By Charndré Emma Kippie
Stacey Brewer is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sparks Schools – taking an innovative approach to disrupting South African education. For Stacey Brewer, researching her thesis to earn her MBA, from Gordon Institute of Business Science, was a deep-dive into the state of education in South Africa. She correlated how much the country spends on education and where we rank on numerous global indicators. When she rose to the surface, Stacey Brewer found herself on an unexpected track – on her way to becoming the co-founder of a network of quality, yet affordable independent schools. After a learning journey to the USA to explore the blended learning model, she returned with a plan to face a steep funding challenge.
While other start-ups can bootstrap and develop minimum viable products, you can’t do the same with a school. But Stacey had a compelling, disruptive solution to enable more SA families to access quality education, and she succeeded in raising angel investment for the first Spark School. Today, there’s a network of 21 schools across Gauteng and the Western Cape more than 10 000 learners are getting a high quality 21 st Century education. Stacey’s entrepreneurship story is a classic testimony to how businesses can be successfully built to solve problems and change lives for the better. This year, Stacey Brewer has been selected as a member of the Harambeans 14th Class.
What are your main career objectives? How do you hope to make a difference?
The reason for founding SPARK Schools is to address the national crisis in education in SA today. Our big focus at SPARK is to provide affordable high-quality education to underserved communities. We benchmark our total cost to educate against the government’s total cost to ensure that we provide education that is affordable to the country. It is not only about access to education but access to high-quality education and we aim to ensure that our scholars can compete at an international level. The focus on affordability and quality is made possible through SPARK Schools blended learning model that allows us to differentiate our instruction and has cost efficiencies within the system.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
I was studying my MBA at GIBS when it was highlighted how much we spend on education as a country and yet we are ranked bottom of the world in various competitiveness reports. I also saw a movement of low fee private schools where parents were voting with their feet and ensuring their children could access high-quality education. I completed my thesis on a sustainable financial model for low fee private schools which formed the foundation of SPARK Schools. I also spent time looking at the global low fee private schools’ sector where I researched about some of these schools operating across the African continent, travelled to experience these schools in India looking at these schools, and then visited pioneering schools in the blended learning offering in the United States.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
We have an opportunity to create positive change in our country that could change the trajectory of someone’s life that will last for generations.
What life mantra/inspirational quote do you live by?
As you let your light shine, you unconsciously permit others to do the same.
What 3 tips do you have when it comes to implementing solutions in your field?
- Ensure you have a team that is brighter than you
- Surround yourself with great personal and professional support. As a part of Harambeans, who are African innovators admitted to the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, they have provided support for entrepreneurs like myself and have developed ventures in Africa with lasting social and economic impact.
- Never forget or compromise on yourself and the organisations objectives
Have you read any books that have inspired you and your career thus far?
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line? And how do you stay motivated?
I have a huge sense of responsibility in making South Africa a better place for us to all live and fortunately I am able to do this through the work we do at SPARK. My personal purpose is strongly aligned to the organisation.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
Yes. I am actively involved in mentoring new entrepreneurs, and am a member of various Associations, such as YPO, Endeavor, and Harambeans. I also enjoy boxing, yoga, and running in my free time.
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
The scholars and their families keep me motivated in terms of how we can better serve them and serve more communities across the country.
What advice do you have for future generations of entrepreneurs in SA?
Be clear on what problem you are solving and how it addresses societal issues and challenges. Just do it!
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