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Philanthropy response to COVID-19

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: 

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

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.

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