Tag Archives: mahatma gandhi

A Word With Shefi: Micro Insurance

This is part of a series of interviews by Shefi Ben Hutta with insurance practitioners who bring an interesting perspective to their work and to the industry as a whole. Here, she speaks with David Dror at Micro Insurance Academy.

To see more of the “A Word With Shefi” series, visit her thought leader profile. To subscribe to her free newsletter, Insurance Entertainment, click here.

Describe what you do in 50 words or less:

I lead a team that brings the poor in rural informal contexts into the fold of insurance. We address this challenge by acting as change agents. We do not sell a product; instead, we take communities from having no risk-management solution to adopting a mutual-aid insurance model that enables them to establish both the demand for and supply of insurance, specific to their context.

And when you are not working, what do you like to do?

I like to read, write, walk, socialize and rest.

How did you become engaged in microinsurance?

I have been involved with social insurance since the 1970s, mostly at the macro level; in India, I work with grassroots communities. My experience in India teaches me one overriding lesson, that top-down interventions, without full funding, offer very little opportunity to affect social change, and “localism” that taps into invisible resources offers some unexplored opportunities to reach results.

What is the main challenge the Micro Insurance Academy sets out to address?

The social challenge we address is the uninsured exposure to risks that condemns the poor in the “informal sector” to poverty, ill health and uncertainty. Insurance is broadly recognized as an indispensable tool to improve access to healthcare, agricultural production (thus food security and livelihoods) and to mitigate climate-change-related crises. However, the challenge to roll out solutions in the informal sector has proved difficult largely because the multifaceted aspects of poverty are often anchored in families and extended families, and not the individual as in the formal sector. Dealing with those social units requires innovation in business models and social engagements. This is what MIA focuses on.

In a recent paper termed The Demand for (Micro) Health Insurance in the Informal Sector, you write about the importance of group consensus in driving individuals’ buy-in to microinsurance. Do you see insurers account for this lifestyle in their selling proposition?

Our solution, which is to assist the community to establish its own insurance schemes that leverage existing relationships of trust and obligation, is based on developing associations for the purpose of efficient sharing that enable the community to be consumers, creators, collaborators, suppliers and distributors of insurance. This is P2P “sharing economy.” Success means that each member becomes both co-owner and customer, with a role in business decisions of the supply chain, organization and development. Traditional selling is simply not effective in this setting, and mobilizing entire communities, not merely community leaders, is the novel paradigm.

What does success look like five years from now for Micro Insurance Academy?

Many insurers work with us to adopt risk-management solutions to be demand-driven and needs-based. Success in business results would mean outreach to millions of uninsured people, and success in business process adaptation would mean that we mobilize resource pools from resources that are today invisible and inaccessible.

Is the talent gap within insurance an issue in India as it is in North America?

Our model relies on a three-pronged approach (capacity building, governance and insurance), each of which leverages local function, purpose and culture. Developing capacity is a challenge mainly because such capacity must be available at the community level, not just in a few remote back offices. Better local capacity is the backbone that supports good governance.

Best life lesson:

“The greatness of humanity is not in being human but in being humane” – Mahatma Gandhi.

How to Be Visionary on Mental Health

Once upon a time, there was a national leader who said, “To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or get better.”

Fearing that he might take his life by suicide, his friends confiscated his knives, guns, and razors — anything he could use to harm himself.

This leader? None other than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln called his mental health challenge “melancholy”; today, we would call it a life-threatening depression.

Because of his strength, Lincoln was able to disclose his despondency and received the support he needed from friends and colleagues. If he were alive today, he’d likely be letting others know they are not alone and that getting to the other side of one’s darkest despair is a journey worth taking.

As someone heavily involved in the suicide-prevention movement, I can think of no more compelling call to action to our leaders than to lead boldly about their lived experience with overcoming mental health challenges. Stories of hope and recovery are unparalleled in their ability to shift culture and eliminate the stigma that prevents so many from getting the help that can save lives.

One in four people – at any given time – are experiencing a mental health condition like depression, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or substance abuse, and many leaders have experienced these challenges, either firsthand or by supporting someone they love. Yet most leaders remain closeted about these experiences, succumbing to the stigma that keeps us all stuck in isolation and suffering.

This needs to change.

When leaders are able to be vocal, visible and visionary in sharing stories of their own recovery or experiences supporting others, magic happens. When they fight for the mental wellness of people who follow them, leaders can spark the hope that others need.

Yes, there is risk, but the reward of leading the way through this particular darkness is so great. I know. I speak from experience.

I am a clinical psychologist and hold multiple leadership positions in suicide prevention. Yet, after a perfect storm of life stressors, I experienced an episode of major depression in the spring of 2012. It crippled me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had daily panic attacks that left me heaving. As I was going through this, I had a parallel process. On one hand, I worried about how bad it would get. After watching my brother Carson spiral down in his ultimately fatal depression, I was scared about my own suicide risk. I was also worried about how my vulnerable state would reflect on my ability to maintain my responsibilities. On the other hand, I believed that not only would I get through the depression eventually but that, when I did, I would publicly share my experience. Four months after I pulled through, I wrote a piece that connected my recovery to running a marathon — persisting through the pain until hope of a new reality emerges. I remember watching my finger hover over the button as I made the final decision to publish it, still worrying about how others would respond. Within minutes, I received support from around the world. People let me know how my transparent testimony gave them hope for their own recovery. I felt for the first time a new level of credibility that comes with vulnerability.

Look at those in major leadership roles who have taken the same risk with the same reward. Just to name a few…

  • Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik spoke candidly about his depression and how ultimately it changed him for the better both as a human being and as a politician. He was elected for a second term.
  • Mental health challenges touched icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom attempted suicide as teens or young adults and also experienced depression in adulthood. Many credit their angst as the fuel behind the movements they led.
  • Former congressman Patrick Kennedy tells his story of bipolar disorder and drug addiction and advocates for legislation to eliminate mental health disparities.

Nassir Ghaemi says in A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness that “the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader — quirky, odd, even mentally ill — is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.”

When establishing cultural norms, all eyes are on leadership. If leaders say one thing and yet behave differently, the message is loud and clear. What people experiencing mental health challenges crave are role models who have walked the walk of despair and are now thriving. They want to know there is not only hope of getting to the other side of the long dark night of the soul, but that the struggle will be worth the fight. That perhaps their new insights to recovery, persistence and empowerment will help them achieve their dreams.

Rather than live in fear, leaders can boldly advocate for dignity for people who are experiencing mental health challenges. Leaders’ voices of compassion and courage will help accelerate the tipping of the scale of change and help to save the lives of millions suffering in silence.

It takes great courage to be vulnerable. Everyone is touched by mental health challenges; we just don’t know this about each other. When leaders are able to acknowledge this, compassionately relate their own experiences and call for change, transformation happens.

Be bold.