Published On: 9 October 2023

siyaJoin us in this insightful Q&A with THINK’s new Business Development Coordinator, where we delve into his vision for THINK’s future and innovative strategies for securing partnerships and funding.

Siya was born in a rural area called kwa-Hlomendlini (Mandeni), about 100km north of Durban, and raised by his grandmother. This is where he grew up and completed his primary and high school learning, before moving to Johannesburg to study further in 2012. Siya graduated from the University of Johannesburg with a Masters in Development Studies, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate.

Q: When did you join THINK, and how did your journey here start?

A: I joined THINK in November 2020 as a Research Assistant, and worked on several exciting research projects – including (1) The Analysis of the Antiretroviral Treatment Healthcare Landscape: Ability to Incorporate an Injectable Antiretroviral Alternative in KZN and (2) The Feasibility and Acceptability of Video Observed Therapy (VOT) in the Practical Setting of a Tuberculosis Clinical Trial in KZN.

After spending two and a half years in research at THINK, I started a new role as the Business Development Coordinator. Although I have only recently taken on business development full-time, I was involved in it while working as a Research Assistant. This sparked my interest in business, which quickly matured into a passion for business. I started increasingly spending time learning and understanding the business side of THINK, and eventually eased out of research in July to focus purely on business development.

Q: Tell us about your first 100 days as THINK’s first Business Development Coordinator!

A: Nothing has been more exciting and equally challenging than my first 100 days. The past three months have been about setting up and implementing new systems, while improving and streamlining existing processes to increase efficiency in our business development efforts. This period has also been about planning and crafting a departmental strategy aligned with the overall organisational strategy.

No two days are the same in business development, and I find that very exciting. There is always something new, and each day brings fresh experiences – from meeting and connecting with new people, to responding to new funding opportunities. I have learnt to constantly adapt to change, remain resilient in the face of adversity, be open to new ideas, and go back to the drawing board if things do not go right.

Q: Talk us through the BD section of THINK – how was it initiated, and what does it aim to achieve and facilitate?

A: Business development is central to several activities and processes that propel the business forward. The business development unit was born out of several reasons.

  1. THINK is a non-profit organisation. We do not provide services to products to create revenue and profit. Our business model is based on securing grant funding from local and international funders/donors. Business development is, therefore, responsible for identifying and pursuing funding opportunities and maintaining relationships with existing funders.
  2. THINK has a new strategic direction and focus. As the business development unit, we are responsible for putting the organisation’s strategy into action and achieving the envisaged tangible results.
  3. To have a global reach and ensure the sustainability of our impact, we need to work closely with strategic partners. Business development is central to developing new strategic partnerships and nurturing existing ones.

In a nutshell, the business department unit is responsible for keeping the business (THINK) in business.

Q: Can you share your vision for how our Business Development efforts will evolve over the next year?

A: For the past ten years, THINK has committed to improving the lives of people affected by TB and HIV in South Africa. While we have made remarkable progress in TB and HIV, we are learning that much more must be done. As such, we are committed to improving what we call planetary health – the interconnection between the health and well-being of human populations, the health of ecosystems, and the health of the planet. We recognise that human health is intricately linked to the health of the natural environment and that disruptions in ecosystems, environmental degradation, and climate change can have profound consequences for both human health and the health of the planet.

To ensure sustainability and growth, we have expanded our focus areas and are leveraging our experience in TB and HIV to attain a global footprint. Our new focus areas, which cut across research and clinical trials, health systems strengthening, education, capacity building and training, technological advancement, and community engagement, are:

  1. Health: infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, maternal, child and adolescent health, and vaccination.
  2. Mental Well-being: mental health and psycho-social dynamics.
  3. Climate Change: climate health and climate resilience.
  4. Technological Advancement: artificial intelligence and digital health.
  5. Nutrition.

Q: Can you share any exciting changes happening within THINK soon?

A: THINK is expanding into seven countries in Africa! We will tell you more about this in the January edition of this newsletter, so watch this space!

Q: Which strategies do you believe are most crucial for identifying and cultivating new partnerships and funding opportunities for THINK?

A: With our new global focus, we align ourselves us with the 2030 sustainability agenda, i.e. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have done remarkably well with SGD 4 (Good Health and Well-being) over the past ten years, and have committed to more SGDs:

  • SDG 4: Quality Education.
  • SDG 13: Climate Action.
  • SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals.

We recognise that we cannot achieve our ambitious goals as an organisation and contribute to sustainable development by working in a silo. We need to establish and nurture strategic partnerships for the goals. We therefore identify and work with funders and partners that, like ourselves, are aligned with the 2030 sustainable development agenda.

Q: How do you plan to leverage data and analytics in your role to measure the impact of our BD initiatives, and make informed decisions for resource allocation and strategy adjustments?

A: We, at THINK, pride ourselves in kicking the paradigm and pioneering innovation in our work. To increase efficiency in business development, we have also tapped into the immense power of artificial intelligence (AI). A lot of the mundane tasks that we used to spend a lot of time doing in the past, such as searching for grant opportunities online, have become automated using the power of information technology and AI. We now put our time and energy to better use by focusing on creative thinking, brainstorming, and discussing ideas. We then use the different AI platforms to support us in bringing our ideas to fruition.