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An overview of Soma’s origins

The disability assessment organisation that later became the Soma Initiative was founded by Dr Douglas Baard in early 1996 as a Close Corporation known as MedAssess. Later that year, MedAssess was constituted as a private company, MedAssses (Pty) Ltd, and in 1998 was acquired by the JSE-listed financial services company, Paradigm Capital Holdings Limited. In 1999, the company was incorporated into a new trading entity: Soma Initiative (Pty) Ltd.

Background and orientation

With over a decade’s experience in consulting to the insurance industry and functioning as a disability assessment and incapacity management company, it was natural progression for MedAssess to evolve into the Soma Initiative.

The Soma Initiative was established to provide advice to the trustees of self-insured and insured pension and provident funds, while retaining focus on its core business: human capital management, absenteeism, disability assessment and the re-training, re-deployment and rehabilitation of disabled individuals, in concert with their employers.

While in partnership with the Paradigm Group, the Soma Initiative’s work was further strengthened by the organisation’s ability to develop sophisticated software applications and absentee tracking and management systems, which enabled it to monitor absenteeism and disability assessment from multiple sites and on a national basis.

A new partnership for Soma

In 2001, Soma’s relationship with Paradigm Capital Holdings Limited dissolved and the company needed a new partner. The partnership came in the form of Hannover Reinsurance Group Africa, which, through its investment arm, Lireas Holdings (Pty) Ltd, invested R5 million in the Soma Initiative. Simultaneously Hannover Reinsurance Group Africa appointed its managing director, Steve Murphy, as Soma’s chairperson.

Under Murphy’s chairmanship, from 2001 until his retirement in mid 2003, the Soma Initiative operated as two separate entities – Soma Initiative and Soma Interactive.

In November 2003 Dr Douglas Baard acquired the entire shareholding of both entities in order to seek a truly broad-based Black Economic Empowerment transaction, thus severing the relationship with Hannover Reinsurance Group Africa. After two years spent in identifying an appropriate BBBEE partner, he finally achieved this objective on 30 November 2005 in concluding an empowerment transaction with CIDA Empowerment (Pty) Ltd, effectively transferring 25.37% of the shareholding, unencumbered and with full voting rights. In anticipation of the broad-based Black Economic Empowerment transaction the two operating entities of Soma Initiative and Soma Interactive continued until the end of June 2005 at which time Soma Initiative acquired Soma Interactive as a going concern, to become one trading entity known as Soma Initiative (Pty) Ltd providing extensive Health Risk Management services to a wide spectrum of clients across South Africa.


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