GIIN Impact Investor Forum 2016: When finance is a force for good

How do you solve a problem like healthcare in Africa?

Kees van Lede, chief commercial officer with Kenyan health app CarePay, started his presentation with some very sobering statistics. Africa has just 16 percent of the world’s population, 47 percent of the communicable disease burden and less than two percent of the global health expenditure. Two out of five people in Kenya see their illnesses untreated; millions are without health insurance.

Yet through a carefully assembled group of partners ranging from Africa’s largest mobile phone company to health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, coupled with private equity financing and charitable donations, CarePay is showing that it is possible to offer comprehensive healthcare for the Kenyan population.

The app uses the popular African mobile phone money transfer system M-Pesa to provide a digital health wallet that can be used to save, insure and pay for healthcare services.

More than 100,000 Kenyans now use the app, giving access to care at more 2,000 clinics nationwide. Van Lede is hopeful that the company will succeed in its ambition to drive healthcare inclusion for millions in Kenya and then the rest of the world in the years to come, generating a return for investors.

CarePay is a textbook example of the burgeoning asset class of impact investment. Van Lede was speaking at the Global Impact Investing Network Investor Forum 2016, the world’s biggest ever gathering of impact investors, held in Amsterdam in December.

His inspiring presentation was yet more evidence that impact investment really can deliver on its aim to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. It’s a more proactive approach than traditional responsible investment which tends to rely on negative screening strategies and engagement to limit environmental damage.

The aim of impact investing is to have a tangible impact by directing capital towards addressing the world’s most pressing challenges in sectors such as sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and affordable healthcare.

The idea that the finance world – and private capital – can be a force for good to tackle some of society’s most intractable problems is an intriguing one.

As speakers at the conference were quick to point out, there are big challenges ahead – not least the scale of the world’s problems, notably climate change. But the sheer size of this two-day congress – the more than 800 delegates came from more than 45 countries and included representatives from the big banks and the leading private equity firms – suggested that the finance world is gearing up for the challenge.