Novel Leadership Programme to Tackle South Africa’s Health Gap

New organisation, Tekano, targets social conditions that undermine wellbeing

Cape Town (27 October 2016) – A generous grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies, a US-based limited-life foundation, has given rise to a South African organisation dedicated to reducing the social inequalities that condemn large segments of the population to poor health.

More than two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal countries in terms of wealth, income and living conditions. These inequalities are mirrored in the unequal chance that individuals from different classes and social groups have of living long, healthy lives.

The new non-profit organisation, Tekano[1], will focus on bridging this health gap by addressing the underlying inequities. The Atlantic Philanthropies has pledged to invest up to US$45 million (about R630 million) in Tekano and its flagship programme: Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in South Africa.

For over 30 years, Atlantic has supported organisations and initiatives dedicated to expanding inclusiveness and social justice around the world and, since 1992, has invested billions of rands in transformative South African organisations. Atlantic’s support for Tekano is part of a final global investment to establish an interconnected set of Atlantic Fellows programmes committed to building a new generation of leadership for a fairer and more equitable world.

Tekano and a handful of other institutions – mostly based at renowned universities on four continents – will sustain Atlantic’s final “big bet” on visionary innovators who will transform policies, practices and systems locally and globally.

“The Atlantic Fellows programme is about people who generate change and take a stand for social justice,” said Tekano chair Dr Tracey Naledi.

“Tekano will be the home of the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in South Africa and will offer local activists with a passion for human rights opportunities to enhance their leadership abilities and forge links with other leaders. South Africa is hungry for leaders who can heal divisions and help build a healthy, stable country,” she said.

“Atlantic and its founder, Chuck Feeney, have long invested in the people and future of South Africa by supporting access to education, health care and the realisation of rights under what has been called the world’s most progressive constitution,” said Christopher G Oechsli, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies.

“It is now our distinct privilege to support innovative, dedicated leaders and organisations, like Tekano, committed to building opportunities for those who have been historically and systematically denied them, and to create a healthier, fairer, more inclusive and just future for all South Africans. This initiative represents one of the foundation’s final big bets, and we’re honoured to welcome Tekano into our interconnected set of Atlantic Fellows programmes.” 

For each of the next 20 years, Tekano will select 30 young and mid-career individuals to undergo a structured programme of learning and experience. As each cohort of Atlantic Fellows completes the programme, it will swell the ranks of alumni to form an ever-widening hub for analysis, advocacy and collective action on social justice and health equity.

“Many fellowships emphasise intellectual performance above all else, but at Tekano we are in the business of fostering changemakers,” said Dr Naledi. “The entry requirement for Atlantic Fellows at Tekano will not be an academic qualification; it will be the applicant’s record of commitment to social equity.”

Tekano’s starting point is the reality that health is only partly determined by health services and is shaped largely by factors outside of the healthcare system. These include poverty and unemployment, nutrition, vulnerability to violence, discrimination on various grounds – including race, gender and geographic location, as well as access to clean water, sanitation, shelter and education.

“We will be working with changemakers who are well-positioned to tackle the roots of health and illness. The Atlantic Fellows at Tekano will be a diverse group – activists, advocates, researchers, professional service providers, policy advisers and programme managers,” said Dr Naledi. “They could be engaged – as paid workers or volunteers – in agriculture or the arts, in sanitation or social services, in healthcare, housing, education, journalism, community development, poverty alleviation, or the law . . . the list is almost endless.”

The learning programme for the first cohort of Atlantic Fellows at Tekano will begin in September 2017 and applications will open before the end of 2016. For more information on the fellowships go to

[1] Tekano is a Sesotho word meaning equality.