I have always been a believer in not burning bridges and that as people, we sleep better at night having more friends than enemies. Through this note, I celebrate the three women featured in this newsletter. They are former BRIDGE CEOs, predecessors and now friends who played a vital role in getting me BRIDGE-ready earlier on in my tenure. I have had the benefit of the lessons they learnt, the successes they had while at BRIDGE and also the insights they gleaned from the challenges they encountered. I recall a conversation I had with Barbara Dale-Jones about the difficulties of fundraising for an organisation that does not work directly with learners. I wanted to get a sense of the challenges I would encounter but also the values of the organisation. I remember thinking that collaboration and partnerships were weird values to have. These values did not make sense to me until much later, when my three predecessors demonstrated how they live these values through their sage advice to me. They have continued being cheerleaders for BRIDGE’s work by connecting me to people – people with innovative ideas, resources and people with opportunities.
Vuyiswa Ncontsa, BRIDGE CEO
Linda Vilakazi, Lead Project Coordinator, Zanele Mbeki Development Trust
Linda was BRIDGE’s first CEO (2010-2012). She describes her key contribution during BRIDGE’s early years as starting the conversations amongst stakeholders. This involved bringing stakeholders together, setting up communities of practice, helping people see the value of what BRIDGE was doing, and initiating the long process of building trust as a basis for sharing learning. During this time BRIDGE also laid the foundations for some of its long-running school leadership programmes.
Linda has since worked with numerous foundations, trusts, boards and ministerial task teams. She has served as CEO of the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation, as Chairperson of the Thebe Foundation Trust, and as a member of the Wits Executive Committee of Convocation and the Wits Council. Linda is a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
Linda has continued to work in education in the development sector, while also moving into broader community development, with a focus on sustainable approaches to overcoming poverty. Linda’s recent work with the Zanele Mbeki Development Trust has involved convening women from the entire African continent to participate in dialogues on issues affecting women’s lives and the contributions that women are making.
“My vision for education in South Africa is that we find ways to get it right. I believe we can get it right. I do think that we suffer heavily from operating in silos, as well as from trying to outdo each other – but if we can move to a place where we can fully look at our system, agree on the bare minimum and address that aggressively, I think we will move forward.”
Zanele Twala, CEO, Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Foundation
Before joining BRIDGE as Executive Director in 2012, Zanele had been at the helm of several organisations in the development space. Zanele credits BRIDGE with enabling her to reconnect with her core focus of education, and with introducing her to the non-governmental education sector and its work. She notes that although her move to BRIDGE had meant joining a small organisation, “it wasn’t small in the sense that it provided me with growth and opportunity in my career”. Zanele also credits BRIDGE with opening her eyes to the importance of relationships in forming a common purpose that allows knowledge to be shared and collaborative, collective action to be taken. Other learnings from this time included the importance of identifying and sharing best practice and the value of using digital platforms and technology.
Since 2016, Zanele has been responsible for establishing the Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Foundation and for guiding its work in promoting innovative development in ECD, schooling and post schooling – which the Foundation does by grant making, impact investing, and working in partnership with non-profits for programme delivery. This has included funding the BRIDGE-Standard Bank Tutuwa Foundation School Leadership Programme.
After having qualified at M.Ed. level in education policy, Zanele furthered her professional development at Harvard University, where she specialized in educational policy analysis and strategic NPO management.
Zanele sees her biggest contribution while at BRIDGE as being the formation of strong partnerships with government, and the inclusion of BRIDGE and its ECD CoP network in advocating and mobilising for initiatives such as the development of the National Integrated ECD Policy. During her time in the Presidency (2013 – 2016), where she served as Director/Sector Expert for ECD in the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Zanele continued to involve BRIDGE and its network organisations in participating in government deliberations.
Barbara Dale-Jones, entrepreneur and education consultant
Barbara was part of the team that conceived of and started BRIDGE in 2009. She helped grow BRIDGE in its early years, and became CEO in 2013. Under Barbara’s leadership, BRIDGE expanded its work in various strategic directions, including growing the numbers of communities of practice and establishing a new vision for knowledge management in the BRIDGE context.
Since leaving BRIDGE in 2016, Barbara’s professional journey has combined her passion for education with her enthusiasm for innovation, ICT and entrepreneurship. She has co-founded three companies: a global strategy consultancy (The Field Institute); a software company selling innovative tech solutions including South African-developed AI products (Thunderbay Collective); and a non-profit company that works with youth (The Field Lab).
The Field Lab created Rocket School as an online educational space for children around the world to collaborate and learn through role-playing games. In 2021 The Field Lab built d-lab, a programme to develop collaborative, creative and imaginative young design thinkers, aiming to speak to the demand in industry for new entrants with high-level capacity in design thinking and with the ability to thrive in a workplace that is complex, fast-changing and increasingly uncertain.
At the same time, Barbara is continuing to put her extensive knowledge and experience of the education space to good use in projects such as the PSET CLOUD project being run by JET Education Services and the merSETA, for which she is the innovation lead.
“I found working at BRIDGE life-changing. I learned about the power of collaboration in effecting systems and how, through working together, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts.”