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Reverend Frank Chikane: The miracle that is Kagiso Trust

Kagiso Trust Chairman

I was fortunate to be one of the founding members of Kagiso Trust back in 1985. At the time, we were fighting for sanctions against apartheid South Africa and lobbying for this in many European countries. Our message then was ‘give us the money and we will spend it on education‘.

The formation of Kagiso Trust was to raise money to create a developmental agency. We managed to collect R1-billion before South Africa‘s first democratic election in 1994, which we used to help South Africans survive under apartheid.

Even then, Kagiso Trust focused on sustainability. We knew there would be a need for us after democracy – and we also knew that donors were starting to withdraw funds. It was around 1993 that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started to collapse for this reason and many NGOs faded away after 1994.

This was when innovation came into play. With the little money that we had at the time, we at Kagiso Trust decided to start an investment company, to take advantage of the empowerment wave – and to never depend on a donor again. We formed Kagiso Trust Investments (KTI), which then merged with Tiso Group to form Kagiso Tiso Holdings (KTH). Just 16 years later, we have a stable investment company that provides dividends that enable us to do what we are supposed to do: help South Africans out of poverty.

In 2001 we started with a net asset value of R26 million, which is valued at R7.2 billion in 2015. In future, we aim to make available more funds to help our communities overcome the deep-seated and dehumanising effects of ingrained poverty.

This innovative investment model has no match in the non-governmental sector. NGOs generally rely on endowment funds and need to start looking for innovative ways of being financially sustainable. At Kagiso Trust, we are now able to develop long-term district-wide initiatives without such constraints.

This model enables us to channel our energy on solutions, how to change society to end poverty and allow people to live a good life. Kagiso Trust believes the answer to this complex problem is education.

An amazing example of this is our Beyers Naudé Schools Development Programme, named after one of our founding members, in partnership with the Free State Department of Education. This model has yielded positive academic results and we are ready to roll it out nationally.

We realised that without collaboration we wouldn‘t succeed. So we came to an agreement with the Department of Education in the Free State, whereby Kagiso Trust would contribute R100 million and the government would contribute an equal amount for the pilot project. It is through this type of cooperation that we were able to assist the worst performing schools in the Thabo Mofutsanyana district to significantly improve their matric results.

Now, with a successful pilot education model behind us, we can honestly say that if you give us a school, that school will flourish in just three years’ time. The reason we are able to do this is because our approach is different to government and corporate social investment programmes.

In the Free State, we build a school at one third the cost of a government-built school by using skills in the community and involving parents. With this model all stakeholders have a sense of ownership; costs are kept under control and the assets — whether an ablution block or classrooms — are cared for. Once the basics are in place and the school reaches an 80% pass rate, we then provide a science laboratory and library. This has worked extremely well.

Traditionally, government and the private sector would choose a school, build a science laboratory and walk away. Kagiso Trust believes that this type of approach is helpful – but is not a transformative.

Kagiso Trust was born in the trenches of our struggle for a democratic and free South Africa, we do not have to be educated about poverty – we know it and have experienced it. But we do not know why over 20 years into democracy, hungry children are still walking long distances to schools. We know money is not the problem. The national department of education is allocated over R190-billion and companies spend 49% of their total corporate social investment funds on education.

South Africa needs programmes that change people‘s lives. Government can do its best, but we need the whole of society to be involved. We need to create a South African society in which history does not determine the life, career or income of the child.

As one of the founders of this extraordinary organisation, I do not think that it can be characterised as a non-governmental institution. Rather it is a collaboration with sectors of government that are willing to uplift communities out of poverty and the private sector that wants to make an investment in the future of the country underpinned by a common understanding that our children – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – need to be educated.

It is this commitment and proactive manner of addressing challenges that has given the Kagiso Trust of today the opportunity to look to the next 30 years with hope and optimism.

 

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