Breaking Barriers To Affordable, Quality Education – The FPD Story

Corporate citizenship refers to a company’s responsibilities toward society. The goal is to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround them and still maintain profitability for stakeholders. This month Nation Builder brings you amazing case studies of businesses that are true corporate citizens.
South Africa is the country with the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world and carries 25% of the global HIV burden. Every year 270 000 South Africans still become HIV positive. We have the highest sexual assault rate in the world. Our education system is ranked at the bottom of global ratings and as a result, one out of every two young people cannot find a job. Sadly, we are a world leader in areas where no one wants to be a leader.
Against this backdrop, the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) was established in 1997 by the South African Medical Association, one of the oldest NPOs in the country, with a vision to build a better society through education and capacity development. In essence, a vision to effect positive change in our society. FPD now has a 22-year track record of catalyzing change through developing people, providing innovative solutions and strengthening systems.
Operating as a private higher education institution (PHEI), with a footprint across Africa, we provide a home for social entrepreneurs who share a passion for solving big societal problems. To attract such entrepreneurs, FPD was purposefully established as a for-profit legal entity rather than as an NPO. This strategic approach also ensured that FPD avoids the perpetual sustainability challenge that NPOs face. FPD has been a profitable business since inception and has grown its bottom line annually at between 10 to 20% irrespective of the business cycle.  We invest part of the profit we make in innovative start-up projects and businesses. This approach has allowed the organization to grow from three staff members in 1997 to 1500 in 2018 and the FPD Group now comprises 10 companies, all with a high level of social consciousness, working in areas such as education, tuition, recruitment, information technology, research and provision of affordable healthcare.
We believe that by breaking down barriers to quality and affordable education and implementing innovative developmental projects we can unlock the potential of every member of our society to contribute to building a better society.  We affect positive change by leveraging the capacity for innovation inherent in an academic institution, embracing technology and through establishing strategic partnerships with local, regional and international partners that share our vision for the continent. In this context FPD has partnered with government, business and NPOs to affect positive change in line with our vision. Although these partnerships were in the main positive our dedication to our vision at times brought us in conflict with the government. During the AIDS denialism period under President Mbeki, efforts to provide AIDS treatment within the public sector met considerable political resistance.  To overcome this resistance, we partnered with business and donors, allowing us to ensure that when AIDS medication became available in South Africa in 2004 we were able to rapidly train 3500 public sector doctors on how to use this medication and to go one to establish 70 AIDS clinics within government hospitals.
To date, we have provided training to over 450 000 students across Africa in management and professional development subjects. This includes the largest health leadership development programme in Africa that has reached 5000 managers in 13 countries. To reduce costs as a barrier we have provided educational support in excess of R 600 million to students.
We have provided more than 8 million free HIV tests and helped 800 000 PLHIV access life-saving treatment. To strengthen systems, we have implemented donor-funded projects with a value of more than R 4 billion within the health, justice and education sector working with more than 200 donors and corporate sponsors.
To influence the national discourse, we have organized more than 60 national, regional and international conferences. These conferences have drawn the attention of media, the public and policymakers to major social welfare issues. Often generating the momentum to overcome implementation blocks.
We have recruited and placed more than 4500 doctors from 1st world countries in underserviced rural hospitals despite substantial resistance originating from a “foreigners are stealing our jobs” discourse and provided thousands of learnership opportunities for school leavers.
Over the years we have increasingly been able to position our business as the “go to people” if you want to make a difference.
During this journey, we have realised the importance of the Arthur Jones quote: “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get”. Internally, in our own organization, the crafting of a social change vision from the onset, has ensured that we did not abandon our commitment to effect change irrespective of the obstacles we encountered. Externally this quote has also helped us understand where the resistance to change we often experience originates from. Additionally, we have learned that not only can business play a major role in creating social change, there is also a moral imperative to play this role.
Dr Gustaaf Wolvaardt is the Founder and Managing Director of the Foundation for Professional Development (Pty) Ltd,