Pink Star Our attitudes about the importance of investing well in young children have changed significantly in South Africa, and across the world, over the last decade. We also know so much more about the kind of child we need to nurture and develop to create healthy, happy and successful societies.

Why We Exist
Why We Exist Click on image to enlarge

Imagine a young child with a vibrant love of play and learning. A child who is curious and asks questions about the world around her. A child who loves listening to stories. Imagine a child who shows self-control and can wait her turn. A child who is kind and cares for others. Imagine an expressive, creative, confident child who has mastered some of the social, emotional, cognitive and physical skills that give her the power to succeed in life.

This is the kind of child SmartStart aims to develop. We believe every child in South Africa deserves the opportunity to reach their potential in this way.

We also understand the critical role played by quality early learning in the first 5 years of a child’s life. This is what helps to create a happy, well-adjusted child who will be ready for primary school. We are driven by the knowledge that, with even a small amount of good stimulation, children are building the foundation they need to thrive at school.

There are currently one million children aged 3-5 years who do not have access to early learning programmes. This is the challenge that we are turning into an opportunity, so that children across South Africa – from an early age – have a better chance of success.

SmartStart was founded in May 2015 to ensure that access to high quality early stimulation becomes a reality. We are starting with the poorest 40% of children aged 3 and 4 years old.

We provide an effective and affordable solution that enables unemployed women and men to run their own SmartStart programmes, and that empowers parents and communities to seek out and support these quality programmes.

We are also resourceful, collaborative and ambitious. This is what we seek from the women and men who we train and license, and from all the players in our network model.

Goals, Objectives & Achievements
Goals, Objectives & Achievements Click on image to enlarge

Our passion lies with the young children of our country. It lies in their minds ripe for learning; their hearts open for loving; and their bodies ready for exploring.

Our goal is to reach one million 3 and 4 years olds annually, by 2026. Over the next 3 years (2015- 2018), we will target 50 000 children and build a network of 5 000 licensed franchisees.

With a solid pipeline of public and private funding, we are confident of the strong platform that we are creating that will enable further scaling.

At the end of our first year (June 2016), we have:

  • Over 850 SmartStart franchises operating across the country in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West.
  • Over 10 000 children participating in the SmartStart early learning programme.

We are excited about the love, care and stimulation that these children are receiving.

Our Model
Our Model Click on image to enlarge

Our model is designed around a social franchise – a network of licensed SmartStarters who provide a consistent daily programme and are supported in their local clubs by a club leader and club coach.  These SmartStarters are transforming our children.

Behind the scenes, are our operational partners (known as SmartStart Franchisors) as well as the National Hub.

SmartStarters (franchisees):

  • Self-driven women or men from the community.
  • Undergo a rigorous selection, training and licensing process to offer the SmartStart programme to 3 – 4 year olds in the community.
  • Supported in their clubs

Club Leaders:

  • One for every 10 – 16 SmartStarters in a geographical area.
  • Run monthly group meetings for SmartStarters in their area.
  • Responsible for reporting and data collection.

Club Coaches:

  • Based locally, each club coach supports and works with 10 different clubs.
  • Play an important role in quality assessment and licensing of SmartStarters.
  • Developmental in approach.


SmartStart Franchisors:

  • NGOs or social development organisations that understand scale.
  • Local geographic presence.
  • Implement and help quality assure the SmartStart programme.

SmartStart National Franchisor (the Hub):

  • Based in Johannesburg
  • Provides central functions including branding, training, financing, product design and support for SmartStart Franchisors implementing the programme.
Franchisors and Funders Click on image to enlarge

Our Franchisors are an important part of the SmartStart story.

SmartStart Franchisors oversee the crucial functions of recruiting, licencing and coaching our practitioner network. The also oversee the network management, partnership building, quality assurance and systems management.  We are currently working with 16 Regional Franchisors and 3 branches covering all provinces in South Africa. 

All our partners are equally committed to affordable, impactful and scaleable access to quality early learning for all children in South Africa. They do this with a clear understanding of the value of nurturing the character, skills, knowledge and attitudes of the youngest of our children as the future leaders of South Africa.

Executive Committee

Grace Matlhape

Chief Executive Officer

Grace heads up SmartStart. She has extensive experience, at an executive level, working in the social justice and development field in South Africa with a focus on young people. Prior to joining SmartStart, she was CEO of loveLife. She sits on several boards of commercial and non-profit organisations and is a fellow of the Leadership and Innovation Network for Collaboration in the children’s sector in South Africa. Throughout her career, she has been involved in the strategic implementation of smart education and health programmes across sub-Saharan Africa.


Nomsa Muthaphuli

Chief Operations Officer

Nomsa oversees HR, budgets and organisational strategies, policies and practices. She has worked for a top tier management consulting firm, and focused her consulting activities on the mining, metals and energy sectors around the world. Before that, she worked as a research metallurgist at Anglo American Technical. She holds a Masters in Civil Engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand.  

Sane Mdlalose

Chief Growth Officer

Sane leads the growth of SmartStart as a national early learning delivery platform. Sane oversees programme, traning and network operations functions within SmartStart. She has worked with several multi-national corporations prior to joining SmartStart as Chief Growth Officer.  

Nomvula Matlare

Brand & Communications Lead


Azola Fali

Operations Lead


Jon Hodgson

People and OD Lead


Hopolang Selebalo

Policy & Advocacy Lead


Justine Jowell

Programme Design & Development Lead

Justine has more than 20 years experience working in the development sector. She started out working with young people at risk, and later supported the development of child and youth care workers and their programmes, before moving specifically into the early years sector. She was part of the team that conceptualised the establishment of a South African Early Learning social franchise which resulted in the birth of SmartStart.



David Harrison

DG Murray Trust

David is the CEO of the DG Murray Trust, a South African foundation with a strong focus on early childhood development, education and leadership for public innovation. In 1991, he founded the Health Systems Trust (HST), a non-government agency supporting health policy and services development in South Africa. He then headed up loveLife, a national HIV prevention programme for young people. In 2010, he joined the DG Murray Trust. David studied medicine at the University of Cape Town and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.


Carley Furness-Symms

ELMA Foundation

Carley is a Senior Program Manager at the ELMA Philanthropies Services, managing the Johannesburg office. She has worked in the Education and Human Rights sectors for the past nine years. At the ELMA Philanthropies, Carley has played a leading role in the development of the Early Childhood Development portfolio in Southern Africa and leads the portfolio on supporting constitutional democracy.


Nicola Galombik


Nicola is Executive Director at Yellowwoods Holdings and Chief Executive for Yellowwoods Inclusive Growth Catalyst. In the latter role, she leads public, private and social innovations and incubates social enterprises to drive large scale positive change. Prior to her work at Yellowwoods, she established and was Managing Director of Converse, a management consulting business focused on large-scale organisational change and leadership consulting.


Ntjantja Ned

Hollard Trust

Ntjantja Ned is CEO of the Hollard Trust, responsible for the ECD Portfolio. She has extensive experience in the public and NGO sectors as well as in multilateral agencies. She holds a Masters in Social Welfare Administration and a Post Graduate Diploma in Policy & Development Management. She serves on a number of trusts aimed at advancing the cause of children including Netcare Mother & Child Trust, SmartStart Early Learning Social Franchise, Adopt-a-School Foundation, and Assupol Community Trust.


Get involved! Find out more

To find out more about SmartStart and how you can get involved, contact the SmartStart office on 010 595 3902 or email us at