Second annual Execs Back to School initiative sees 40 business leaders go back to school in Johannesburg

Business leaders and principals exchange leadership lessons and build partnerships to improve education.

Unique one-day immersion returns to Johannesburg after last year’s maiden event.

Johannesburg, Wednesday 07 August 2019 – Today, 40 business leaders and top executives from some of the country’s largest companies including Amrod, Babcock, BCX, Consol, Edcon, Long4Life, MTN, Nedbank, Sanlam, Sphere and Standard Bank swapped the boardroom for the classroom again to participate in the second annual Execs Back to School day to be hosted in Gauteng.  The executives each spent the morning at one of 40 different government schools around Johannesburg and Soweto accompanying the school principal as they performed their daily duties.

This year much-loved role model, Lucas Radebe, also participated in the programme spending his morning at Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela Primary School speaking to learners, attending classes, and meeting with teachers and school management to understand the daily life of the school.

The day, as it did last year, built closer ties between school principals and top executives enabling them to share knowledge and leadership experiences, while creating the potential for enduring partnerships between the schools and the private sector.

According to Itumeleng Kgaboesele, CEO of black-owned investment holding company Sphere, which has partnered with organisers Symphonia SA to deliver the day, all South African businesses have an obligation to support disadvantaged schools. “As business leaders we all have our schooling to thank for giving us access to further study and professional life. To succeed as a country, we need thriving communities built around successful institutions like schools that offer pupils hope and opportunity.”

“Over the last three years, working with two different principals, I have seen the positive impact that sharing management experiences with the principals can have on the school community and on learner’s achievement,” added Kgaboesele.

Collaboration between the educators and the private sector contributes to social cohesion and strengthening the nation’s social fabric, according to lead organiser, Robyn Whittaker of Symphonia SA. “Building direct relationships with a school and its principal makes support for schools more effective and teaches executives powerful management lessons. Sometimes I think it’s the CEOs who learn from the principals as they step out of their comfort zones and become personally involved.”

Explaining his participation Lucas Radebe said supporting education should be a national imperative. “Schools are the center of our communities and are an essential building block for the nation’s future. Effective schools equip the next generation with the values, skills and education they need to fulfil their individual potential at work and as active citizens contributing to sustainable communities.”

Many of the participating executives spoke of the learning experience they had undergone by seeing the actual challenges and triumphs experienced by schools, and that many parallels between leadership in schools and business could be drawn. They also spoke of having made a direct investment in the nation’s future, and how they would encourage other companies and executives to get involved next year.

The Execs Back to School day, which was also hosted in Cape Town for the first time last week, is based on New York City’s successful Principal for a Day initiative. It is organised by respected education NGO Symphonia for South Africa, alongside their established flagship Partners for Possibility programme which pairs principals and executives for a year to share leadership lessons.

Companies and executives interested in joining a Partners for Possibility programme or signing up for next year’s Execs Back to School day should contact: Symphonia for South Africa on 011 259 4031 by email on or visit or

Symphonia is a level 1 B-BBEE contributor. Organisations which participate in the programme can claim Skills Development and Socio-Economic Development Points towards their BBBEE scorecard.