Leaders in healthcare met on 05 July 2022 to celebrate 20 years of Discovery’s corporate social investment (CSI) into health systems in rural South Africa. The Discovery Fund records a total of over 350 000 direct and 57 million indirect beneficiaries since the programme’s inception in 1997.
“For Discovery, CSI is not a peripheral function, but rather one which is embedded in the way we conduct our business,” said Head of Corporate Sustainability at Discovery, Ruth Lewin.
Developing long-term strategies that help build a healthy society
Lewin continued, “I am proud to say that in over 20 years of the Discovery Fund’s existence, it has contributed significantly to building human capabilities, reducing infant and maternal mortality, protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, and contributing towards improving the capacity of state health resources – through partnerships with grassroots organisations, particularly in rural areas in South Africa.”
At an event hosted by the Discovery Fund, to recognise the many projects, Lewin paid tribute to the team, their trustees, Tshikululu Social Investments, and “the women and men on the ground who work tirelessly, with few resources, in healthcare facilities across the country”. She further acknowledged the many strategic, multi-year partnerships with community organisations and government in South Africa.
Representatives of some of these partnerships were present as guests on a panel discussion held at the event, and led by Founding Editor of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, Mia Malan.
Discovery Foundation Alumni urge a focus on preventive care
The panel discussion focussed on strengthening rural healthcare in the country. Two of the subject matter experts present – Dr Lungi Hobe, Chairperson of the Rural Doctors Association of South Africa, and Professor Mosa Moshabela, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu Natal – are Discovery Fund and Foundation Alumni themselves. The Discovery Foundation is another arm of Discovery’s corporate sustainability initiatives and funds specialist training for predominantly black and women doctors in rural areas.
Dr Hobe explained that around 95% of people who live in rural areas have no medical insurance, and many struggle to access public healthcare for a variety of reasons, so strategic investment in rural healthcare is desperately needed.
“In my current role, our vision is for all rural people in Southern Africa to have access to quality healthcare. Given our country’s immense challenges when it comes to healthcare resources, it’s important to focus on preventative, rather than just curative, care.”
“We need to put people at the centre of what we do”
This hope was echoed by Prof. Moshabela, who said, “Resources are stretched unnecessarily because we provide care at the wrong levels. We need to reduce the number of people who need specialised care due to complications. NGOs invest a lot in preventative work, so we need more PPP (Public-private partnership) models to take advantage of this. Understanding healthcare demand and utilisation will help us provide better care.”
Prof. Moshabela acknowledged the Discovery Foundation as a major funder of rural healthcare training, saying, “The Discovery Foundation Rural Health Awards is a gamechanger. The public healthcare system is complex in many ways, and we who come from and work in rural healthcare know this. It makes the training of rural health and clinicians critical, as these are the people who see patients at grassroots level.”
He added, “If we are going to strengthen the workforce, we need a team-based approach to healthcare. A high-quality healthcare system is one that is valued and trusted by all people, so we need to put people in the centre of what we do. This includes redesigning service delivery, modernising education, igniting demand and governing for quality.”
Rural youth trained to provide healthcare to the under-served
The other panellists were Christine du Preez, Founder of Hlokomela, Louise Turner, COO of the Breast Health Foundation and Dr Gavin MacGregor, Director of the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation, all of whom spoke to the great impact their longstanding partnerships with Discovery have had in impacting the lives of individuals – and through this, broader society.
Dr MacGregor, whose organisation provides rural youth with academic and social mentoring support to help them graduate as healthcare professionals, reported, “Currently we have 524 graduates across a range of healthcare disciplines. A huge achievement is that over half of our graduates are young women. And more than half of them have gone on to work at a rural hospital for 3 to 10 years or more.”
“Here, they have a significant impact, especially as many of them provide care that’s never been available to these population groups before. This is particularly true of mental healthcare – we trained the very first psychologist in the area. These healthcare workers have incredible capacity and love for the people, and are committed to serving their area.”
“To date, Discovery has invested R17,8 million into our work, to help fund our students. We thank them for walking alongside us for 20 years – it’s been an incredible partnership of learning and growing together.”
“It’s more than a cheque, it’s about partnership,” agrees Hlokomela founder
Du Preez added, “Public-private partnerships are so important. The day I heard we may lose government funding for healthcare NGOs, I got in my car and I drove to Discovery. We’ve now worked with the Discovery Fund for 12 years, providing much-needed access to healthcare in rural Limpopo.”
“We also get a lot of leadership training from Discovery. The wellness of our staff is so important, and most organisations don’t think about that. The Discovery Fund’s involvement is so much more than just giving a cheque, it’s about friendships and partnerships.”
New book showcases two decades of Discovery Fund impact
The Discovery Fund also used the occasion to launch a new book, Changing Tomorrow for Good, which reflects on its past two decades of corporate social investment and the resulting impact in South Africa.
“You’ll find evidence of our strong, multiyear relationships with our recipient organisations, and how these relationships have proved their mettle through the recent COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lewin. “Our recipients also share how their personal lives and communities have been impacted – and how this impact ripples more broadly over time to strengthen South Africa’s health and fiscal systems.
An example of this is the R1billion in salaries earned and a quarter of that paid in taxes by healthcare workers who were trained up by the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation and are now employed across the country, says MacGregor, “This shows our rural youth have the ability to generate money, which is what our economy desperately needs.”