Paul Esterhuizen is an entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Esterhuizen is best known as the visionary behind the MySchool reward and loyalty program, a popular initiative that raises millions of rand each month for hundreds of school and charity beneficiaries. MySchool has received global recognition and won multiple awards for its innovative methodology and widespread social impact.
Paul Esterhuizen: Early Life and Family
Paul Esterhuizen is a lifelong resident of Johannesburg and a 1977 graduate of Florida Park High School in the city’s western suburbs. In his youth, he was a talented athlete and thespian — named Sportsman of the Year and Best Actor of the Year at his alma mater.
Esterhuizen married Dianne, the love of his life, in 1981. They have three children — Lauren, Natalie, and Bronwyn — and four grandchildren.
Despite often working an 18-hour day, Esterhuizen spends ample time with family and friends. Sunday has long been a “complete no-work day” for Esterhuizen and his wife; they use the time to connect with family and friends, attend church and Bible study, and reflect prayerfully on the needs of the less fortunate.
Paul Esterhuizen and MySchool
Esterhuizen founded MySchool, his first education-related business venture, in 2000. In the years since, the program has grown steadily into a nationwide initiative that raises some R7 million every month for hundreds of schools and charities across South Africa. Thousands of families regularly swipe their MySchool rewards cards, and though the venture was sold to Woolworths and he is no longer involved in its operations, he remains proud of what he and his team were able to accomplish with the endeavor.
Esterhuizen’s founding vision for MySchool was quite simple: to develop a simpler, easier way to raise funds for his children’s school.
MySchool was “driven by the need for schools to leverage their parent communities and harness the support of local businesses [while encouraging] business to recognize that parents ‘belong’ in their role of educating their children,” says Esterhuizen.
With support from family, friends, and fellow parents, the idea quickly turned into the MySchool Card, the now-ubiquitous piece of plastic used by thousands of South African families each week. Today, MySchool plays an important role in enabling ordinary people — some of quite modest means — to provide quality educational opportunities for their children.
After MySchool: Paul Esterhuizen’s Subsequent Business Ventures
Beginning in 2005, Paul Esterhuizen founded three education-related business initiatives of note: Safer Schools, Safer Internet South Africa, and School-Days®.
Safer Schools began as a free online health and safety compliance management program for pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools. Its mission: to provide information and resources that improve the health and safety of learners in South African schools. Schools registered with Safer Schools have access to a fully digitized portfolio of resources, including operational checklists for fire prevention, first aid, and site inspection; health and safety incident recording and reporting; multi-level compliance management; and much more.
“Making schools aware of the importance of establishing protocols to address possible emergency situations and response procedures has always been the Safer Schools mantra,” says Esterhuizen.
Safer Internet South Africa is a digital literacy initiative developed in partnership with the South African Film and Publication Board (FPB). It aims to protect children from premature exposure to a range of adult experiences, including potentially disturbing or harmful content, through a vast array of resources for parents and educators.
Funded in the main by Skybound Capital, School-Days is a rewards and incentives program that helps parents provide financial assistance to South African schools, whether their own or disadvantaged schools that they support, by shopping with partner merchants known as School-Days Earn Partners. Parents incur no direct costs to participate in School-Days; they simply shop with their preferred partners and earn rewards that fund education for children across South Africa.
“We built School-Days [on the] understanding that the time that a child will spend at school can be factored as a ‘cost per day’ for the time to be educated,” says Esterhuizen. “Parents know that “the conception and subsequent birth of a child triggers a calculation of ‘what is this going to cost us.'” School-Days aims to make that cost more manageable for parents of all incomes and backgrounds.
As School-Days’ CEO, Paul Esterhuizen devotes most of his workday to driving the next phase of the company’s growth. As he tells it, Esterhuizen spends “most every day…lifting the School-Days movement to positively impact communities and the schools in need” while working to draw in new corporate and brand partners.
Esterhuizen still lives in Johannesburg with his wife, not far from his childhood home. In pre-pandemic times, he was an avid traveler, making monthly journeys to Cape Town and Durban for business and (occasionally) leisure. He hopes to resume those trips soon — despite being surprised at his fondness for remote meetings.