Summer Internship: Using Mobile Technology to Distribute Affordable Healthcare in Kenya

This post was written by Colby Warner, a second year Duke MBA student, in October 2013.  Colby worked with the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD) and Changamka this summer with support from the Summer Internship Fund.

When I wrote my application essays last year, I romanticized about a career where I could use my business skills to improve access and quality to healthcare across the globe. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to make that vision a reality, but when the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD) made its way on campus, I realized that was the missing link that I was looking for.

IPIHD is a nonprofit organization that identifies innovative health organizations around the world and provides them with resources that help the organizations grow, scale, and share best practices through a peer network.  After exploring all the innovators under the IPIHD umbrella, I decided to work with Changamka, a health financing company located in Nairobi, Kenya.

Changamka is an ambitious social enterprise that aims to increase access to quality, affordable healthcare for the working poor as well as play an essential role in helping Kenya to achieve universal health coverage. Health insurance is cost prohibitive for the majority of the Kenyan population because the annual premium amount must be paid as a lump sum instead of in monthly installments like in the United States.  As a result, less than 10% of the population is insured.  While a culture of social protection exists, there are still thousands of preventable deaths each year because people cannot raise enough money or wait too long to seek treatment.

To help solve this problem, Changamka developed a revolutionary platform that runs on Kenya’s popular mobile money microfinancing system called M-PESA.  Using their cell phones Kenyans are able to put aside small sums of money to save to purchase microinsurance.  By enabling customers to save at their own pace, this process makes access to healthcare an attainable goal for most Kenyans.  Changamka’s microinsurance costs just $140 a year to insure an entire family and includes several value-added services such as dental and vision coverage as well as income replacement during hospitalization.

After enrolling thousands of people into its programs, Changamka found itself at a critical juncture in its growth.  They did not have a methodology for assessing key performance indicators, however, potential investors were placing increasing emphasis on analytics in order to demonstrate Changamka’s proof of concept.  I saw this capability gap as an opportunity to leverage my past experience in IT consulting to deliver real value to an organization dedicated to helping those in need.

I spent almost 6 weeks in Nairobi working at Changamka sandwiched between two 3-week stints in Durham at the IPIHD offices.  Under the direction of Fuqua Professor Jeff Moe and IPIHD staff Andrea Taylor and Richard Bartlett, I researched the health-financing ecosystem in Kenya, successful mobile phone innovations and scoped out my deliverables for the summer.

While in Kenya, I wore several different hats.  My project plan included establishing a data analytics framework for each of Changamka’s three insurance products, in order to provide a standardized methodology to monitor successes, identify potential areas of concern and demonstrate impact to potential donors and funders.  I was also tasked with writing a case study that explains how Changamka was able to partner with large corporations in Kenya to scale nationwide and create a piece of marketing collateral that summarized Changamka’s story.

As someone who had a narrowly focused career before coming to Fuqua, I found this summer experience to be invaluable.  I am very grateful to Changamka’s Executive Director, Zack Oloo, who eagerly listened to my ideas and gave me the flexibility to design reports and metrics that I thought would be most valuable.  He even gave me the opportunity to pitch Changamka’s business model to other organizations that were looking for low-cost ways to finance healthcare in rural communities.

Thanks to the CASE Summer Internship Fund (SIF), which helped make this summer financially feasible, I got confirmation that I want to continue to pursue a global health career when I graduate and was provided with so many opportunities to grow both professionally and personally.  I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and got the chance to live outside of the United States, create friendships with people working on amazing initiatives and take advantage of everything Kenya has to offer including going on safari and hiking though famous national parks.

Interested to learn more about Colby’s summer experience and Changamka? Read her post on Next Billion here.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more nearly 150 students, distributed approximately $430,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online.