What does it take to disrupt traditional ways of fighting poverty, delivering aid, and providing healthcare in Africa? Veteran digital health / healthtech entrepreneur Rowena Luk interviews social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and activists on how they went from an idea to demonstrating impact, raising funds, and creating sustainable social enterprises. For anyone looking for a better way to do good, explore the strategies and tools successful innovators are applying to make change that lasts. AidEvolved.com

November 15, 2022

Creating New Ways to Fund Innovations in Global Health with Rebecca Distler of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation

Join us in conversation with Rebecca Distler, Strategist for AI, Data, and Digital Health at the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. She shares the trials and tribulations of a decade spent funding and fund-raising for innovations in global health - and how she's working to change the game, from supporting the Gates Grand Challenges initiatives through her work at the Foundation to advance digital health equity. In this far-ranging conversation, we touch on ethical AI, private venture capital vs. public funds, and even the New York City Ballet.

 

Rebecca's prior work includes advising on digital ID for COVID-19 vaccination and testing, leading a $3M+ portfolio of AI and digital ID for health projects, and supporting the launch of government partnerships to fund and advance early stage technology and R&D in global health. Rebecca holds a Masters in Health Policy and Global Health from the Yale School of Public Health and a BA in Political Science from Yale University. She is a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and was selected as a Forbes Ignite Impact Fellow, AI XPRIZE Semi-Finalist, and Gavi INFUSE Pacesetter.

 

The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation is a 21st century philanthropy committed to bridging the frontiers of artificial intelligence, data science, and social impact.

 

Note: This interview is about the personal experiences and perspectives of Rebecca Distler. Nothing said in this interview should be construed as the position of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or any of their affiliates.

 

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

 

Is there a donor or investor you’d like to hear on this show? Let us know on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)


Today’s episode was brought to you by idealist.org. Sign up to start posting jobs today on the number one job board for the social impact sector. Go to idealist.org/aid to get a credit for one free 30-day job listing.

November 15, 2022

Season 3 Teaser: Donors and Investors in Digital Health / HealthTech

Season 3 of Aid, Evolved digs into the intimidating world of donors and investors in global digital health / healthtech. What's it like to walk a mile in their shoes? How are their actions and decisions influenced, be it by Congress or a Board of Directors, by tax authorities, by personalities, or public relations? We’ll peer inside the day-to-day lives of public and private funders, including big aid, foundations, development finance institutions, and private investors. 

To find out more, visit our website at https://AidEvolved.com 

Want to hear from a specific donor or investor? Let us know on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

October 4, 2022

BongoHive: Building the Zambian Tech Sector from the Ground Up

Lukonga Lindunda is a startup ecosystem builder. He is Executive Director and co-founder of BongoHive, an award-winning innovation hub and tech incubator based in Lusaka, Zambia, that is changing the landscape of entrepreneurship in the region.

Lukonga is a Mandela Washington Fellow and has 15 years of experience working with entrepreneurs and development partners. He began his career providing technical assistance in aid sector programmes with Education Development Center (EDC) and VVOB. In 2011, he founded BongoHive with three colleagues after noting a gap in the support young entrepreneurs needed to bring their innovative business ideas to life. Since then, Lukonga has steered BongoHive to nearly 1300 Startups and MSMEs harnessing over $2 million in resources to support their growth since 2016. BongoHive have been featured on global and regional media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, TechCrunch, and many others.

In today's conversation, Lukonga recalls the founding story of BongoHive. He looks back on the early approaches he took to generate revenue and pay the bills, as well as the different sectors and services BongoHive has offered over the years. 

The story of Lukonga and BongoHive is also the story of how the tech sector in Zambia has evolved over the past ten years. It is a case study that illustrates many of the challenges of building the tech sector in low-income countries in Africa: the essential pieces of missing infrastructure, the limited options for funding and talent, and above all the unfaltering grit of its founders.

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

September 6, 2022

Robert Karanja, Villgro Africa, and the Next Frontier of Genomics Startups in Africa

Dr. Robert Karanja recalls how he founded Villgro Africa, a tech incubator and impact investor focused exclusively on health innovations in Africa. Stick around for the end when Robert shares his predictions for the future of genomics on the continent and his hopes for a new kind of pharmaceutical company for Africa.

 

Robert began his career with the dream of eradicating malaria. To this end, he completed a PhD in medical parasitology and spent almost a decade at Kenya's premier medical research institute, KEMRI. But over the years, he realized the problem with malaria wasn't scientific - it was financial. It was inextricably linked to the poverty and inequity of the communities most affected.

 

So Robert started to grapple with the question: "how do I use cutting-edge science not just to tackle biology, but also to create opportunity? How can we generate wealth and launch viable health ventures that will fix the gaps in coverage?" This question would lead him first to launch a bioentrepreneurship program at one of Kenya's leading universities, and then to join forces with Villgro, one of the world's first impact incubators. In 2015, Robert co-founded Villgro Africa, a franchise offshoot of the global Villgro model focused exclusively on health innovations in Africa. Robert shares how he launched Villgro Africa, and how he needed to adjust the traditional incubator approach to match the economics of Africa.

 

Towards the end of this conversation, Robert hints at the next great venture he is turning his attention towards. He sees a massive untapped opportunity for the pharmaceutical sector in the genomic wealth of Africa paired with modern mRNA technology. He argues that clinical trials and precision health studies could be delivered here in Africa. These would deliver pharmaceutical products competitively to the global market and also provide more appropriate health solutions locally. He points at the gap that exists in the global pharma industry, and how Africans will rise to fill this gap. Of course, Robert is paving the way, with the launch of an innovation hub that will bridge the gap between biotech researchers and a new kind of pharma company for Africa.

 

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

August 31, 2022

Digitizing the Largest TB Program in the World with Andrew Cross of Everwell

Like another airborne disease we are all familiar with, tuberculosis (TB) spreads invisibly through the air. If you catch it and you don't treat it, you're likely to die. India has the largest TB burden in the world, with millions of cases diagnosed and over 500,000 deaths every year. Consistent, continuous treatment and management of care is essential to a healthy recovery. This is why the work of Everwell Hub is so critical. Everwell Hub is a comprehensive digital solution for the management of tuberculosis. 1 in 5 newly diagnosed TB patients in the world are managed through the Everwell Hub - making it the most widely adopted solution of its kind in the world. 

 

Andrew co-founded Everwell and has been CEO for most of its existence. He sits down with Aid, Evolved to share what the journey to scale has been like, from the hallowed halls of Microsoft Research to the messy realities of public clinics. At Microsoft Research, he was able to work with cutting-edge tech and world-class researchers. In this environment, Andrew experimented with solutions in computer vision, augmented packaging, and cellular technology.

 

Then, in 2014, one of his innovations started to stretch beyond the domain of a research lab. 99DOTS, a tool for medication adherence, was seeing significant interest and uptake both by donors and government. Andrew and his small team knew that a research lab would not be the place to scale this technology. So, they set off on their own. This was how Everwell was born.

 

Everwell's journey to scale arose from a unique confluence of factors: it was built on a foundation in research and evidence. Andrew's spin-off from Microsoft was catalyzed by early buy-in from the government. And, serendipitously, Everwell's birth coincided with a change in health policy around TB treatment which created new demand for Everwell's solutions. 

 

But the journey to scale is riddled with challenges. Compared to the research environment, Everwell needed to adapt to support populations at scale which revealed new and different obstacles than at a more limited scale. As one example, their initial approach using incoming calls was blocked by the telecom operators (telcos) because the system enabled patients to call for free, so they had to innovate further to accommodate millions of toll-free calls coming into their system. In today's conversation, Andrew shares the many ways in which Everwell has needed to adapt and change in order to support the holistic, end-to-end needs of TB caregivers in India and around the world. 

 

One key learning from his experiences: if you’re scaling innovation, you either need to find environments with the right infrastructure to accept that innovation OR you need to build an organization that is able to develop the infrastructure needed to support your innovation.

 

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

August 9, 2022

The Future of Pharmacy with Samuel Okwuada of Remedial Health

In the heart of Nigeria's COVID-19 surge in 2020, Samuel Okwuada started receiving a string of phone calls from local pharmacies who were struggling to get stock during lockdown. They needed Samuel to deliver more essential medicines, in smaller quantities, to more locations, at the same or lower costs. This is an impossible equation for any traditional drug distributor to balance - but when it became clear they had no other choice, Samuel knew it was time to create something new.

This is how Samuel Okwuada pivoted his prior venture, a brick-and-mortar wholesale distributor, into a HealthTech startup that is setting new standards for delivery quality meds, reliably and efficiently, to pharmacists across Nigeria. Today's conversation is a case study on how small pharmacies in Nigeria have historically acquired their stock and how this approach is being disrupted with new technologies.

While improving health product distribution has a massive potential for impact, it is also a market rife with challenges, politics, and delays. Samuel recalls how, in order to receive regulatory approval for medicines distribution, he needed immense patience and resourcefulness. Patience, to wait the 2 years needed for government licensing, and resourcefulness, because in order to get licensed, he needed to finance an operational warehouse for 2 years with no revenue. Here we see the speed of technological innovation juxtaposed against the pace of brick-and-mortar operations. But Samuel knows there is a better future ahead and is paving the way for that future: one in which Nigerians can rely with confidence on their local pharmacies to provide high-quality meds when and where they are needed.

Remedial Health is connected to more than 100 pharmaceutical manufacturers and suppliers, including GSK, Pfizer and Astrazeneca, as well as Nigeria’s Orange Drugs, Emzor and Fidson Healthcare. Earlier this year, it was one of the African startups that took part in the prestigious Y Combinator programme, the most successful accelerator program in the world. It also banked US$1 million in pre-seed funding to power its growth.

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

July 26, 2022

Let’s Get African HealthTech Founders a Seat at the Table

Mara Hansen Staples is on a mission to tear down the glass ceiling that stands between African innovators and global funding. She spent years talking to funders behind closed doors in Geneva, D.C., New York, and London. Throughout these conversations, she was always struck by the question: if our goal is to serve African markets, why aren’t there any Africans in these discussions? Today she has spearheaded the launch of Investing in Innovation (i3), a game-changing program to revisit and rethink how the public and private sector come together to support locally led innovation in Africa.

In this conversation, we trace Mara’s journey from riding motorbikes to deliver vaccines in rural Morocco to the halls of Harvard and the boardrooms of the Gates Foundation. We hear what it’s like to sit in the donor’s seat: both the power and the limitations of that role. And through it all, as we weave through Mara’s professional and personal negotiations with the healthcare system, we learn about the transformative power of technology and the essential need for effective health supply chains.

Mara is the Founder and CEO of Salient Advisory. Launched in 2020, Salient's work on health tech in Africa has been featured on CNN, CNBC, TechCrunch, Bloomberg, Quartz, Devex, Stanford Social Innovation Review, by the Center for Global Development, the Brookings Institution and many more. Previously, Mara co-founded Impact for Health, and worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where she led >$100M portfolio to improve coverage of primary health care through health financing and engagement of the private sector. Mara holds a MSc in Global Health & Population from Harvard, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and serves as a member of the advisory board for Nivi, Inc.

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

July 5, 2022

Alain Nteff of HealthLane: How to Close Investment, Precision Health, and Building World-Class Laboratories in Africa

Alain Nteff is the CEO and Founder of Healthlane. Healthlane delivers precision personal health plans through a network of world-class laboratories in Africa.

 

Alain's work has been lauded by Bill Gates and honoured by the Queen of England, the President of Rwanda and Rebecca Enonchung. Yet his approach to digital health has undergone dramatic changes over the past ten years.

 

He started off with GiftedMom, a service providing safe pregnancy messages to pregnant women. GiftedMom reached over half a million women in countries across Africa. But after the hype faded, Alain saw again and again heartbreaking instances of women who traveled long distances to health facilities for a safe delivery, only to receive substandard care when they arrived. 

 

So, Alain decided to expand the work of GiftedMom to ensure quality care of women in delivery. GiftedMom introduced 'fast-track lanes' within hospitals in order to provide appropriate urgency and quality of care to women in delivery. This was how Healthlane was born.

 

2020 was a fateful year. Alain was admitted to YCombinator, the most successful startup accelerator in the world. This was the final push Alain needed to tackle preventative health by the horns.

 

Healthlane today provides premium health quality assessments. It gives people access to a world-class set of comprehensive diagnostics that provide deep insights into the most important machines of our lives: our bodies. And it's available in major cities across Africa like Lagos, Abidjan, Douala, and Nairobi. 

 

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)

June 16, 2022

Throwback: David vs. Goliath with Mike Quinn of Zoona

Mike Quinn was co-founder and CEO of one Africa's earliest major financial technology (FinTech) companies, Zoona. He raised over 35 million dollars of international investment for this Zambian startup - before its heartbreaking crash and Mike's exit from the company.

 

In the conversation today, Mike shares how this Canadian engineer first came to Africa as a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders. Through early connections and personal initiative, he then found himself leading a Zambian mobile money company. In just a few years, Mike grew Zoona to a company that served millions of unbanked consumers in Zambia and Malawi. But that all changed when their Series C round of financing fell through at the last minute.

 

This is a classic David vs. Goliath story. Mike and his co-founders were a group of young, ambitious techies who wanted to make life easier for millions of Zambians. To do this, this small company needed to go head-to-head with billion-dollar international phone companies.

 

The craziest part? They almost won.

 

All of this and more is covered in Mike's book, Failing to Win, available worldwide through Amazon.

You can also access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com or connect with us on Twitter @AidEvolved.

June 7, 2022

Femi Kuti of Reliance Health: Are You Fulfilling Your Mission?

Femi Kuti is the CEO and co-Founder of Reliance Health - an HMO using tech to make quality healthcare delightful, affordable, and accessible in emerging markets. Earlier this year they raised $40M through their Series B financing. This makes it the largest raise of its kind in the history of African health tech.

 

Despite this success, Femi is a humble down-to-earth man. He opened up with us on the podcast last month about growing up in Ondo City, Nigeria, the child of a physician and a teacher. Even though he trained as a physician and was working as an investment banker on Wall Street, he couldn't resist the allure of Lagos, the emerging Silicon Valley of Nigeria. So he set off on his own to start a digital health venture building telemedicine technology.

 

The remarkable moment in this story is a fateful conversation Femi had with a partner during his time at YCombinator, the most successful startup accelerator in the world. The partner asked Femi whether digital health alone could achieve the mission Femi had set out to achieve. If not, what would it take? The answer: a LOT. It would take an integrated healthcare system, an insurance program, financing, licensing, a fleet of modern clinics, and a host of third-party clinical partners. But if you never try, you'll never succeed. So Femi pivoted Reliance Health from a pure technology player to a complete HMO solution and integrated healthcare provider.

 

If you're a founder, idealist, dreamer, or changemaker, listen to this episode to remind yourself of the importance of fulfilling your own mission - and the power of big goals even when those goals feel impossibly hard.

 

To find out more, access the show notes at https://AidEvolved.com 

Let us know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@AidEvolved) or by email (hello@AidEvolved.com)