Kopano Matlwa MabasoDr Kopano Mabaso

South Africa


Occupational Information

Job Title: Public health doctor and Founding Executive Director of the Grow Great Campaign

Professional History

Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso is a public health physician and novelist who is leading the Grow Great Campaign - a campaign aimed at galvanizing South Africa to achieve zero stunting by 2030. The organisation she leads highlights the dismaying statistic that one in four South African children under the age of five are stunted. Stunted children perform worse at school; are more likely to be unemployed as adults; are at higher risk of getting diseases like diabetes and hypertension; and are vulnerable to being trapped in inter-generational cycles of poverty. She says that this is unjust, as stunting is completely preventable.

From 2014 to 2018, Kopano served as an elected board member of Health Systems Global, the first international membership organization fully dedicated to promoting health systems research and knowledge translation. Kopano is also one of the InterAcademy Medical Panel's Young Physician Leaders.

Outside of her public health work, Kopano is a published fiction writer and the winner of the European Literary Award (2007) and joint winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa (2010). Her three novels, Coconut, Spilt Milk, and Period Pain are social commentaries on post-apartheid South Africa. They have received over a dozen international rights deals. Period Pain (also known as Evening Primrose in the UK & USA) was in 2017/18 shortlisted for the Sunday Times Literary Award, the South African Literary Awards, and South Africa’s Humanities & Social Sciences Awards.

In 2008 and 2009 Dr. Kopano was singled out as one of 300 young South Africans ‘you must take to lunch’ by the Mail & Guardian Newspaper and in 2011 was selected as one of Glamour Magazine’s women of the year. In 2016 she was selected as one of South Africa’s 21 icons and a short film was created about her work and aired on SA's national broadcaster. She is a Rhodes Scholar and alumnus of the University of Oxford where she gained both her Masters in Global Health Science and a PhD in Public Health.  Kopano was recently honoured as one of Bill Gate's Heroes, and profiled on his blog, Gates Notes. In addition, she was awarded the 2019 Emerging Leader Award in the South African Health Excellence Awards and selected as one of News 24's Young Mandela.  Kopano is an Aspen New Voices Fellow and in the latter capacity, won the 2015 Aspen Idea Award.

She has done a TED Talk titled When a moonshot falls short and a Tutu Talk titled The Quiet Enabler - Trusting your truth.  Tutu Talks  are a collaboration between AFLI and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.


MBChB degree awarded with distinction University of Cape Town
MSc in Global Health Science at the University of Oxford
Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, UCT, 2009
PhD in Public Health, Oxford


2015 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow

 Additional Tags: Medicine, Health, Science, Physician, Author

Featured News

Norman Smit
02 August 2022

2015 Tutu Fellow Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso has started a new role as Senior Program Officer, Health, Africa at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Kopano is a public health physician and novelist and the Founding Executive Director of the Grow Great Campaign, which seeks to achieve the goal of zero stunted growth among children in South Africa by 2030.  

At the Gates Foundation, Kopano says that together with colleagues in the Africa team she hopes to strengthen and advance the Foundation's regional and continental health portfolio, with a focus on primary health care and health systems strengthening.

Norman Smit
01 August 2022

In her Tutu Talk, titled The Activist-Scholar: Navigating the promises and pitfalls of policy-making, 2010 Tutu Fellow Robtel Neajai Pailey PhD speaks about her commitment to building progressive politics in her country and influencing public discourse and policy-making processes.

TutuTalks are a series collaboration between the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and the African Leadership Institute, and it is a platform for African leaders who embody the values and ethics displayed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu throughout his life of service.

Norman Smit
14 July 2022

2018 Tutu Fellow Edzai Zvobwo has been appointed an Expert Contributor to the High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies - APET - at the African Union's Development Agency, NEPAD. In 2016, African heads of government instructed NEPAD to establish a system to obtain expert contributions on matters of technology development and acquisition for economic development.

Edzai's role in the team will be to meaningfully research, analyze and present findings around emerging technologies and their potential benefit on the African continent.

Norman Smit
14 July 2022

In this Tutu Talk, 2011 Tutu Fellow and Ugandan peace activist Victor Ochen is using his voice of courageous leadership to champion the protection of rights of children and promote the culture of peace and tolerance.

Born in northern Uganda, he spent 21 years amidst violent conflict that displaced over three million people. More than 60,000 people - including his own brother - were forcefully abducted and recruited as child soldiers.


Tutu Fellowship COVID-19 News

Tutu Fellows have been active in addressing the challenges Africa is facing due to the coronavirus pandemic.  We have a new section highlighting some of the work being done by the Fellowship.

About AFLI



The African Leadership Institute (AFLI) is unique among leadership initiatives in that it focuses on building the capacity and capability of visionary and strategic leadership across the continent. Developing exceptional leaders representing all spheres of society, the Institute’s flagship programme is the prestigious Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship. Offering a multifaceted learning experience and run in partnership with Oxford University, it is awarded annually to 20-25 carefully chosen candidates, nominated from across Africa. Alumni of the African Leadership Institute form a dynamic network of Fellows passionately committed to the continent’s transformation, bridging the divide between nations and ensuring that Africa is set centre-stage in global affairs.