Change makers impacting the world around them.

24 May 2024
Nomsa and Bailey
24 May 2024
Nomsa and Bailey
Nomsa and Bailey in the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust offices

Meet two inspiring women who are making a difference and changing lives through their work at the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.

Nomsa Muthapuli:  From Chemical Engineer to Head of Early Childhood Development & Youth at the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust
UCT wasn’t Nomsa’s first choice of university to study at, because she wanted to stay close to home.  She wanted to study something in the science field – Biochemistry was her initial plan, however she received a bursary from AngloGold and embarked on a Chemical Engineering degree at UCT at the last moment.  Nomsa had a great experience at UCT and stayed in Carinus residence, and while at university she was involved in a range of student societies from His People, disability services volunteer, and was on the residence house committee. 

Her first job was working in the mines in Carltonville, where there were very few women and it was often challenging to work night shift.  After her stint at the mines, Nomsa moved to the Anglo American research labs.  This was followed by a move to Mckinsey & Co where she worked as a researcher and a consultant on some projects.  At this stage, she had children and didn’t want to be constantly on the move.  While at Mckinsey, Nomsa had a hip replacement and wasn’t able to work.  During this time, she had time to evaluate where her career was going (an early existential crisis!) and what she wanted to do with her life.  She had small children and thought it would be interesting to do some extra mural activities for children – starting up an initiative of science experiments for children called Little Scientists.  Further enriching her career, Nomsa moved to a start-up for a short stint, working as a management consultant.  

At this juncture, Nomsa met someone from Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, who told her about social sector organisations and opportunities to be involved.  This segued into Nomsa (unexpectedly) taking on a role as operations manager and later chief operations officer (COO) at SmartStart – an early learning social franchise which was still at start-up phase at the time.  It was an interesting journey into the social sector for Nomsa, which gave her insight from the inside about what it takes to shift the needle of early learning in South Africa.  Nomsa stayed there for almost eight years having gained invaluable experience. 

Deciding that she needed to get different exposure to the ECD sector, Nomsa joined the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) in late 2023, where she heads up Early Childhood development (ECD) and Youth.  In this role she supports ECD organisations from a funding perspective, with the aim of driving systems change in the sector, and improving both access and quality early learning for South Africa’s most marginalized children.  To reach universal access to early learning, thousands of new ECD practitioners and support staff will be required, and her portfolio recognizes the opportunity to also impact youth unemployment. This is done through supporting organisations that work with youth, to find them pathways into the ECD sector. Nomsa comments, “The move from an implementer (SmartStart) to a funder (OMT) provides an opportunity to get a holistic view of the sector and its players, appreciate the complexities different organisations face on the ground, as well as opportunities for impact through collaboration”.  

Nomsa met her husband, who was studying Metallurgical Engineering at WITS, at a bursary interview and they did vac work together.  They have two children, aged 17 and 16.  Nomsa still somehow finds time to run her Little Scientist business for children. 

On why she does this work, Nomsa says, “ECD is such an important foundation and provides good return on investment for education.  If you invest early in a child, they will become a well-adjusted citizen.  This is all about how to get good child outcomes that lay a foundation for future success.  There are still minefields to navigate and it is a fragmented space with lots of different individuals with different ideas”.   Nomsa is excited about the opportunities that a social compact with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) can unlock. There is increasing recognition that quality learning can happen in different settings and practitioners need to be supported regardless of whether they operate in a traditional brick and mortar ECD center or home and community based spaces.  This is one important way to ensure access to early learning in every community.

Nomsa comments that she has come full circle – with a bursary from Anglo Gold to working in the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust!

Bailey Corder:  Journey across the globe and several different careers – moving from corporate to development work. 

Bailey did a Business Science degree at UCT, which was the only university she applied to, having seen her sister go through the system and enjoy her experience.  She stayed in Baxter residence and whereas she had been very serious at school, when she got to UCT, she had a more carefree time, playing social tennis and getting involved in RAG. When she finished her studies, Bailey did her articles at KPMG in Johannesburg.  She worked at KPMG in the industrial, automotive and pharmaceutical division, and while this wasn’t what she would have chosen for herself, (working with clients in plants in hard hats and boots) it provided a great learning experience and she found it a cool way to learn her way around Johannesburg. She would go out with a map book (before the days of Google Maps) and visit factories and construction sites. 

When she left KPMG, Bailey did a short stint in Minneapolis for three months – going from thirty degrees in South Africa to minus thirty degrees in Minneapolis!  After Minneapolis, Bailey travelled for a year, covering the States, Central and South America.  While travelling, she did Home Stays, attended Language School and learned to speak Spanish.  On her return to South Africa, Bailey worked for a financial advisory company where she had some eye-opening experiences working for big clients.  This company then sent her to the UK to open an office for them there, which was a big learning experience, as the sole person responsible for every aspect of business.  Bailey came back to South Africa with the same company and interestingly, OMT was one of her clients.

Tracey Webster had recently been appointed as OMT’s CEO and was setting up processes and systems. Bailey went to OMT to assist and after about 6 months, Tracey asked Bailey whether she wanted a full-time position working there.  For Bailey it was an interesting career move – moving from corporate to private sector and then to development.  Bailey describes her work now is very different – with a focus on softer skills and learning about education ecosystems – how all the pieces fit together to support the entire value chain. 

When asked what drew her to taking the position at OMT, Bailey responded, “it was the stories of how life changing a scholarship can be and the impact of what we do here has on lives.  The search for meaningful work helped making the leap into this work easy”.   OMT has been in existence since 1958 and they have changed innumerable lives, such as the likes of Desmond Tutu and many others who they offered scholarships to.  “Tracey is an inspiring leader who is not afraid to get her hands dirty.  For the last three years we have been building a strong team and our strategy has shifted to tackling the systems in which we work.”, said Bailey. 

OMT’s five-fold focus is:
1. ECD and Youth Development:  enabling universal access by 210 000 young people becoming ECED practitioners with 200 000 more to be employed in the sector by 2030.
2. Basic Education:  Improving the quality of teaching by flooding the system with new, dynamic and highly skilled foundation phase teachers.
3. Higher Education:  supporting exceptional talent at multiple levels
4. Social Justice:  building social justice and a robust democracy by supporting policy advocacy, research and investigative journalism.
5. Arts and Culture:  nurturing young talent through exposure to arts and supporting platforms for them to shine. 

Bailey stresses how important it is to keep a bird’s eye view and play a collaborative role in this field.  She describes how they need to elevate the organisations they support, showcase their work and the impact they have made.  Harry Oppenheimer’s philosophy was to always support individuals and that is a golden thread they want to keep at the heart of what they do. 

By way of encouragement to other professionals who might be thinking about taking the leap from corporate into development work, Bailey has this to say, “It is important for high-fliers in the corporate sector to consider working in the social sector and vice versa.  We need their expertise in thinking, strategy and business plans.  Thinking becomes limited if we have teams of only engineers/ lawyers/ accountants – it is very good to have diversity of thinking and different ways of seeing things”.