Zilungile Zimela, head of marketing and PR for non-profit organisation FunDza Literacy Trust, secured R25 000 for the educational NPO thanks to a successful pitch at the MTN Donors Den session, held at the 14th Trialogue Business in Society Conference on 24 June.
Runner-up Mihandzu Learning received R15 000 for its project, which focuses on developing key skills among high-school learners in vulnerable communities. The Global Teachers Institute, which aims to develop high-quality teachers and retain them within the profession, secured R10 000 to pursue its goals.

Like its counterpart Dragons’ Den – a reality TV programme where entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists to secure funding – Donors Den sees three non-profit organisations (NPOs) pitch their projects to a panel of corporate donors, which then provides them with feedback on their pitching and fundraising skills.

“This interactive pitching session is always a highlight at our conference – even when it is virtual – and we were especially gratified to see how tenacious and adaptable NPOs have been during the pandemic, continuing the work they do under sometimes very difficult conditions,” said Trialogue MD Nick Rockey. “MTN Donors Den gives NPOs a chance to refine their fundraising pitches, advance the important work they are doing in society, and raise awareness of the issues they address.”

This year, the Donors Den focused on NPOs using ICT in education and youth empowerment projects. Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, general manager of the MTN SA Foundation, said that MTN views ICT as an enabler that helps young people upskill and participate in the economy. “Youth development has become a key pillar of the MTN Foundation, because we are cognisant that so many young people are unemployed, and ICT can become an area of expertise for a lot of youth – they can use it for personal skills development and economic gain,” said Mtunzi-Hairwadzi.

Judges Neptal Khoza (head of corporate social investment at Capitec Bank), Nonkqubela Maliza (director of corporate and government affairs at Volkswagen South Africa), and Judith Shiwundlana (events and stakeholder manager at MTN) presided over the session – but it was ultimately delegates who voted for the winner.


Maliza said that the organisations could have strengthened their pitches by succinctly identifying the problem they wanted to solve and indicating how they were going to solve it. “Try not to have mission creep – stay focused on your mission,” she advised them. “You can’t solve all problems equally well, so focus on what you know best and do it as holistically and robustly as possible. Also be clear on how the money you receive will support your theory of change.”

Zimela said that delivering the winning pitch meant a lot to her. “As an activist at heart, I believe in upskilling young people and giving them a hand up, not a handout – this happened to me in my own life, with people believing in me and giving me opportunities,” she said. “When we prepared our pitch, we kept the needs of our readers – young people in book-scarce communities who have not had opportunities to further their studies but who want to develop themselves and be part of a supportive community – in front of us. Winning the award hasn’t quite sunk in yet – but it means so much because of all the young people who are going to benefit. We want to make sure young people start owning their own destiny.”

Zimela added that, due to demand, FunDza doubled the number of online courses it offered during the pandemic. “More than 60% of our course participants are unemployed, and many of them have requested courses related to professional success,” she explained. “We hope that the entrepreneurship course we are going to develop will be one of a series to help our readers.”

Zilungile Zimela, FunDza Literacy Trust
FunDza aims to improve literacy in South African youth by encouraging reading for pleasure and writing for meaning, particularly in under-resourced communities. It puts books into the hands of 55 000 readers nationally and has published the creative writing work of 3 500 young people. Its mobi platform reaches more than 250 000 readers every month.

Khanya Memela, Mihandzu Learning
Established in 2015, Mihandzu Learning sets out to improve the academic performance and understanding of learners, focusing on maths, IT and career guidance. It also provides meals to learners and has provided more than 10 000 to date. It has reached more than 3 000 learners and has reported a 60% increase in students taking Mathematics Core since their arrival.

David Jacobs, Global Teachers Institute
Global Teachers Institute (GTI) is a teacher development network of educators, schools and organisations that develops high-quality teachers through a school-based teacher education programme. Interns register for their Bachelor of Education degrees via distance learning and gain classroom experience four mornings a week. They also undergo professional development. GTI’s pilot project has seen 100 interns placed in host schools and 30 have already graduated. Of those, 90% have stayed in the industry for more than three years, as opposed to 50% from universities other than those participating in the programme.

Written by Fiona Zerbst

Photos taken by Janelle Strydom