Vodacom Foundation’s Change the World programme has partnered with government, the presidency, legal bodies and civil society to place psychosocial professionals in districts where they work to address gender-based violence (GBV) in schools.
The programme, which responds to the high rates of GBV in South Africa and the implications the issue has, particularly for female learners, was the subject of a panel discussion on the first day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference. Panellists included Vodacom Foundation chairperson Takalani Netshitenzhe, Student Health and Wellness Centres Organisation executive director Professor Jackie Stewart and Change the World psychosocial support coordinator Thabile Mazibuko.
The Foundation aimed to establish an education ecosystem that would focus more broadly on learner wellbeing. Netshitenzhe told the audience that the programme coincided with the growing national awareness of the extent of GBV and the knock-on effects that were especially visible in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of GBV, pregnancy and high drop-out rates for school-aged girls.
The programme has deployed 23 psychosocial support experts thus far and will deploy several more this year. These professionals have served over 400 families and 26 000 learners and 42 schools. They deliver class sessions, presentations, awareness campaigns and counselling, with the goal of creating an environment where learners feel cared for and supported.
The programme tries to create an enabling and empowering space for learners to find tangible ways out of poverty and violence. The engagement process steadily builds the necessary individual and interpersonal understanding for learners to begin meaningful conversations about GBV.
Ripples in the pond
Mazibuko, speaking from her on-the-ground experience, said that the programme has had positive knock-on effects for the communities involved. “Change the World has created an environment that makes it easy for learners to report whatever has been happening in their homes.” She added that unfamiliar concepts such as self-development and self-identity have been introduced to wider communities with positive effect, while anti-bullying campaigns have extended their influence into homes and local communities.
Teachers, often overwhelmed and subject to the same traumas as the learners they are responsible for, have benefited from the additional content as well as from the support the programme provides them. Netshitenzhe said that feedback from parents indicated that the programme has been helping families to redirect their social goals.
“If we’re working in a systems approach where the school is part of a larger system, you see ripples in the pond because the learners go home and talk about these things with their families,” Stewart said.
Evidence and findings
Stewart pointed out the value of the evidence basis for the programme’s work. “Evidence is important. Good intentions are not enough, and we need to know that what we’re doing helps because sometimes we think what we’re doing is helping when it is actually doing harm.”
When the Vodacom Foundation undertook an evaluation of the programme during the pandemic, the results led to the programme’s expansion and enrichment.
The evaluation found a serious shortage of social workers at community level, particularly in the areas of greatest need. The programme has extended its contracts with psychosocial professionals in response. Netshitenzhe said that, in addition to assisting learners, the programme is contributing to much needed job creation.
It was found that the provision of psychosocial professionals to address learner wellbeing freed up teachers to focus on pedagogy contributing to better learner performance and educational outcomes. However, the evaluation also identified that some teachers felt competitive with the introduced psychosocial experts, revealing the importance of buy-in for the success of such programmes. “It is important to galvanise the support of all stakeholders when you introduce a new programme so that people feel that they own the programme rather than them seeing themselves as outsiders,”Netshitenzhe explained. “You need to educate the parents and the communities to understand the impact of GBV in all societal ills and let them be at the forefront of leading this fight against GBV.”
Working together for social change
The panellists spoke to the need for greater collaboration in support of social change.
Stewart said that non-profits need to hold themselves accountable to the communities as well as to funders and called for involved parties to work together rather than in silos. Netshitenzhe echoed her sentiment, adding that the social space is not a competitive one. “We are really committed to social economic development but we believe in partnerships. We are fully aware that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. We want more corporates to join us…we are not afraid to say partner with us and let’s do this together.”