Written by Staff Writer
Dr Trish Ndlovu explains to CFOClub Africa how being a finance leader in the education sector is deeply meaningful.
“I was working in corporate and wanted to do my master’s. But, you know, corporate and studying don’t really go very well together – they’re not best friends. “So I had to look for a job opportunity that was less demanding, and I found myself in a school environment,” Dr Trish Ndlovu told a recent CFOConvo webinar.
However, Trish soon realised that the education sector is not only demanding, it’s complex.
“I realised I’m in unchartered waters. Education is highly regulated in South Africa. There are so many things that you cannot do that hinder you from being financially sustainable. As a result of working in the school setup, I was always trying to come up with solutions to say, how do I make the school better? How do you raise funds? How do you balance the needs of the school and the needs of the staff and all of that.”
Trish answered all these questions emphatically and turned around the financial situation of the school she was first placed at. NCSA Education then centralised its finance team, allowing Trish to manage the finances of all their schools.
Education needs more accountants
This experience in turning around the finances of schools also drove Trish’s PhD research culminating in a thesis: The Child Yolk to Schools’ Financial Sustainability.
Trish found in her thesis and real-life experience that there are many factors you can’t ignore when making a school financially sustainable. Some, like debt management, are more obvious, but other factors, such as human resources, are less obvious but equally essential.
“The question is, who are you employing? How are you employing them? How are you keeping them employed? Are you compliant? Because if you get any teacher off the street, the quality of education in your class is going to be compromised. And if the quality is compromised, it will affect your enrollment.”
The most meaningful thing you can do with your finance skills?
Trish admits that entering the education sector is not on the list for most finance professionals. “When you are in corporate, you feel like you have arrived. You feel like you are invincible. You feel like you’ve reached your targets.”
However, swapping a corporate office for the sound of school bells is incredibly meaningful.
“The one beautiful thing about being in an education setup is that you can trace what you are doing,” Trish told CFOConvo webinar. “You can say, ‘When I got to this place, there was no science lab. Now, because of the strategies I’ve put in place, there’s a science lab.’
Another example Trish gave is improving access to education.
“I have a fundraising drive where I’ll talk to parents and say, pay an extra X amount every month.” This extra amount goes towards funding the education of the children of support staff at the same private schools they work at.
“We want to break the cycle of poverty. If you look at our history of education in South Africa, it’s a sore point. It is very fragmented. You know, we don’t want to keep on saying the sins of the past are affecting us. We are changing the sins of the past. We are saying – where we can bring difference and change – we will do so.”