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Lilian Makoi Talks Bringing Affordable Health Insurance to Africa

by Kandia Johnson

Visionary Entrepreneur Series: Innov8tiv presents the best and brightest early stage entrepreneurs from Tiphub’s Diaspora Demo Summit. Tiphub is a mentorship driven accelerator that supports early stage businesses and social impact ventures in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Tanzanian born Lilian Makoi is the trailblazing founder behind Jamii- a mobile micro health insurance product targeting low income populations in Africa. When it comes to launching a profitable business, low income populations are often overlooked, but Makoi decided very early on to focus on impact rather than income. “Forming Jamii was a result of a personal incident that left my maid a widow and her children fatherless, said Makoi. “Her husband died from an accident, not because the accident was so bad, but because they couldn’t afford $25 to access medical help. After dealing with my conscious, I realized there is an ignored population here. I researched and learned how big the problem was and was shocked to know that 76% of the Tanzania population had no health insurance, from the informal sector with sporadic incomes! After speaking to various insurers trying to understand why they are not addressing an obvious opportunity, the answer was always the same, high insurance administration costs makes it impossible to quote any policy at less than $300. I unpacked ‘administration costs’ and before we knew it, we had Jamii, a platform that performs all administration activities of the insurer, killing off man power and paperwork costs by 95%.”

As part of our series spotlighting game changing entrepreneurs from Tibhub’s Diaspora Demo Day, check out some business insight, tips and inspiration from founder Lilian Makoi.

Tell us about your background.
I completed a degree in Public Administration specializing in Human resources Management then a master’s degree in International Business. My career started off as an administration officer at a Mobile Value Added Services Company called Spice VAS Africa. After completing my degree, I was promoted from an assistant content Manager to a Business Development manager. Before I knew it, I was transformed from a HR personnel to a pro in the telecom industry! Holding multiple jobs gave me vast exposure and a chance to spot opportunities in the telecommunications industry!
Before Jamii, I tried various small businesses. I got the businesswoman trait from my parents and mostly inspired by my Father. When I was little he always spoke proudly about Condorezza Rice, who set the bar and impressed him. So I had to be great either in politics or business! I tried politics for a while, it went great but after a husband and child, it didn’t sit well with my responsibilities. So business was my next thing and I knew I was going to try as many businesses until I mastered it.

What are your top 3 accomplishments?
My biggest achievement is building Jamii! My company aims to impact the lives of millions of people in Africa. After raising my family, my company makes me feel like my life has a bigger purpose! My second achievement was being named the Top Most Innovative woman in technology by The World Economic Forum 2016! Although it is my 5th award, it is the one I am most proud of! My 3rd achievement is co-Founding another innovation called waterTek, I am super proud of this effort as well. It is set to impact the lives of the low income population, which are the people I care for most–, giving them access to clean water and making water schemes sustainable!

What problem does your business solve? Who are you solving this problem for?
Jamii is a health insurance product for the low-income population. It includes two major components, a mobile policy management platform that makes insurance administration 100% paperless and less human resource and strategic partnerships with the biggest insurer and the biggest telecom operator in the country leveraging their strength areas to achieve a cashless facility, mobile money premium collection and claim disbursement plus cheap product distribution channel. These factors enable us to arrive at a $1 per month health insurance product, making health insurance affordable to over 37 million Tanzanians for the 1st time in their lives! We enable the low income population access hospital care to reduce the rates of Maternal deaths, Home births and deaths from curable diseases!

What has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge that we face is lack of insurance knowledge/ financial education. Generally insurance is a tough sale even to the elites of elites, you can now imagine selling insurance to the informal sector, it brought us to a tough realization that we have to invest in educating the nation about finical services, why they need them and how they work. We solve this by forming strategic partnerships with players in financial services and for us investing heavily in finacial services education before pitching a Jamii sale to a potential a customer.

Tell me about a time you failed in business. What did you learn from your mistake?
I have failed three businesses before Jamii and waterTek, but I don’t refer it as failure, it was a learning phase, a phase that I need to be able to persevere and know my way around entrepreneurship. The smaller businesses I tried taught me I had to be passionate about what I do to enjoy the ‘ride’, it taught me how to deal with customers, importance of maintaining a cashflow record, complying to taxes and business communication skills, most of all, it gave me valuable connections that became relevant later.

Many people have a “secret sauce” that has defined his or her success. What are the top three ingredients that have enabled you to succeed? 
If its one thing that helped me get this far, it is passion. I work until 3 am. I also work through business disappointments, new challenges and corporate politics, which became a fun ride than a stressful factor in my life. I get frustrated for a minute, then smile about it, because I love what I do. If I wasn’t passionate about technology, building solutions with impact and solving needs of the low income population, I would have given up yesterday, because it isn’t easy! Secret sauce remains a secret for it to work and distinguish me from similar minds. But if its one thing to take from this article—it’s passion!

What would be your advice for those trying to create a brand?
Start by branding yourself, then everything you say, every initiative you start, people will pay attention because it’s YOU! But be mindful of branding what you don’t know about, spend time learning yourself, fail, pick up, realize what you are passionate about, then unleash..!

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