The experiences and perceptions of 6 NGO leaders on the role and value of formal and informal learning in leadership continuity in the NGO sector across 3 historical periods in South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In this research study I explore the role and value of formal and informal learning in leadership continuity in South Africa. In order to do this I look at the experiences and perceptions of 6 NGO leaders in South Africa whom I locate within three historical periods. Within this context, I also explore the shifts in leadership and modes of learning, which I argue and based on my data analysis, were accompanied by broader shifts in the power relations in South Africa post 1994. I highlight three informal modes of learning that were dominant in the first historical period namely, experiential learning, popular education and situated learning which became eroded in the second and third historical periods and substituted by more formal learning processes. My study found that in the latter part of the third historical period there was a resurgence of more informal learning processes in line with an emergent and developing social movement that questioned the continued power imbalances in society. In conducting this study my research methodology was informed by an interpretive and qualitative approach with semi-structured interviews with the 6 NGO leaders employed as the primary means of data collection. Based on my findings, I discovered that the NGO sector has experienced a leadership discontinuity further exacerbated by a disruption of learning processes with serious implications for transfer of knowledge, skills and experiences In answering my main research question I found that effective leadership continuity to enhance sustainable organizations can best be facilitated through informal learning processes where, within a community of practice, these processes are more respected and valorised. I also found that formal learning processes will best be effective if it can be complementary to but not a substitute for these informal learning processes. I also found that the conflation of training with learning and the dualism between formal and informal learning are not very helpful in understanding leadership development and continuity in the NGO sector. Another important finding that this research study highlights is the importance of appreciating the dynamic interrelationship between the macro power alignments represented by the state and the economy and the micro power relationships represented by leadership and learning within a community of practice.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 87-92).