enabled 366 students to complete their tertiary studies across disciplines such as medicine, nursing, law, accounting, engineering, actuarial studies, agriculture and transport logistics.

Q: How did you land this position?
A: I have a lot of experience in the development sector, working primarily for donors who value human rights and dignity, and who are committed to contributing to a prosperous and safe SA.

Q: In what ways do you help youth access tertiary education?
A: We provide financial support and a comprehensive student-support programme focused on both the personal and academic success of primarily dependants of trade union members. What I find most exciting about our scholarship programme is the extent to which alumni give back by acting as mentors to our final-year students.

Q: How did 2020 impact and change the way you work?
A: We learnt to innovate. Our entire programme has been redesigned to take into account the benefits of delivering support virtually. Last year also amplified the specific challenges and support needed by students from poorer families and previously disadvantaged, mainly black, institutions. Equally important was the increased need for psycho-social support. Our programme is so much richer and more sensitive to the realities of our students now, based on what 2020 taught us.

Q: What motivates you to keep going during these challenging times?
A: Human potential and resilience in the face of challenges.

Q: Are there any standout students who have been particularly inspiring?
A: One comes to mind immediately. He worked as a petrol attendant, but when his company would not allow him any time off to attend classes, he resigned and lived in a backyard dwelling while studying. He has the biggest, most beautiful smile and soul, and completed his qualification last year.

Old Mutual Foundation
Fikile Kuhlase is the Head of the Old Mutual Foundation, which – over the past 22 years – has focused on improving the well-being and outlook of SA’s most vulnerable communities. As one of the foundation’s top priorities, it contributes to the delivery of quality education by supporting schools in need. The Old Mutual Education Flagship programme, for example, has significantly contributed to the improvement of school management, as well as maths and science results at participating schools.

Fikile kuhlase 
Head of the 
Old Mutual Foundation

Q: What was your focus during 2020?
A: Last year we realised that the people who needed us most in the education space – which is our biggest portfolio – were matric learners. So our support was through the 21 Acts of Goodness to Enable the Matric Class of 2020 campaign. We partnered with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, loveLife, BrandSA, the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, the Mpumalanga Department of Education, other provincial departments of education, traditional councils, schools, Old Mutual Insure, the Imbumba Foundation, VELLE, FoondaMate and a number of other NPOs. The campaign provided matrics with curriculum support. The programme and campaign also provided psycho-social support, data and internet access, sanitary pads, decontamination of some schools, hostels and study areas, and post-matric preparation.

Q: Do you believe society learnt any lessons from the pandemic?
A: The prevailing view is that role players lacked co-ordinated emergency plans. Most organisations have reflected extensively on their mistakes and how relief efforts could have been handled better. More collaboration with each other and with government, while leveraging each other’s strengths, has been cited as a key strategic point for the future. Yet, although lessons have been learnt, the application of such is the most critical.

Q: How have the students you’ve supported inspired you?
A: Many of them are inspirational, but I will single out Senath Maxwell Mrubatha from Diepkloof, Soweto. Initially discouraged by the pandemic, he resolved to study until late every night, and also helped his classmates prepare for their final exams. He scored three distinctions and wants to be a teacher or a lawyer. Yet he unfortunately could not put his bursary to use this year as no space was available at any of the universities to which he applied. However, he is undeterred and plans on pursuing a degree next year. In the meantime he is tutoring learners in his community and believes nothing is more rewarding than helping others.