Addressing inequality with what3words and Gateway Health Institute

A collaboration between Gateway Health Institute and what3words to improve the lives of South Africans.

Gateway Health is a leading NGO in South Africa, providing healthcare and community services to disadvantaged areas. It supplies emergency transport for women in labour, delivers medicine and identifies hot spots for human rights abuses. However, many of these programs have encountered difficulties due to a lack of reliable addressing.

No address, no rights

Millions of people in South Africa live in informal settlements without reliable addressing. This inability to define a location - of homes, businesses and properties - means people are essentially invisible to the system. They can’t order goods or easily receive deliveries and they struggle to access basic services, amenities and receive medical care. In particular, pregnant women who experience difficulties during labour are unable to get help, as midwives can’t find them, and many die in childbirth. 

3 words to improve lives

Gateway Health has found the perfect solution. what3words is a global addressing system. It has divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address. It provides a precise and incredibly simple way to talk about location. And it means everyone and everywhere now has an address.

A community connected

Gateway Health is using 3 word addresses to provide services in KwaNdengezi, a poor informal settlement on the outskirts of Durban. They’ve collaborated with what3words to build a portable address printing machine that is taken right into the community. Local unemployed young people have been trained to help residents identify their 3 word address using the what3words app. The machine instantly prints this address on a durable sign for them to take away and display on their home.

Once a home has a 3 word address, its residents can share the location accurately and reliably. Medical services can identify where pregnant women live and provide them with essential pre-natal care. Should any complications occur during labour, ambulance crews also know exactly where to go to provide life-saving assistance.

what3words GHI mobile printer

Locating essential assets

In addition to addressing homes in the settlement, Gateway Health is also identifying the 3 word addresses of critical community assets including local government centers, medical facilities and clean water pumps. These are also being given printed signs, and will be listed on a detailed community map. This will help residents, businesses and organisations to locate essential services and improve their standard of living using 3 word addresses.

“For those living in informal settlements and rural areas, location presents the biggest challenge in providing health services and products”, said Dr. Coenie Leow, Founder of Gateway Health. “In these areas demand is high but delivery is poor. what3words changes all that. By providing every property with a unique address, residents now have a simple and reliable way to identify their home.”

Preparing for the future

Gateway Health plans to provide every person living in Durban’s informal settlements with a 3 word address, and then intends to scale the project to a national level and beyond. Having a home address will help in reaching targets for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2030. The UN Habitat reported that there are one billion informal settlement and slum dwellers worldwide, and this is expected to increase threefold by 2050. Projects like this show how 3 word addresses can ensure basic services can be delivered to those in need, supporting sustainable improvements to lives all around the world.

what3words GHI mobile printer


Supporting change across Africa

what3words is being used across Africa to improve lives, grow businesses and develop infrastructure. In Tanzania, for example, NGO In2Care is using 3 word addresses to distribute mosquito traps and re-treat mosquito nets, helping to control disease. In the Republic of Mali, the national map has integrated what3words into its online version, allowing users to identify locations by 3 word address. And in Ethiopia, on-demand delivery company DeliverAddis are using 3 word addresses to efficiently deliver takeaway food to customers who have never had a reliable address for delivery before. 

what3words GHI mobile printer


The what3words sign printer will be on display at Design Indaba this week. Come down to see it in action, and make your own unique 3 word address sign.

You can find out more about what3words on the website.  

Watch the Talk with Chris Sheldrick

More on Design Thinking