“Innovation acknowledges that we live in an imperfect society and that we can only build a better society through finding novel solutions to our problems,” explains Gustaaf Wolvaardt, the Managing Director of Pretoria-based Foundation for Professional Development (FPD). Its boldly idealistic vision – “to build a better society through education and capacity development” – is matched by a 21-year history of educating nearly 400,000 healthcare professionals across Southern Africa.

FPD is the largest self-funding educational provider in the health sector in Africa. It was established to ensure the availability of skilled health professionals who are able to deliver a service that is affordable, evidence-based and congruent with international best practice.

“We were a leader in promoting the concept of task shifting back in 1999,” recalls Dr Wolvaardt. Task shifting is the World Health Organization’s recommended practice for upskilling nurses and general practitioners to compensate for severe shortages of medical specialists. It has been especially important in treating HIV in areas where specialist healthcare is in short supply. “When we started large local and regional programmes aimed at preparing medical practitioners to respond to the HIV epidemic, our educational model reduced time away from work by combining distance education with short, decentralised contact sessions organised where our students live and work.”



“Today’s challenge,” says Dr Wolvaardt, “is not just to innovate in the content and delivery of our training, but also to reinvent how FPD conducts its business. Our focus this year will be to migrate all of the training programmes to a blended e-learning model, in which the theoretical component is offered completely online.” Students will complete the theory requirement of a course at their own pace, with access to online portals for resources including discussion forums and video tuition, all supplemented by short practical sessions. “The most dramatic development,” explains Dr Wolvaardt, “involves experimenting with gaming as a learning methodology, by integrating virtual and augmented reality into our education offering.”

It’s been an institutionally innovative year too. FPD will be launching two new schools in nursing and occupational health in 2018, and the National HIV Think Tank that FPD hosts on behalf of the National Department of Health is now maturing, becoming a generator of new research ideas. The first of these, in behavioural economics, is now being approved for funding.



Innovation can also strengthen healthcare systems and, with this in mind, at the end of 2017 FPD launched the GP Care Cell, in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Health, which contracts and manages private GPs to provide HIV counselling and testing services (HCT). “This project highlights the reciprocal enthusiasm for opportunities to forge collaborative partnerships between the public and private sector,” says Dr Wolvaardt. Similarly, FPD has piloted the community-based counselling and testing social franchise designed to test contracting models that link remuneration to productivity and quality. This initiative allows poorly paid community-based counsellors to become self-employed small business owners.

With partners in the field, FPD has also been exploring technological innovations, such as an app-based system that supports and tracks case-management of survivors of gender-based violence through the criminal justice system. “We have also started building digital communities of practice that enable collaboration across national boundaries on specific professional issues,” says Dr Wolvaardt. “All of our lofty strategies and plans would just be dreams without people who put their shoulders to the wheel and make things happen.”