Updates from the field

Empowering the Marginalised Through Scalable Philanthropy

Pontus Noren travelled with the UBS Optimus Foundation to see the work of NGOs in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. This is an extract from his impressions from the trip.

My question entering the week was - “is it possible to scale and accelerate a change supported through philanthropic work, delivered by NGOs and sustained by local governments?” Here is what I found with one of the NGOs based in Coffee Bay, the Enable project run by One to One Children’s Fund.

The objective for this project is to ensure a 100% success rate preventing transfer of HIV from expectant mothers. 40% of expectant mothers who were HIV positive didn’t take AVR (antiretroviral drugs) when the project started. 

What was the big idea to solve this solvable problem? Recruit the locals. One to One went out and found 30 exceptional local women and sent them on a 6-week training course to give them essential training on how to provide basic healthcare. They created a health toolkit, plonked it in a rucksack and built a centre in Coffee Bay from which to coordinate activities. We met these women and their enthusiasm, drive and determination was incredible.


When you give people purpose, education and the right tools, they can move mountains. Speaking of mountains, they do all their work on foot, trekking up and down steep hills, walking door to door for their at-home visits. These women had very little prior education, were mostly HIV positive themselves, and were living hand to mouth. They are called Community Health Workers (CHW), and their work has transformed local health provision in the area. Since engaging three years ago, they have had a near 100% success rate in terms of preventing transfer of HIV to new-born babies. Unbelievable.

This is a great example of an NGO using donations in a clever way to design and deliver an innovative, sustainable platform that can be onboarded by local government and make a huge difference to a long neglected local population.

I was truly inspired by these local women and what the project has achieved. It is a moral obligation that we take our knowledge from established economies to help stimulate independently functioning local communities. Aid money will not be enough if we don’t find a way of scaling and accelerating local resources. I personally look to get involved and contribute my time and experience in scaling and accelerating platforms and apply that to organisations such as One to One/Enable project.

By Pontus Noren