Jonathan Janssen Speaks his Mind

Powerful moral underground keeps SA together, says Jonathan Jansen

 “There is a very powerful moral underground that keeps this country together. If you take non-profit organisations (NPOs) out of the system, this country will collapse,” says Prof Jonathan Jansen, Distinguished Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University and also President of the South African Academy of Science.

He was the guest speaker at the launch of the University of Stellenbosch Business School’s Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership Development with a focus area in NPOs.*

He addressed the audience on the hard realities of leading in the NPO sector and says the most important need in this sector is leadership.

“I have given up on the government. I believe we have crossed over into a very dark space.”

He adds that the real value of the NPO sector lies in its capacity to do something different and innovative from what government departments do.

“If you are in this space and you simply do what the state has failed to do, then you have lost an opportunity to really make an impact,” he says.

He says the private rate of return to investment in education in South Africa is the highest in the world – even higher than Chile. The problem we have, he says, is that the investment that we make is not matched by the outcomes that we get.

“That, of course, is an efficiency problem. But you can make an incredible difference in education by simply investing in education. I see people doing that and I see incredible things going on. I call this the moral underground,” he says.

Prof Arnold Smit, programme coordinator of the new stream and head of USB’s Social Impact, says social impact is about creating hope for people and advancing change for a flourishing world.

“One thing that is particularly important, is to create public value and social impact,” he says. “We strive to be responsible leaders who work with others to enhance quality of life, create a spirit of generosity, and work for a fair and just society.”


For many years now I have been remarking that the work that the NGO sector does, 100,000 of them, is South Africa’s biggest untold story. Everywhere you go, no matter what the sector, there are NGO’s engaged, many, if not all, making a massive contribution to our social fabric. Where I live, in the rural KZN village of Nottingham Road there are NGO’s involved in keeping the town clean, reading to Foundation phase children, fundraising for the SPCA, partnering with Principals in our under-resourced schools, developing farming skills amongst the poor, sponsoring children with potential to attend special maths and science classes so they can upgrade their matric, providing ECD training, the energy seems limitless, the commitment unshakeable, the beneficiary being the entire community. Steuart Pennington

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