‘Every rand matters, no amount is insignificant’ – UP Vice-Chancellor Prof Kupe thanks donors

Posted on July 17, 2020

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Fundraising Office recently hosted a donor appreciation webinar in honour of all givers, big and small, and shared the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its strategy for the way forward.

“It is my firm belief that a university community is made up not only of its staff, students and alumni but, fundamentally, its donors as well. A university of this stature and kind, typically, would rely on three sources of income, namely: government grant subsidies, student fees/ tuition and philanthropists/ donors. We greatly appreciate that we are the kind of university that can benefit from your giving spirits and your sense of giving to others and using your privilege to give to others,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at UP, who was the moderator of the panel.

“In addition, my main message today is to say ‘thank you very much’ to every donor out there, we appreciate it. Every rand matters and no amount is insignificant.

“Donors do not only provide material resources, some donors build institutes and contribute to infrastructure. For example, African Rainbow Minerals, which is Dr Patrice Motsepe’s company, contributed immensely to various UP projects, and we are discussing other further collaborations.

“Without donors, a university is nothing,” said Prof Kupe, adding that with the act of donating, “donors also express confidence in an institution”.

The webinar’s panellists consisted of the University of Cape Town’s Chancellor, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe; Professor Wanda Markotter, Director of UP’s Centre for Viral Zoonoses; and Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at UP.

Dr Moloi-Motsepe said the goal of the Motsepe Foundation, which was founded in 1999, is to increase young people’s access to university education. Currently, the foundation has committed to about 300 bursaries to all 27 universities in South Africa. “I am proud to say some of those students are at UP,” Dr Moloi-Motsepe said.  

“As funders we may be limited in terms of our thinking on how to help communities, so we do a lot of consulting and roadshows annually and ask community members how we can assist them. We also align ourselves with SDG goals [UN Sustainable Development Goals]. Out of 17, we support 12 SDGs and that is the area of our support. We also look at projects that we know we can achieve scale because a philanthropic dollar can only do so much, however, government is more effective than philanthropists in its scale and budget,” she said.

Asked if donations to UP would go to operational costs due to the financial strain faced by universities at the moment, Prof Kupe responded: “No, it is an ethical principle that you do not divert donor funds for purposes for which they were not given. We will repurpose our operational budget to deal with our operational costs, and that is why we are maintaining a sharp focus on how we spend and keep donor funding for what it is intended, because beyond COVID-19 we still want to keep everyone’s trust.”

Prof Markotter said with regards to the pandemic, researchers need platforms that are adaptable, even beyond COVID-19. “We need to develop more platforms for new diseases and forge more collaboration as far as research is concerned. We have limited resources and that is the problem. However, we greatly appreciate our donors, without them we cannot do research. Small contributions make a huge difference.”

Prof De Jager said the University has been finding ways to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 since the initial stages of the pandemic in the country. “When COVID-19 started, UP was already prepared. In fact, the institution is the first to have started with 3D-printed face masks and supplied them to various needy places,” he said.

“Without partners and donors, the battle against COVID-19 will be difficult to win,” said Prof De Jager.

Prof Kupe said the institution would be signing a virtual agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – which, like UP, is working on COVID-19-related projects – to increase work to translate knowledge into actual societal impact.

In another partnership, UP and the University of Leeds have received a £2 million grant and will be signing a virtual agreement to work on research around food security and food systems across the continent as COVID-19 worsens hunger in impoverished communities.

Partnership and collaborations are important, particularly in times of crisis, and this is why UP continues to build partnerships across the globe, said Prof Kupe.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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