Creating a culture of continuous thinking and learning

Elmarie Potgieter, Managing Director – RITE International Inc

A passionate educationalist who upholds two fundamental principles: Capacity Building and Sustainable Solutions, with a relentless focus on building smarter, well groomed & skilled individuals, Elmarie started her own education consultancy company two years ago after a long career in education across several continents. Her mother was a teacher, and as much as she resisted the career, she ended up following in her footsteps.

Elmarie is a certified Emotional Intelligence Coach, a Mindfulness Practitioner, writer and trainer. She is also a passionate advocate for empowerment of learners of all ages. At the same time she has a manufacturing business of eclectic jewellery from semi-precious stones and other materials that she collects from all over the world. She loves reading and continuously expanding her own horizons through travelling and collecting interesting art.

“In order to be a good educator, we ourselves should continuously learn and focus on developing our skills and talents; I love arts and often perform as singer in shows. I am also very passionate about serving the community, and hence I am a member of the Soroptimist International Organisation, and also serve as advisor to MCII, the Malaysian Collective Impact Initiative and an organisation I previously led as CEO, Elmarie adds.”

Team ABT captures some more insights from her journey in this interview with Elmarie Potgeiter.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an Educator?
A few figures stand out.  I was in a girl’s only school in Pretoria, South Africa, called AHMP.  Our principal was lovingly called “Blits” – a tremendous lady who modeled to us all that women doesn’t have to face a glass ceiling.  That we could become anyone we wanted to be.  As a result, my class of 82 has produced tremendously successful women who are in leadership positions, influential economists, writers, actors and leaders in their respective fields.

Another person that influenced me greatly was my Head of School as a teacher/Head of Department.  Her name is Thana Pienaar from Prestige College Hammanskraal, South Africa.  She introduced me to the field of cognitive education, which sparked a life-long interest in learning about the impact of neuroscientific research on teaching practice.  This has been an area of intense research for me over the years, and I’ve implemented this learning in all the national education transformation programmes that I’ve subsequently designed.

The last person I would like to single out is the late Stephen Covey.  I was privileged to attend one of his training sessions, and the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People has become a guideline for my own life ever since.

What has been your biggest challenge as a Woman Entrepreneur?
Despite the advances in technology and education, women are still fighting a battle that should not be necessary.  The very fact that we single out “female entrepreneurial issues” is a sign that there simply is no equality in the marketplace for women. People believe that “men are good in business and that women perform better in other careers is still a pervasive belief.”  I think women themselves use male entrepreneurial and business figures as benchmarks against which they measure their own success.  Let’s face it, look at the corporate boards across the world, the leadership positions in governments, CEOs of major businesses – and you will see that these roles are still mostly filled by men.

Female entrepreneurs not only have to deal with typecasting and perceptions around their own abilities in business, but also have to deal with other limitations – access to loans, access to decision-makers to present ideas, and even more importantly, a lack of support for their multiple roles as mothers, wives, caretakers of family and then also this role of entrepreneur which is often not supported by family members and friends.

Amongst the younger generation here in Malaysia, I’ve noticed that there are a few more female entrepreneurs who are entering the market, but on the whole, it still is a very male-dominated world.

Tell us about the journey of RITE Education’ so far.
RITE Education is growing from strength to strength.  I’ve just expanded the business through the creation of RITE International Inc in Labuan, as well as an Sdn Bhd in Malaysia.  This was necessitated by the expansion of the company’s business and perceptions in the Malaysian marketplace that a limited liability company is better that a limited liability partnership.  I am very pleased that RITE was selected by Agensi Innovasi Malaysia to lead the development of the Genosis Project – an exciting new accreditation model for schools in Malaysia and the region.

We also deliver school improvement and leadership development programmes nationwide in partnership with the PINTAR Foundation, the Edge Foundation and Credit Suisse and other international foundations as well as investment groups across the world. We also developed a programme to promote thinking skills in young children…an innovative and unique curriculum, called ThinkWise.

How would you describe your leadership style?
RITE stands for Research, Innovation, Transformation and Empowerment – the four pillars upon which RITE Education Consultancy is founded. We ground our work in the latest and most relevant educational and leadership research and best practices; Innovation:  We constantly innovate our programmes and practices and our work is grounded in Inquiry Processes; Transformation:  We always aim at transforming existing practices as well as the larger system through capacity building and sustainable Practices that have measurable impact; Empowerment:  This is my key focus.  I believe in empowering other people and hence my company works with independent associates who are given the opportunity to become financially independent and to have the capacity to build their own career as independent RITE Associates.

It is important to give regular and meaningful feedback to my team, but mostly to lead through example and to give them the ownership and trust needed to lead themselves and projects.  This is the best way to develop, motivate and inspire your workforce.

If you were to do one thing differently, what would that be?
I would have started my own business a bit earlier in my career, however, looking back, I can see how my various roles have prepared me to lead and grow RITE Education. I would also have loved to expand my field of study to include a formal education in Neuroscience!

Could you recall any one proud moment/milestone?
Being selected as a Women Icon Malaysia 2018 meant a great deal to me.  As the only non-Malaysian amongst the group of icons, I felt really proud that my work in the country and across the region had been recognised.

What would you like to achieve in the next coming years?
I would like to see that the programmes we are developing really produce learners, young people, who are equipped with the necessary skills and attributes that will help make a positive change in the world.

I would also love to see how the citizens of Malaysia start to change their views on education, that it is not about the number of “a’s” achieved in national exams such as the SPM, that it is about well-rounded and skilled individuals who care deeply about others and who use their innovative thinking to ensure that they help preserve and sustain the fragile resources to safeguard life on earth.  Perhaps to see more kindness, more deep thinking about consequences and connections between things.

Here is the video of Elmarie Potgeiter at the Women Icons Malaysia 2018 Awards by BERG Singapore.