Philanthropy response to COVID-19

Philanthropy response to COVID-19

Anthony Farr  - 01 July 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in an urgent and massive need for humanitarian and economic support for communities and enterprises, and the philanthropic sector in South Africa has been called into action at a scale seldom, if ever, seen before. Anthony Farr, chief executive officer of Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropy in Africa, describes the principles adhered to and the response of the Allan Gray entities.

The reality of the COVID-19 crisis catalysed Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropy into action, with a commitment of R100m to fight the pandemic. The speed of this response triggered the rest of the Allan Gray philanthropy entities in Southern Africa to follow suit, resulting in a combined effort that made R180m of funding available to assist with the economic and humanitarian crises. 

This collaborative effort included Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropy, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment, E Squared and Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. This contribution was supplemented by funds raised through an internal campaign at Allan Gray Proprietary Limited to encourage executives and employees to contribute individually, which amounted to nearly R2m. 

Charity begins at home

To us, it was very important to begin our efforts by considering the support existing programmes and grantees might need. Across the Southern African Allan Gray philanthropy ecosystem, entities responded quickly and appropriately, ensuring that participants such as Allan Gray Scholars and Fellows were properly supported. Necessary adjustments for investee companies were made by E Squared, and small emergency relief grants were offered to grantees of the Philanthropy Initiative and Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment. 

The response … seeks to address both the welfare and economic dimensions of the challenge

Having covered this home base with existing resources, attention was then given to the broader COVID-19 response. 

Allocation principles

In deciding how to allocate funds, the following principles were incorporated: 

  • Orientated towards the immediate rather than the longer term
    The focus was on taking immediate action, acknowledging that there was a critical need to reduce the hardship now. However, bearing in mind that the impact of this crisis would remain with us, we also wanted to devote attention to the longer-term process of recovering and rebuilding, with more strategic action beyond the first wave of immediate humanitarian responses. Around 20% of the funding has therefore been held back for a second phase of support.
  • Holistic rather than one-dimensional
    The challenge of this crisis is that it has had an impact on so many different levels of society. While Allan Gray-related endeavours have always been guided by the principle of focus, in this unique context, there has been a need to broaden the scope in recognition of the breadth of the crisis. The response therefore seeks to address both the welfare and economic dimensions of the challenge. 
  • Balance of grant-making and catalytic philanthropy
    Given the urgency and scale of the crisis, it was decided that the bulk of the allocation should be in grants to a few organisations that have been set up to have an immediate impact. While this would be the central thrust, Allan Gray entities have built up significant philanthropic capacity in South Africa over the years and so in each of the broad areas (welfare and economic), a smaller, more catalytic and strategic response has also been initiated. 

Based on the above principles, the first phase of support was structured as follows: 

  • R50m to the Solidarity Fund.
  • R50m to the South African Future Trust (SAFT) to support small businesses dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. Through the SAFT mechanism, this contribution has kept nearly 5 000 individuals employed over this time, with the likely multiplier effect benefiting a total of 25 000 people.
  • R20m to the COVID-19 Innovation & Response Fund, an initiative established through E Squared to fund businesses and start-ups providing products and services that are either highly innovative or essential in the fight against the pandemic. This fund has identified 10 potentially catalytic businesses covering the COVID-19 areas of prevention, detection, care and support.
  • R10m to fund the Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM), a research project involving a nationally representative sample of 10 000 South African individuals over a period of six months to track changes in social and economic outcomes over the period. Already some of the preliminary data is showing the significant impact that the pandemic has had on hunger in South Africa.
  • R10m towards additional support in Namibia (R5m), Botswana (R3.5m) as well as Eswatini (R1.5m) in accordance with the Allan Gray philanthropic footprint in the Southern African Development Community. 
It is about making our own small contribution to … stand in unity with South Africans in the fight against the pandemic

Through this funding, the Allan Gray philanthropy ecosystem is striving to ensure we bring to life the core beliefs of our founders, Allan and Gill Gray, for whom philanthropy and business are inescapably entwined. It is about making our own small contribution to heed the call of our government and stand in unity with South Africans in the fight against the pandemic.

Testing is critical in the fight against the spread of the current coronavirus. Led by Allan Gray Fellows Daniel Ndima and Dineo Lioma, CapeBio Technologies ( has answered the challenge with a kit that provides results in just 65 minutes. 

These qPCR kits, developed by CapeBio, are hailed as a massive breakthrough, with critical implications for the country’s ability to weather the crisis. Ndima, CEO and co-founder of CapeBio, explains that the ability to obtain rapid test results makes it possible to gain a clearer picture of viral infections so that interventions can be introduced with greater effectiveness. 

According to Ndima, CapeBio’s innovation was a response to the massive disruptions created by the virus in South Africa and the desperate need for locally produced testing kits. He notes that most countries are currently experiencing issues with supply and demand, which their respective governments are controlling with newly introduced trade regulations. This has caused delays in the delivery of imported testing kits and protective gear, and may also impact the delivery of a vaccine once it has passed clinical trials. 

A scientist with a special interest in structural biology, Ndima says that the development of the kit represents a spin-off from the work to which he has dedicated the past 12 years of his life. CapeBio already has an established reputation in this field as it has created a number of test kits and is known to be reliable. 

As a locally manufactured product, the qPCR kit could mitigate reliance on overseas imports, ensuring that testing reagents could be accessed quickly. These kits are also more affordable than international products. Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that CapeBio’s product makes it possible to obtain test results in just 65 minutes, compared to the usual three hours.

The financial services, products or investments referred to on this website are not available to persons resident in jurisdictions where their availability or distribution would contravene local laws or regulations and the information on this website is not intended for use by these persons. This website is for information only and does not in any way constitute a solicitation or offer by Allan Gray Proprietary Limited or any of its associates or subsidiaries (collectively “Allan Gray”) to buy or sell any financial instruments or to provide any investment advice or service.

By selecting one of the countries below I confirm that I have read and understood the above and that:

(a) I am not a South African citizen; or 
(b) I do not reside in the Republic of South Africa; or 
(c) I am not otherwise a person to whom the communication of the information contained in this website is prohibited by the laws of my home jurisdiction; and 
(d) I am not acting for the benefit of any such persons mentioned in (a),(b) and (c) and 
(e) I confirm that any investment with Allan Gray is based on my own initiative and not due to any offer or solicitation by Allan Gray.


Please refer to our Cookie Policy for detailed information on the cookies we use and the purposes for which we use them, all of which are essential for the operation of our website.