Anne Katharine Wales

Calling Global Health Innovators: Accelerator designed to help ‘bright spots’ reach scale

Every day at noon I headed to lunch on Duke University’s West Campus quad. Surrounded by Collegiate Gothic spires and centurial willow-oaks, I devoured, in addition to my lunch, two books that would forever change the way I viewed the world: “Switch” and “Made to Stick,” both by bestselling New York Times authors Dan Heath (who, coincidentally, is a Duke alum) and his brother Chip Heath.

The idea that most “stuck” with me was one of hope: Rather than reinventing a solution, we can learn what works from successes, or “bright spots,” as Dan categorized successful social initiatives. Then we can build from that knowledge to create other successes. From social enterprises to social media, these lessons can be applied to save lives (or gain more “Likes”). But how can we systematically grow these successes to tackle lack of access to health care, world hunger and government shutdowns?

While I can’t answer the latter two, I was lucky to stumble upon a possible solution to the first when I was hired earlier this year to lead collaborations between social entrepreneurs and a team of interdisciplinary experts including Duke University faculty and academic staff, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Investors’ Circle, the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Duke Global Health Institute and the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery. This program is called the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD).

SEAD is part of the USAID’s newly launched Higher Education Solutions Network, a groundbreaking partnership with seven top American and foreign universities tasked with developing innovative solutions to global development challenges.

At SEAD, we select the top health care entrepreneurs in the world and work with them to grow their impact – exponentially – through a tailored program that addresses barriers to scale. That’s one weighty vision and a lot of nice words, but let me share how this has worked, practically, through the experiences of one innovator within our cohort: Changamka.

I’d like you to meet Changamka

In our quest to leave the world a better place, so many of the challenges we face involve the tradeoff between short-term benefits and long-term consequences. Do I take a trip with friends to Costa Rica or save that money for retirement? Should I eat out with friends or save that money for my child’s education? At the macro level, we know that the practical choice is the right one to make, but in the moment, it’s so much easier to take the quick wins. After all, retirement seems so far away.

This dilemma is no different for individuals from New York to Nairobi, and fundamentally prevents many from having the funds to pay for longer term needs. So, what do you do? How can you help people make the tough choices today that will pay off down the road?

Zack Oloo is an incredibly dynamic member of the first SEAD cohort of entrepreneurs and CEO of Changamka Microhealth, a Kenyan micro-health insurance platform.

After spending more than 20 years in the insurance business, Zack realized that the traditional way insurance was sold didn’t work for the average Kenyan family. Low-middle income families simply couldn’t afford the high up-front payments. However, they could cover the payment in small amounts over time, especially if mobile banking was involved. Through M-Pesa, Kenyans use their phones to buy almost everything. Why not health insurance?

This fall, in partnership with Safaricom and Britam, Zack will launch Linda Jamii, a new insurance product that provides health insurance coverage for an entire family for just $120 per year. Given the importance of health coverage in Kenya, they’re aiming to cover 1 million subscribers by next year. Imagine the impact.

Now to the important part: How can Zack ensure Kenyans save over time to purchase the health insurance and don’t fizzle out after a few initial payments? How can he keep subscribers engaged and on track to meet their savings goals?

Admittedly, I was a bit star-struck when my lunchtime hero Dan Heath, who in addition to being a bestselling author is a senior fellow at Fuqua, accepted the challenge to apply his knowledge to Zack Oloo’s real-life dilemma.

Zack recently visited Duke University and met with Dan. While I won’t reveal all of Changamka’s upcoming marketing plans, there were three exciting ideas Dan shared that focus on individual behavior change strategies:

  • Develop marketing campaigns that speak to core components of an individual’s identity. Linda Jamii in Swahili means “protect the family.” By design this product – Linda Jamii – was created to appeal to a husband’s identity as the family protector. As people continue to save, sending messages that resonate with this identity will prove critical.
  • Tap into an individual’s sense of community. Families will receive community-leveraging messages such as “Did you know that you are $10 away from being the first charter member in your neighborhood?” or “Did you know that nine people in your community signed up for Linda Jamii? Will you be the 10th?” The product then facilitates the need to connect with and join others.
  • Provide free health information: Health can be taken for granted until it’s too late. By providing helpful health tips on a periodic basis, Changamka will not only provide a public health benefit, but will also ensure that health care and therefore health insurance stay on the minds of their potential subscribers.

Dan notes that the last idea is particularly important because organizations often make the mistake of using every communication as an excuse to ask for a sale or donation. After all, isn’t it worthwhile to provide value even to non-customers? These relationships can take years to develop and should not be one-sided.

At the end of the day, individual behavior change is an incredibly difficult task. On the macro level, it’s overwhelmingly complex. But at the individual level, you can try to understand and meet people’s core needs. That’s where the opportunity for change lies.

Can we find more “bright spots”? You can help

Now I’m going to ask you a favor. At SEAD, we want to find more “bright spots.” In fact, we’re looking for six new entrepreneurs to join our second cohort this January. If you know (or are!) a social entrepreneur like Changamka or other entrepreneurs in our cohort, meet the criteria and the benefits of being part of SEAD resonate for your organization, we encourage you to nominate the organization by Nov. 1.

I’m off to get lunch, but I’ll be buying an apple instead of that candy bar, and eating home for dinner. Maybe.

Anne Katharine Wales is the project manager for the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery.

Education, Health Care
business development, public health, skill development