About the Nova Instition

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The Nova Institute was founded in 1994 as an association incorporated not for gain in terms of Section 21 of the companies act. It grew from a multi-disciplinary research group that included an architect, engineer, medical doctor and theologian. The name "Nova" is an Afrikaans acronym for Research and Development for the Prevention of Poverty (In the Afrikaans language: Navorsing en Ontwikkeling vir die Voorkoming van Armoede).


The Nova founders were united by their quest to find ways in which experts from diverse research backgrounds and residents of low-income households could put their heads together and come up with meaningful solutions to concrete problems that these households have to deal with from day to day.

Gradually a number of important insights emerged. The Nova founders realised that in order to design practical solutions to tackle poverty it is important to have:

  • A reliable problem definition of the root cause(s) of poverty in each particular case
  • A suitable strategic focus
  • An effective research and development approach
  • Relevant criteria to measure excellence

The insights are discussed shortly below:

Problem definition: What causes poverty?

Nova's proposition is that poverty and HIV, as well as the destruction of the ecology are the result of the dysfunctional interaction between complex systems. Like the global condition, of which it is a microcosm, the Southern African condition can be described as a multitude of complex, even chaotic and ever-changing combinations, often mismatches between:

  • Cultures (worldviews, value systems, lifestyles, practices, technologies, systems) - with the modern Western culture, now globalised, and the traditional African cultures as the dominant ones; and
  • The ecology (interacting with both dominant cultures separately and in all their combinations)

Nova's response is to engage in a participatory research and development process with low-income households in order to gain deeper insight into the real-life nature of the above interactions. A thorough understanding of these interactions is a prerequisite for developing and promoting innovative solutions that comply with the highest criteria of excellence. That is the contribution Nova wants to make to a healthy household culture in Southern Africa.

Strategic focus: The importance of the household

The institution in Africa that does the most to care and provide for vulnerable members of society such as orphans, jobless individuals, sick people, the elderly, and all those in need is not the state, neither the church, nor non-governmental organisations, but the family!

At Nova we believe that the family constitutes a strategically vital social system in the African context. One of the best ways to combat poverty is to focus on households in the local context. We consider the household as a micro-system consisting of a number of interdependent sub systems; it includes the household members as conscious human beings, the physical features of the site and dwelling and all products and artefacts used. We believe that the best chance to improve the quality of care of the large numbers of vulnerable people in Africa is to find ways to empower households to function more effectively.


Nova has executive and non-executive directors:


Attie van Niekerk
Christiaan Pauw
Montagu Murray


Jan Coetzee
Gwendoline Mokoena
Lawrence Hawkins
Saphira Patel