By Francois Bonnici, University of Cape Town GSB
Background: UCT GSB had 5 year history of partnerships and students working with social enterprises, non -profit and local entrepreneurs in Philippi – particularly through the work of the Bertha Centre and through the Social Innovation Lab course of the MBA, often partnering with local organizations in Philippi – one of South Africa’s least well served peri-urban townships, 5 minutes from Cape Town International Airport. Extremely high unemployment, crime, early school leavers, health challenges. As the building plans were put on the table, we were invited to join as one of the founding anchor tenants.
Development: 4 year project within university to develop concept, convince univerity stakeholders – required 71 different meetings at UCT, approval of 7 different committees, and numerous visits. Raised funding from Vice Chancellor’s strategic fund, from bilateral government donors, corporations and local alumni, and later from core budget of the business school.
Philosophy: understood it was the right move, but held back on a fully fledged strategy, wanting that to emerge on the back of relationships and understanding context, rather than duplicating existing programmes in a different location or projecting what we thought was needed
1. We first had to overcome many internal processes and obstacles from the university – from transport, operations, safety to systemic biases downgrading it to a “community campus”, to general risk averse conservatism. But most of all, to trust in the vision, without a clear programmatic schedule (given above philosophy). Persistence, patience, partnerships. The student protests that rocked South African campuses helped realise that higher education needed to evolve and be more relevant – Philippi gave us a chance to start exploring that – moving closer to communities and being more relevant in offerings.
2. Community engagement and partnerships – we realised we had to do far more community engagement on top of the overall Philippi Village development, and realised we needed both external expertise as well as building our own capacity. We hired staff who were local and developed a network of partner organizations who understood the journey we were on.
3. Realising our role: Our role clearly became a builder of capacity for local organizations and entrepreneurs to be better equipped to tackle their own challenges, and providing a bridge between the formal economy and resources and the informal economy of Philippi. But our role was also important in helping the university to think about what social responsiveness means, and what the future of higher education in South Africa could look like – relevant research and knowledge generation, widespread capacity building, co-designed programmes and projects.