Nelson Mandela once said “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” As individuals, we often ask what the purpose of life is. Nelson Mandela suggests in his quote and exemplified in his life that the purpose of life, is to live a life of purpose. By living a life of purpose we can build a legacy for the future. The need to leave a legacy is part of the human condition, which is motivated both by a selfish need to feel immortal and an altruistic need to create a better world for future generations. By building a legacy we have a sense of purpose and we feel valued regardless of our stage of life. Nelson Mandela in his autobiography “The long walk to freedom” also clearly demonstrated that building a legacy is a long process.
So, if individuals can leave a legacy, can this apply to organisations? I believe, of course, that it can. The Aurum Institute is a public benefit organisation founded on the values of respect, teamwork, excellence, integrity and innovation. Our vision is to improve the lives of individuals and communities in resource poor countries and to contribute to population-level impact on poverty-related diseases through translational research, programmatic implementation, technical support and health system strengthening. Over the past 17 years, we have grown in size to over 1200 employees with an operating budget of approximately $60 million in 2014. Our primary focus has been on South Africa, but more recently we have begun expanding this focus to other, sub-Saharan African countries. Through our research and health programme work, we have contributed to the scientific advancement of and change in policies for TB and HIV, both nationally and internationally.
Aurum’s success is attributable to people who have worked tirelessly to build the organisation into what it is today. I particularly want to thank and acknowledge the hard work of the members of our Board: Dr Paul Davis, Chairman of the Board, Mr Nigel Unwin and Mtshali, Phangisile, who lead the Human Resources and Remuneration Committee, Mr Gary Ralfe and Christine Mc Donald, who lead the Audit and Risk Committee, and Prof Yosuf Veriava, who oversees the research aspects. I also want to thank my Executive Committee for their invaluable support: Dr Dave Clark, Deputy CEO, Prof Robert Wallis, Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Salome Charalambous, Director of Research, Dr Liesl Page-Ship, Director of Health Programmes in special populations, Dr Violet Chiohota, Deputy Director of Epidemiology and Implementation research, Dr Vinodh Edwards, Deputy Director of Clinical Trials, Mr Bulelani Kuwane, Director of Health Programmes in facilities, and Mr Andrew Titterton, CEO of Aurum Innova. These people together lead an amazing team of expert professionals, administrative and support staff who ensure that we deliver on what our stakeholders have asked us to do. My thanks to each and every one.
So what does the future hold for Aurum? Like most companies, Aurum conducts in-depth strategic planning sessions every two to three years. Unlike most other companies, however, we view these strategic planning cycles as steps towards building our legacy over decades. Aurum’s vision is to remain an organisation that is relevant and continues to contribute to the public health impact on poverty-related diseases through translational research, health service delivery and technical support - a 100 years from now.
Although there are millions of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world, are there any that have been in existence for 100 or more years? Only a few. The Red Cross, an international disaster relief organisation, started in Switzerland in 1863. The origins of the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease can be traced back to a meeting in 1867 to discuss the tuberculosis plague. The KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation started in 1903 in The Hague and contributed to TB control in the Netherlands and now provides technical support to around 40 countries around the world. Other NGOs that are almost 100 years old include the Save the Children Foundation, which started in the United Kingdom in 1919. What are the characteristics of these enduring organisations? They were all started to meet a local need and then expanded their operations globally. They all have a “timeless” vision that remains as relevant today as when they were founded.
Building on the lessons learnt from these enduring NGOs we will we strive to achieve our 100 year vision, one day at a time, by remaining a principle-based organisation that consistently delivers on its mandate, by using world class systems, building an organisation of authorities in their fields through talent management and recruiting world-class experts, expanding our operations beyond South Africa, implementing innovative fund raising mechanisms to establish core reserves, and succession planning.
Johann Goethe said “Choose well. Your choice is brief and yet endless.” If Aurum hopes to achieve its long-term objectives, it needs to “choose well” every step of the way. Aurum will therefore, need to constantly draw on the wisdom of our board, staff, partners and stakeholders to guide us on the “long road to freedom” from poverty-related diseases.
I am confident that through our strategic actions we will build a 100-year-old organisational legacy that we will be proud of and that others will enthusiastically take over from us in the quest to have a lasting impact on poverty-related diseases.
Prof. Gavin Churchyard
Chief Executive Officer