OMT Impact Strategy

Purpose of the engagement

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) contracted Nova Economics to form part of, and manage, a multi-disciplinary team to assist the organisation with the development of its 10- to 20-year social investment strategy.

Background and context

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, established in 1958, has a long history of supporting higher education in South Africa but also funds basic education and early childhood development initiatives, as well as agencies actively engaged in the arts, policy research and advocacy work.

The OMT appointed a new CEO in July 2020. At the same time, the next generation of the family took over the role of alternating Chair of the Board. With these changes, it was a fitting time to review the work of the Trust, to take stock of developments in the sectors it supports, and to embark on a journey with the family and independent Trustees to chart the way forward.

Approach to the engagement

Nova’s work on the engagement was split into three phases. Phase 1 consisted of research into the sectors that OMT supports with the aim of understanding their challenges and identifying areas where philanthropies like OMT might be well-positioned to intervene and contribute. Phase 2 sought to define the strategic intent of the Trust and its broader focus areas within each sector. Phase 3 then aimed to unpack how the Trust should go about executing on its strategic intent in those focus areas.

Phase 1: Sector research

Nova employed a three-pronged approach to the sector research.

Component 1: Desktop research

The desktop research component saw the team review relevant academic and grey literature. The aim of this was to understand the key challenges facing the sectors that OMT supports, what drives the challenges and what could be done to solve or alleviate them. The team also conducted an extensive stakeholder mapping exercise to identify organisations to survey and individuals to interview in the research phase.

Component 2: Surveys of non-profits

Surveys were administered with leading non-profits to source perspectives from experienced practitioners regarding the realities on the ground. In addition, they were used to help the OMT build a greater understanding of the role that philanthropies should play in supporting their non-profit grantees outside of conventional funding.

Component 3: Interviews with sector experts

Along with OMT employees, the Nova team conducted many semi-structured interviews with experts from academia, philanthropic peers, government bodies and non-profits. The interviews were used to unpack the nuances behind the challenges identified in the desktop research but, more importantly, to begin identifying the areas where the Trust could have the greatest impact.

Phase 2: Strategic opportunity development

The findings from Nova’s work on Phase 1 were combined with the learnings from OMT’s past, and insights stemming from a scenario planning exercise held with the Board. Nova, along with the OMT team, then embarked on a three-step process to identify and select the most promising opportunity areas for the Trust.

Step 1: We conducted internal workshops to review the key findings and insights from the research conducted and map the opportunities available.

Step 2: We ran a further workshop to evaluate each opportunity against a set of criteria, before taking recommendations to the Board.

Step 3: We then held a two-day strategy session with the Board in February 2022, where we presented and discussed our findings and recommendations, and agreed on the way forward.

Phase 3: Further research to guide the strategy’s implementation

In Phase 3 we conducted deeper dives into the chosen focus areas of the Trust. This saw us follow a very consultative process centering on:

  • Interviews,
  • Multi-stakeholder workshops,
  • Focus groups, and
  • Supplementary desktop research.

At the beginning of 2023, we reconvened with the OMT Board to reflect on our engagements and learnings, and agree on the investment priorities, goals, and theories of change for the Trust.

Outcomes of the engagement

Through the project, the OMT was able to develop and align on its strategic intent, identify the areas where it will have the greatest impact, and understand how it will be successful in these areas. The organisation enters an exciting new chapter, clear and committed to why and how it will invest in leverage points to help drive meaningful change. We look forward to seeing the results of this strategy in the coming years.


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