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Meet Corey Johnson, Founder of Imagine Scholar


In this episode, Helen and Janet talk to Corey Johnson, the founder of Imagine Scholar in South Africa. Imagine Scholar is after school programme aiming to create impactful people through joyful learning. It is built on the idea of sustainable change. After ten years of running, the board of directors is now all alums, and it is hoped that after another ten years of operating, the programme will be able to be run completely by these alums. Imagine Scholar’s model is groundbreaking and refreshing in a world education system where academic achievement and qualifications are so often prioritised over other important features of education such as imagination, creativity, happiness and even failure.

What makes Imagine Scholar so unique is its founding principal of ‘playful excellence’. Playful excellence is the idea that learning should be joyful. Seriousness and stress do not always lead to positive results. Corey argues that we have enough ‘successful’ people in the world, and what is more important is good, kind and happy individuals. Janet reflects on how she has taken this approach in her own life, striving to create a work-life balance that is light-hearted and fun. The idea of playful excellence is embodied within Imagine Scholar’s distinctive application process. This seven-to-eight-month long process selects students with a spark, work ethic, kindness and a splash of weirdness as these attributes are arguably more important in creating successful students than just talent. This approach means that more students are considered and accepted, highlighting how so many young people can grow when they are given the tools and resources to do so.

Corey also discusses the impact of COVID-19 on Imagine Scholar and the innovative tools that they have been using to keep students engaged. This includes making use of WhatsApp in order for students to set goals and to have weekly check-ins. Helen, Janet and Corey then discuss how lessons learned during COVID-19 can be maintained and used in the future. They discuss the importance of choice and self-discovery. Helen notes that the silver lining of COVID-19 was how it made some aspects of the university administration process more accessible for her students.

They then go on to discuss how the HALI Access Network has benefitted Imagine Scholar. Corey expresses his gratitude to Laura Kaub for helping him into the Network. He reflects on his experience with HALI as empowering and validating, and an extremely helpful support network for answering questions.

The podcast ends with the usual quick fire round discussing book suggestions and things that spark joy.

Here is the link to the podcast:

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