How can South African higher education institutions (HEIs) learn from and build on a hugely successful philanthropic capacity-building project, to address other challenges that they ‒ and our society as a whole – face? Can new, powerful partnerships help address pressing needs such as transformation in HEIs and corporates?
This was debated at a recent HEI leadership retreat in Cape Town (21-23 January) marking the completion of a 13-year, US$22,4 million capacity-building programme in South Africa. Multi-faceted Advancement training, sponsored by The Kresge Foundation in the USA, has benefitted about a third of local universities, massively boosting their success in attracting philanthropic giving.
Better-known in America, Advancement enables organisations to work in a holistic, integrated way to attract resources for long-term sustainability. Elements such as governance, leadership, relationship-building and financial management are incorporated to identify and partner with philanthropic donors.
Russell Ally, chair of the Inyathelo board of trustees, moderated a discussion with three panellists: Universities South Africa CEO, Ahmed Bawa; managing director of The Kresge Foundation's Education Programme, Bill Moses; and GastrowBloch Philanthropies director Shelagh Gastrow.
“We are trying to understand the role that Advancement can play in a changing context,” said Ally. “We need to collectively take responsibility for how we take it forward. How can we integrate it, wed it to imperatives for transformation? How can a knowledge project and social justice be brought together? Besides donor partnerships, what other partnerships should universities develop?”
Bawa said it was vital for universities to rebuild their relationships with their publics. Universities are not only knowledge-intensive institutions, but also social institutions designed to benefit society. Over the past three years, Bawa had been struck by how little defence there had been of the university system.
Amidst changes on campuses, connections to local communities have waned. While Advancement must still focus on philanthropic giving, the higher education sector must also strengthen broader social ownership of higher education with the South African public to ensure that government prioritizes this important economic engine and bastion of civil society. Demonstrating that universities belong to the people of South Africa can only happen by building stronger connections between universities and South Africans.
The Advancement office could be where an HEI develops strategies to tackle its most pressing issues. “Advancement is not just about raising money,” said Moses, “it’s about strategically pulling together leadership threads in our institutions so there is a coherent approach.” And with a more coherent understanding within universities, each could better partner with its local community, to ensure broad support and long-term sustainability and relevance.
Moses reminded delegates of how universities educate a minority of the population – and are sometimes deemed to have contempt for people with less formal education. While many clamour to be part of a university, some institutions do not always embrace prospective students. To get the public to embrace universities, universities also need to embrace the public – and they need to share how universities produce valuable research, employ a broad range of people, and educate students.
Thoughtful collaboration is essential for effective Advancement efforts. But there are many potential stakeholders who are unaware of or do not currently engage with universities – in fact they may have no concept of such an institution, said Gastrow.