Share facebook Twitter


By: Ryan James
Reimagine Education

You did what? A non-profit in a multi-year strategic visioning process. I need to see this!” Those were the words of Jacob Dayan, Founder of EdTech Israel, who I was excited to meet at the QS Wharton Reimagine Education Conference and Awards in London this past December.

I had just spent 10 minutes telling Jacob (or “Yaki”) about long-standing Good Work Foundation (GWF) friends, Jeff and Jenifer Westphal, who in 2016, donated a multi-year strategic visioning process to GWF because of their belief in our vision. By the way this is not an inexpensive process and initially, being the fundraiser, I would have preferred a cash donation.

The US-based organisation facilitating the process is Root Inc., and they work with many for-profit Fortune 50 companies, but not so many non-profits. (Root Inc. have some great free resources that I access all the time – click here if you’re interested).

According to Jenifer and Jeff, they’ve never seen a non-profit come as far down the process as GWF has: We’ve created a compelling future-state visual, identified our current state, created six strategic focus areas with committees, have 18-month roadmaps plotted keeping us focused and accountable, and we’re just about to complete our communications blueprint.

As I started thinking of my best moments from Reimagine Education 2019 (which goes from strength to strength each year), I realised that they were my best moments because of all the things we’ve learnt during our strategic visioning process. Because we’ve stuck it out. Because we’ve done the hard thinking work. Because we’ve internalised and consciously gone beyond just “education” into the conversations that count.

Here are three examples:

  1. Failure is good

Wharton School Emeritus Professor, Jerry Wind, in his exceptional seminar “What can Education Learn from Advertising” said:

“Google and Facebook are performing hundreds of experiments every day – are you?” He went on to say: “If you are experimenting you are sending a message that says, ‘it’s okay to fail’”. I think Jerry was saying that in education and in non-profits, there isn’t enough focus on trying new things. One of our six GWF Strategic Focus Areas is Innovation and in 2020, we have committed to decentralising innovation, so that every team understands innovation, including the fact that it can be small and nimble. We’ve even created a mid-year competition, tentatively called “The Dassie’s Dash” (inspired by the TV show Shark Tank) where GWF teams will submit innovations that they have worked on in the first six months of 2020.

We are committed to actively saying: “It’s okay to fail.”

  1. Education needs to be creating smarter people, but also happier and more collaborative people

More than in previous years, the humanities and liberal democracy featured strongly at this year’s conference. Three recurring problems that experts identified included: 1) Youth unemployment; 2) Nationalism affecting geopolitics; and 3) Rising prices of higher education.

In a nutshell, the question is: How do we create education programmes that will contribute to a kinder, more collaborative and more sustainable world? In fact, a stand-out seminar was simply titled: “Can Education Save Democracy?” I can almost guarantee that five years ago, pre-Trump, pre-Brexit and pre-escalating Middle-East crisis, this seminar title would not have made the cut.

I loved these discussions and I was proud that as part of our new Theory of Change that GWF created last year we focused on the following three long-term outcomes: (1) GWF alumni are able to financially support themselves and their families; (2) GWF alumni are active, responsible community members; and (3) GWF alumni feel that they have purpose in their lives.

Jerry Wind said: “There is a lack of understanding of what a world without democracy would look like.” Simple, but it was a stand-out quote for me.

Also, we were thrilled to win the Bronze Award for the Africa category at Reimagine education with our Nurturing Employability submission.

Reimagine Education

Ryan James accepting the Bronze award for the Africa category from Jack Moran


  1. We need to close the Digital Skills Gap

While we would all generally agree with this statement, one of the things that our strategic visioning process has taught us is that we need to think beyond the digital skills gap. The bigger and more pressing concern is the huge amount of people lost to education systems where there is no joy in learning. The minute we change that story and a person enjoys learning and feels empowered to learn, then learning can start to happen whether there’s a teacher available or not (and in many countries, often there’s not a teacher available).

The conversation about technology is critical, but equally important is the fact that we need to talk about the basics: Why are we not creating environments of joyful learning for children in South Africa and around the world?

As you can imagine, for this reason, we were proud beyond words to win Gold at Reimagine Education in the category “Cultivating Curiosity.”


  1. To change Education we need Strategy, Clarity & Courage

2020 was Reimagine Education’s biggest year. They’re now the largest education awards conference in the world: 84 countries, 1510 projects and over 610 delegates present.

What a privilege for us to be able to showcase GWF as well as walk away with two awards. We believe that these awards are testament to our amazing GWF team. We also believe that we wouldn’t have won these awards without a strategic visioning process that has brought us both clarity and courage.

Thank you Jenifer and Jeff Westphal, David Kalman and Lauren Hendricks from Root Inc., and our community of partners and funders who have helped to create our vision for the future of rural South Africa.

Lastly, thank you to Yaki, who inspired me take home the message to our team that digging into our strategic planning and sticking to it is something that we should be celebrating. It has allowed us to see the real issues faster, and made us smarter when it comes to tackling them.

For great data-driven research on the future of education, please check out Holon IQ.


To learn more about our programmes, click here.

Return to the blog
filed under

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

No comments yet.