Inspiration drawn from South African public health initiatives in the 1940s played an important role in the development of the network of community and migrant health centers in the United States. The first such center at Pholela in Natal emphasized the need for a comprehensive (preventive and curative) service that based its practices on empirical data derived from epidemiological and anthropological research. In addition, community consultation preceded the introduction of new service or research initiatives. The Institute of Family and Community Health in Durban pioneered community-based multidisciplinary training and developed Pholela and other sites as centers for service, teaching, and research. Several important lessons for South African health professionals emerge from the Pholela experience. First, public health models of the past need to be reintroduced locally; second, the training of public health professionals needs to be upgraded and reoriented; third, appropriate research programs need to respond to community needs and address service demands; fourth, community involvement strategies need to be implemented early on; and fifth, funding sources for innovation in health service provision should be sought.