On February 24, the leaders of South Africa’s top financial services, mining, and energy companies gathered in Johannesburg to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP), an educational non-profit organization. They joined SSP’s staff, trustees, scholars, and alumni for a gala dinner at Summer Place (a magnificent private mansion converted into an elegant event venue), situated directly across the street from one of SSP’s partner schools, St. David’s High School.
In its first 10 years, SSP’s inspirational mission to develop leaders for South Africa has attracted an impressive list of supporters, including four business leaders who were honored at the gala: Vusi Khanyile, CEO of Thebe Investment Corporation; John Coulter, CEO of JP Morgan; Jennifer Oppenheimer, trustee of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, and Max Maisela, chairman of NBC Holdings.
One of the most memorable aspects of the evening was an exhilarating performance by the fifth honoree, multi-award winning South African singer, Lira (left). Not only did she move the 300 guests through music from her new album, Return to Love, but also through her heartfelt speech upon receiving SSP’s Inspiration Award. (Photo by Joe Ma)
In addition to a long list of supporters in the business and entertainment industries, SSP is championed by its founders, Teresa Clarke, CEO of Africa.com, and Nyagaka Ongeri, a managing principal at ABSA Capital. While living and working in Johannesburg shortly after apartheid ended, the pair (both graduates of Harvard Business School) observed the skills shortage and inequalities that remained in South Africa’s education system. They joined forces, initially with the modest goal of mentoring a few black high school students. A decade later, they have raised more than R100 million, most of it locally, to educate nearly 600 of South Africa’s most talented, low-income students at the best high schools in the country.
SSP plays an important role in increasing access to quality high school education in South Africa. According to the South African government, as of 2007 the national education system had 12.3 million learners and about 26,600 schools, of which only 6,000 were secondary schools (grades 8 to 12). SSP’s goal is to ensure that academically talented learners have a chance to attend one of South Africa’s top high schools, and ultimately, to receive a university degree and enter the country’s professional sectors. The organization partners with 25 of the best schools in the country and provides financial and comprehensive social support to ensure that its students excel. All students are matched with mentors and financial sponsors throughout their high school education; several mentors and sponsors opt to maintain their relationships with their students long after they graduate. The majority of SSP’s alumni pursue careers in finance, law, business, medicine, and engineering.
The program’s true impact was demonstrated by the three SSP alumni who spoke at the event about their personal experiences and presented awards to the honorees. Lerato Maboya, a dynamic young woman now working at South Africa’s top corporate law firm, Bowman Gilfillan, likened SSP to a “life line” in providing opportunities for extremely talented, but disadvantaged scholars. Lerato has been inspired to give back to SSP by volunteering to help recruit new students. Thebe Tsatsimpe and Tshepang Mogotsi also shared their personal testimonies about how the program offered both a scholarship and a mentoring program. Both young men are currently demonstrating their leadership potential in South Africa through their respective work at Citi and Accenture.
The event was one-of-a-kind in South Africa in that it combined practical program elements with a touch of spontaneity, namely the live auction. Auction items included South African contemporary art, safari destinations, and holiday packages within South Africa and abroad. The highest bidder received included roundtrip airfare to New York and a one-week stay at a historic home in Martha’s Vineyard, one of the most luxurious holiday destinations in the United States.
The SSP Celebration demonstrated what is possible when South Africa’s business community works together toward a common goal: developing leaders by advancing local educational opportunity. The gala was so well received that it is now poised to be one of Johannesburg’s annual destination events.