Our Story

Symphonia Leadership Development (SLD) is a social enterprise committed to develop leadership capacity at scale. We support leaders across sectors who are committed to create flourishing and inclusive organisational communities where people feel a strong sense of belonging, know their voice matters and they are invited to contribute their gifts.

The name Symphonia, was inspired by a story from the book “The Art of Possibility”  written by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. ‘Symphonia’ means the sounding together of voices and is at the heart of our ethos – we are committed to strengthening communities of love and belonging where all voices are heard and welcomed.

Since 2008 we have been working on a variety of social change programmes to develop the capacity of leaders to lead change – across all sectors (business, government, communities, schools etc).

We are known for Partners for Possibility – the leadership development and social change programme designed and developed by Dr Louise van Rhyn (our founder). After 20 years of working with leaders from commercial organisations around the world, in 2010 she made a commitment to see whether it may be possible to address some of South Africa’s most intractable challenges through cross-sector collaboration and citizen leadership at scale.

This commitment changed the Symphonia story. Symphonia for South Africa NPC (Not for Profit Company) was established and Louise spent 12 years focused on leading the Partners for Possibility leadership development and principal support programme. During this time more  than one million people were positively impacted.

The programme is a multi-faceted social change process that is designed to strengthen leadership capacity in under-resourced schools and commercial organisations across the country through cross-sector reciprocal co-action and co-learning partnerships between business leaders and school principals.  Partners for Possibility (PfP) has won many awards (nationally and internationally) for innovation and impact and we have come to see this as ‘developed for South Africa as a gift to the world’. Although she is still involved in the delivery of PfP Louise has handed over responsibility for the day-to-day running of the programme and is now focused on scaling the impact beyond education in South Africa.

We are privileged to be working with many leaders in organisations in South Africa, UK and across Africa. These leaders inspire and challenge us. Serving and supporting them enable us to live our purpose.


Louise van Rhyn is living in the UK when she reads The Art of Possibility (by Roz and Ben Zander).

In the book Ben and Roz Zander tells the story about their visit to South Africa. They write the following:

“We visited South Africa in the summer of 1999. Along with the stunning beauty of the landscape and the rich variety of life, we were struck by one very remarkable thing: conversations everywhere centered on South Africa. All the conversations were about South Africa.

South Africa, the embodiment of Symphonia, the sounding of all the voices together. A living breathing entity” (p. 192)

When she read this, Louise felt called to return to South Africa to create more opportunities for people around the country to contribute their voices to Symphonia.

Louise completes her Doctorate at the Centre of Management and Complexity (University of Hertfordshire). Her inquiry is focused on Large-scale, complex social change.

She is privileged to study under the leadership of Professors Ralph Stacey, Patricia Shaw and Doug Griffiths while discovering the power of collaborative inquiry, autoethnography as a research methodology.

Louise and her family returns to South Africa with the intent to be a contribution to South Africa through Symphonia (envisaged to operate a social enterprise).

Louise establishes Symphonia Leadership Development and hosts Ben and Roz Zander in South Africa for an intense 23-day visit.

The purpose of the trip was to re-ignite the South Africa: Alive with Possibility narrative.

In August 2008 the Symphonia team hosts 97 different events and 13,000 people are inspired by the idea of South Africa: Alive with Possibility.

During one of the presentations Ben talks about President Mandela as the ‘first leader of Symphonia’.

The Symphonia team decides to capture the essence of the South Africa: Alive with Possibility message in a video – to be distributed widely to organisations across the country.

Symphonia for South Africa NPC is established to facilitate the distribution of these videos.

Endorsement from Archbishop Tutu

South Africa: Alive with Possibility video

Possibility Leadership

On 5th May 2009 the Dinokeng Scenarios were published (https://www.dinokengscenarios.co.za)

This is a rallying cry for Active Citizenship and for cross-sector collaboration between business, government and civil society.

Louise feels called… and makes a commitment to dedicate (at least) the next decade of her life to doing what she could to make the Walk Together scenario a reality.

The Symphonia team hosts author and Organisational Development consultant Peter Block in South Africa for a series of workshops based on this book Community: The structure of Belonging.

This is a transformational experience for most who participated in the workshops.

During these workshops the idea of mobilising around School at the Centre of Community is born.

During the year of working with Ridwan, Louise realises that this process could be scaled as a leadership development programme for impact – an opportunity for business leaders and school principals to work together in a co-action and co-learning partnerships where they would get the opportunity to participate in a facilitated 70:20:10 leadership development programme while developing their skills to lead change in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment.

She spends her December holiday conceptualising the Partners for Possibility leadership development and principal support process, drawing on:

  • Her experience of working for more than 2 decades as a change consultant (in South Africa, UK, US, Europe and Singapore);
  • Her doctorate studies;
  • Her inquiry into the possibility of making the “Walk Together” scenario work;
  • Her inquiry into the role of “business as a force for good”;
  • Her inquiry into what it takes to make 70:20:10 leadership development programmes work;
  • Her exposure to and working together with:
    • Nancy Kline (author of Time to Think);
    • Ben & Roz Zander (authors of The Art of Possibility);
    • Peter Block (author of Flawless Consulting and Community: The Structure of Belonging)

This enabled her to create a unique and innovative 70:20:10 leadership development process for social impact designed to be implemented at scale.

In 2012 Louise talked about her own experience of working as Ridwan at a TEDxCapeTownEd event.

Later that year she was asked to talk about Partners for Possibility at TEDxCapeTown

Designed Learning (Peter’s organisation in the USA), invites Symphonia Leadership Development as a partner to deliver Flawless Consulting in South Africa.

Louise facilitates the first Flawless Consulting workshop in Cape Town in November 2011.

On 25 February 2011 the first PfP leadership circles launches in Cape Town with Veronica Wantenaar as Learning Process Facilitator (LPF).

This circle shows the impact of the programme and possibility of scaling the PfP model. This is the start of a movement and change in thousands of schools across South Africa.

On 29 May 2012 Partners for Possibility hosts its first celebration event with Dr Mamphela Ramphele as keynote speaker

Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s keynote

Highlights from the presentations at the celebration event

Symphonia for South Africa receives the coveted Reconciliation Award from The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in recognition of the powerful impact of the PfP programme in promoting education and, ultimately, reconciliation in South Africa.

It was at this event that Archbishop said “It is projects like Partners for Possibility that fill God’s heart with JOY. When He looks at the work of Symphonia, He smiles”