Could there be a more exciting time to step foot in Kenya? I couldn’t get that question out of my head as I fumbled through Nairobi’s bustling city streets, dodging matatus and street vendors on the first day of my summer internship.
Seeing Nairobi on every “Top 10 Fastest Growing Cities in the World” list that landed in my social media feed didn’t do justice to the infrastructure development in every direction and sophisticated start-up networks to which I would soon be introduced. I wanted an immersive entrepreneurial experience, and Nairobi set the perfect stage for that opportunity.
My home for the eight week stay was MicroEnsure, a mass-market insurance service provider insuring 15 million people in 17 countries throughout Africa and Asia. The fact that 80% of MicroEnsure customers are being insured for the first time is evidence of their commitment to innovation. In fact, I’d say social innovation is woven into the very fabric of the enterprise, and the market has taken notice. Earlier in 2015, The Financial Times and International Finance Corporation (IFC) recognized MicroEnsure for Excellence in Transformational Business in response to MicroEnsure’s addition of 5 million customers across Africa…in 2014 alone.
But it was MicroEnsure’s recent commitment to tackling health risk in Africa that really got my attention. A 2014 partnership with the Grameen Foundation paved the way for the development of a product designed to provide Kenya’s mass market with access to high quality health services and targeted health communications through low-cost financing and mobile technology. A 2012 research piece by Open Capital Advisors estimates that 33 million Kenyans lack any type of health insurance and 67% of that segment live on less than $2 a day. There’s no shortage of public and private entities squaring up to tackle this glaring issue, but lifting and shifting the fundamentals of traditional health insurance schemes leaves too many Kenyans on the outside looking in as premiums remain simply out of reach. The fact that out-of-pocket spending constitutes 91% of total health spending in Kenya substantiates this claim.
With these facts top of mind and a new wave of successful mobile payment products in East Africa harnessing the public interest to pay small amounts over time, MicroEnsure and the Grameen Foundation are nearing the initial launch of a pilot product that will be (1) presented directly to the consumer (2) at the point of care (3) for immediate outpatient costs (4) while leveraging mobile money for customer payments. Additionally, other product features such as inpatient insurance (hospital cash), health information, and other social benefits will be tested throughout the pilot to arrive at a product that best meets the needs of the mass market in Kenya – a market with more than 75% of its population currently one health event away from economic setback (at best) or financial catastrophe and unnecessary and untimely death (at worst).
MicroEnsure is full-steam ahead on transforming risk financing in emerging markets and their next stop is health financing in Kenya, Africa and eventually, the rest of the world. I was thrilled to hop on board for just a part of the journey. I supported the team by building the economic model that will guide management decision making through each phase of the aforementioned product lifecycle: (1) design (2) development (3) pilot launch (4) scaling (5) steady-state operations. Although my time was short, it was enough to grasp the vision cast by MicroEnsure leadership to a team relentlessly passionate and extremely capable of reaching the ambitious end goal of transforming the way the mass market faces risk.