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Opinion

Discovery celebrates 20 years of collaborative work in building a healthy SA

The Discovery Fund has offered holistic wellness over the years to reduce infant and maternal mortality, while improving the capacity of state health resources

The Discovery Fund invested R5m a year over three years to support infrastructure development in regions where immunisation needs were the greatest.
The Discovery Fund invested R5m a year over three years to support infrastructure development in regions where immunisation needs were the greatest.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Ltd

Discovery Fund recently launched a book titled Changing Tomorrow for Good, which celebrates 20 years of impact by the organisation and the number of multiyear projects the company has partnered with. The stories in the book are a tribute to the people who work hard every day to create a better and more positive story for SA.  

The groundwork for Discovery Fund’s corporate sustainability aims was laid by the FirstRand Foundation, which was Discovery’s parent company in 1997. What was clear from the outset was that this was not about writing cheques.

The founders, Adrian Gore and Barry Swartzberg, were adamant their new company should have a focus on community support and addressing major healthcare needs in SA — a huge task then and now.

As Discovery carved out its vision and identity, the company’s ethos was cemented and its direction was clear: the goal of making people healthier shouldn’t apply only to its clients. Discovery should use its intellectual property and resources to benefit broader society, simply because it is the right thing to do.

Whether it was by supporting government, non-profit or for-profit organisations, Discovery aimed to help ease the substantial healthcare challenges our society faces

Twenty years ago, the Discovery Fund was launched with these aims in mind. Today, through strategic, multi-stakeholder partnerships with community organisations, government and other corporates, the Discovery Fund has contributed significantly to building human capabilities, reducing infant and maternal mortality, protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, and improving the capacity of state health resources. 

Twenty years of impact

It is a privilege to reflect on the many years of work done with the Discovery Fund. When looking at the organisations the company has partnered with, the impact has been vast and many lives have been touched.  

The company started with projects that may seem small today, but were significant. In 2001, the Discovery Fund launched a partnership with the Friends of Mosvold Trust, which later became the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation, to support the training of rural youth in medical disciplines. 

Ruth Lewin, head of corporate sustainability at Discovery.
Ruth Lewin, head of corporate sustainability at Discovery.

This would bring much-needed professionals into healthcare facilities in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Today, Umthombo has supported more than 500 young people. They have trained as healthcare professionals, are supporting their communities, and contributing more than R300m in income tax to SA every year. 

Small beginnings, significant outcomes

One of the Discovery Fund’s first initiatives was being the founding funder of the Laureus Foundation in SA, the first chapter to be set up outside Germany. The Laureus Foundation sought to address social challenges and substance abuse among youth in the Helderberg area in the Western Cape,  through the Laureus Sport for Good programme. 

This included a basketball programme called Playing for Peace and a boxing programme for young offenders. Today, Laureus and its global sporting ambassadors continue to have an amazing impact on indigent communities around the world.  

Initially, the Discovery Fund’s focus was on investing in infrastructure and community health. Refurbishing the maternity wing at the Alexandra Health Centre & University Clinic and building the new trauma centre at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, are two early projects the company is particularly proud of. 

The aim was to be strategic about contribution. For instance, understanding that childhood immunisation rates were low in the early 2000s, the Discovery Fund didn’t sign a cheque and step away. Rather, through partnerships with Unicef and the department of health, it was understood that though there were enough vaccines to go around, there were problems with storage and delivery.

The Discovery Fund invested R5m a year over three years to support infrastructure development in two regions where immunisation needs were the greatest. 

The Harriet Shezi Clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, under the guidance of Dr Tammy Meyers, was one of the first antiretroviral (ARV) rollout centres for children in the country and Discovery employees painted murals on the clinic walls. More importantly, though, the company was going against the tide and investing in ARVs when they were not yet available in the country and HIV/Aids was ravaging SA. 

One of the children who was part of the trial narrates their journey in the book, which is a must read. To hear about the impact 20 years later is astounding. It is a reminder that sometimes difficult or unpopular decisions had to be made, but they were always guided by doing what is right. 

These projects formed a solid basis for continued work in maternal and child health.

Evolving with the needs of our country

The Discovery Fund’s areas were redefined over the years as it committed itself to the World Health Organisation’s sustainable development ogals and the SA government’s National Development Plan 2030.

The aim of the Discovery Fund has always been to have a broad structural impact

The approach was to focus on the issues of scale in maternal and child health, human resources in health and community health. 

The aim of the Discovery Fund has always been to have a broad structural impact, shifting strategy to a programmatic approach.

The fund has tried to create sustainability, rather than one-off and superficial investments. It has gone beyond a traditional approach to social investment and focused on a particular programme with multiyear funding partners. This developed a deep base of knowledge in specific focus areas that can be used to effect broader change. 

Over the years, the Discovery Fund has acknowledged the need to provide more than financial support to beneficiary community projects, and has hosted capacity-building workshops and mentoring programmes.  

Many of the projects in rural settings are powered by passionate and committed people. There has been phenomenal progress in projects which have been with the Discovery Fund from the start, such as Lesedi in Hertzogville in the Free State, the Africa School of Missions Clinic in White River, and Hlokomela Women’s Clinic in Hoedspruit. 

Making connections to address the greatest need 

The partnership between Hlokomela and another Discovery Fund partner, the Breast Health Foundation, which focuses on screening and resourcing, is a demonstration of the fund’s work. 

In 2018, the Discovery Fund donated more than R1m to a grant that enables the Breast Health Foundation to refer women with breast cancer from the Hlokomela clinic to the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, so they can access treatment. 

This has resulted in a more sustainable and proactive approach for women in Mpumalanga. And, after research was conducted on the needs and resources available in the area, an oncology facility was established at Tintswalo Hospital. This means women can now get treatment a lot earlier and closer to their homes. 

The Discovery Fund is on a journey that has lived up to Discovery’s core purpose of enhancing and protecting lives in the broader SA society. For Discovery, corporate social investment is not a peripheral function — it is embedded in the way the company conducts business. 

This article was paid for by Discovery Ltd. 

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