The Indaba Foundation tackles the critical need for ECD in the wine industry

Andre Shearer has been in the wine industry for a very long time, having bravely started the US based wine business Cape Classics with his brother Gary in 1991 when SA wines were unknown in the US, and SA’s reputation was still languishing under the ravages of anti-apartheid sanctions.

Yet the brothers prevailed and built up their company into the largest importer of SA wines into the US.

Shearer stepped down as CEO in January 2020, after almost 30 years, but realised his involvement in the SA wine industry was far from over. “My decades-long experience with the broader wine industry exposed me directly to the multiple ills and challenges that faced the poorer communities in our region. While so many individual farmers and companies try hard to bring about change in the lives of their employees and their families, our industry as a whole has not managed to make a significant impact on the evils of poverty,” he says referring to health, housing, education and the like.

Yet the wine industry is a significant one on the South African landscape, employing almost 300 000 people both in agriculture and tourism, and contributing R40 billion to the country’s GDP. So improving the overall standard of living in these communities stretched across the Western Cape, would make a worthy impact not only on the lives of many, but also on the ultimate quality of the wine we produce and therefore the South African economy.

“Changing these circumstances seems paralysingly difficult,” says Shearer, “but we have to tackle it somehow. We have to critically and swiftly reimagine how we can more urgently participate in societal regeneration and reframing.”

Shearer decided to focus his energy one an essential building block to upliftment: Early Childhood Education and Development (ECD). “After Maternal Health, it is the cornerstone of what makes us human,” he states emphatically.

As a company, Cape Classics funded several students’ tertiary education, but it proved costly and slow. “It doesn’t deal with the early life deficits, says Shearer, referring to a current UNICEF report: where ECD is considered the FIRST priority of effective recovery.

All three of Shearer’s children attended Montessori schools both in New York and in South Africa and he was convinced that this was the route to take: “Brain plasticity in the first 2000 days is the most critical period in each of our lives and toxic stress in that phase is one of the gravest challenges to a successful life outcome for anyone regardless of their social standing. The more I interacted with the boys’ teachers and delved into what ECD training was available here in South Africa, the more I understood the extreme value of high quality Montessori education. It is an education for life!”

Being thoroughly inspired, Shearer established the Indaba Institute in 2016 at the Sustainability Institute at Lynedoch outside Stellenbsoch. He then visited with the head of the world’s foremost Montessori organization, based in Amsterdam, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI)., and was immediately convinced that the Institute needed to be AMI accredited if it was going to produce consistently well-trained educators who could teach children effectively.

Through his network in the US, and with AMI’s assistance, Shearer was able to get seed funding from James Walton of the Walmart family. “They have been our single largest supporter, determined to see us build something of significance and value. They are not going anywhere but we are ready to expand and they feel that South African inspired organizations should join the support base.”

To date the school at the Sustainability Institute has a capacity for 60 children from 0-6 years, and they are simultaneously training 35 teachers per 18 month cycle. Most of these students have been teaching in the ECD space already, but this training ramps up their understanding and capability to a totally new level. They are then released back to their ECD facility with a small set of basic materials, building software and a support line back to the training facility.

All of the current AMI Diploma trainers are internationally based, and so come at a great cost but Shearer feels it is essential to retain them to remain globally certified: “that is the price we are temporarily paying for the world’s finest ECD teacher training quality, as we slowly accredit our own local team.”

We have expended our work to include the newest AMI product which is the key to the South African expansion – ESF Community Rooted Education (CoRE). Educateurs sans Frontières (EsF), is a UNESCO partnered division of AMI, and is a network of Montessori practitioners, working with communities, organisations and other partners to advance human development from the prenatal stage to early childhood care and education.

Our first Proof of Concept for our CoRE Training is currently underway in Kayamandi Stellenbosch, in partnership with the Stellenbosch Municipality. Our next project will be in Bonnievale where forward-thinking farmers have already created the renowned Jakes Gerwel Technical School, but realise that true success at high school, can only be achieved with a good ECD foundation.

“As we plan a regional roll-out, we must look to longer-term sustainability,” explains Shearer. To this end a presentation was held in March of this year to the entire leadership of the South African wine industry, a key and essential partner in this regard.

In attendance was Sharna Fernandez, Western Cape MEC for Social Development, who was greatly impressed with what she encountered there, and pledged the provincial government’s support.

Take a look at the US Foundation website which can be found here: and the Indaba Institute website, here:

Shearer lists a line-up of remarkable people who are patrons and advisors. They are all committed to taking this initiative forward.



The Foundation is also working very closely with the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study STIAS ( and plan to develop one of the leading ECD Research programs in the world:


- Blog by Julia Moore