Alonzo Naude and Zilungile Zimela are nearing the end of their year-long journey as Fellows in the DGMT Fellowship for Organisational Innovation. The past pandemic-filled year has demanded innovative and agile thinking, so this Fellowship couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Fellowship was envisaged to be a face-to-face experience with 20 fellows from different individuals from organisations who work in the literacy and youth development space. After the first week of the immersion, with fellows gathered in Cape Town, the devastating news of the coronavirus pandemic hit South African shores. The ensuing lockdown and the need for social distancing to combat the spread of the virus necessitated significant changes to the format of the Fellowship.

The new normal meant that fellows would have to commit to the next two immersions being online only. This was an unexpected change and it called on every fellow involved to be agile and adopt to the new normal. You can read about their introduction to this journey here.

While the format of the fellowship changed, the DGMT team worked hard to ensure that all involved still got the best from the Fellowship experience. It has been a meaningful and exciting experience for both Alonzo and Zilungile, and the ontological coaching aspect of it has allowed the fellows to thrive both professionally and personally.

“I have had a great time being part of the fellowship, through what could have easily been a difficult year for me, both professionally and personally, I found myself thriving. I felt held, supported and taken care of, and the invaluable lessons learned and new skills grasped I feel better equipped to innovate professionally and personally,” confirmed Zilungile.

The fellows were chosen because of the roles that each play at FunDza. In the words of Mignon Hardie, “both Alonzo and Zilungile are energetic, committed and ambitious members of FunDza, who are keen to not only make a difference to the organisation but also develop personally too.”

One of the requirements of the fellowship was to address an organisational ‘problem’ that could be used as a focus point for innovation. At the start we decided that we’d like the focus to be on our online courses to figure out how to increase the number of people enrolling on the courses, and to develop better strategies to determine what content is needed by our users.

Through the fellowship, Alonzo and Zilungile spent time on reinterpreting this ‘problem’ as an innovation question that could be the launchpad for their fellowship experience. The fellows, with the guidance and help of the facilitators and field experts employed by DGMT for the fellowship process narrowed the question down to 20 words for perspective and context.

The question became: “How can we increase the number of adolescents enrolling for open online courses and develop strategies to determine relevant content?”

The fellows then went on a year-long journey, with new skills and knowledge to try and best answer this question with the aid of the facilitators, ontological coach and FunDza’s organisational leaders. This has been an interesting exercise and has allowed the opportunity as an organisation to come together to ideate and brainstorm collaboratively.

Dorothy Dyer, who manages the course programme, writes: “I was very pleased that our online courses were the focus of my colleagues’ participation in their Fellowship. I am responsible for the courses, and felt that they were overdue for fresh scrutiny and reflection. And this has proved true – the Fellowship has ensured that we discuss and analyse the courses in a variety of contexts. What I was surprised by is that when Mignon and I joined the sessions with Tshepo, the Fellowship coach, we also became part of the self-development activities and process. I enjoyed these sessions as they gave me a space to step back and reflect on FunDza as an organisation, and also on the personal dynamics that are critical for a healthy organisation. I know that for Zilungile and Alonzo this Fellowship has been an invaluable process for both their personal and professional lives – they have mentioned it often – and I am delighted that they had this opportunity, and that both FunDza and I got some of the benefits as well.”

As the fellows draw closer to the end of their year-long journey, which officially ends virtually in February 2021, Alonzo, brimming with emotion reflected, “The session was really amazing. We had to think about what would be the best way to have our last session and make it as exciting as the fellowship was and boy was it difficult. We realized that our innovation question had to change because we are already answering our first one. This gave us an opportunity to reflect on the whole fellowship and wow, the nostalgia… At the end, we presented our bio book pictures and it was really sad knowing that the fellowship was really ending. We reflected on the inspirational sessions, amazing people we met and thanked our awesome coach. I am truly grateful to DGMT and FunDza leaders for the opportunity and 2020 really forced me to implement everything I learned.”

This process has given us an opportunity to reflect and really think about how we use the newfound information to innovate our online offering and programmes with the fellows and knowledge of the fellowship in our arsenal.

It is with joy that we express our heartfelt gratitude to DGMT, the facilitators, our peers in the fellowship, FunDza’s organisational leaders and our amazing coach Tshepo Modise-Harvey who have contributed in leaps and bounds to making this process the success that it has been and will forever be.