40 young entrepreneurs from all over the continent pitched their ideas to a panel of judges. The two days were a chance to talk about the technological advances that will make the most difference in the lives of ordinary Africans.
From mobile clinics, to ingenious ways to get people opting into healthcare insurance, from fish-breeding containers to sweet potato spaghetti, the innovations were creative, unexpected and useful. The techies were from everywhere – from Cairo to Joburg and from Senegal to Kenya – and for once, Lagos didn’t feel like the centre of the techie world.
Jamii provides access to healthcare through affordable insurance for people who make less than $70 a month. It links up one of the country’s biggest insurers, Jubilee, and the telecoms giant Vodacom.
The app was born from preventable tragedy. ‘The idea came after my housemate lost her husband in an accident … He was taken to the hospital and they didn’t have $25 to access medical services. They had to wait till the next morning.’ He got worse during the night. ‘I felt really guilty, because these were people I knew and it wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it but she didn’t ask.’
Her subsequent research revealed that only 5% of the population is insured: until now it has been too expensive to take such little sums of money off so many people using traditional banking methods.
Jamii was the solution: an app which allowed a telecommunications company (which acts as a distribution and payment channel) to partner with an insurer (which provides the service). She worked to persuade Vodacom ‘how much launching a product for the low income population adds value to their brand and is an additional revenue stream.’
At the beginning, she was the driving force: ’It was me doing everything, with my founding partner and the tech guy.’ Her co-founder put forward some money to rent an office space and build a visual prototype. Now, she says laughing, the angel investor ‘is actually my husband!’
After launching in 2015, she used funding from the Bill Gates Foundation to refine the product design (and come up with a new name). The changes have worked: ‘We have 8,000 people who are active. The growth rate is 40% month on month.’
Her team is now working on education more of the population about financial services and insurance. Jamii Mobile clinics are also in the pipeline.
I ask the mother of two children what motivated her. ‘I love innovation. I love understanding the needs of the poor and building stuff.’