Yesterday, Dan Ariely gave a Talk in de Balie in Amsterdam on behalf of our partner the Joep Lange Institute on social innovation and behavior to democratize health in Africa. Nowadays big companies are not the only ones to leverage mobile technologies and big data. The audience learned that digital disruption, through products like the M-TIBA mobile health wallet, can be used to pursue social equity and revolutionize healthcare in resource poor settings.
“Most of the digital technology that is being developed helps people to spend more rather than think better and save more. Think of Apple Pay and Android pay and so on. Because of that, we need to very carefully think about what we want technology to do. How do we use digital technology to develop the right kind of tools that will help us think better and behave better?”
Professor Dan Ariely is one of the world’s leading experts on irrational behavior and behavioral economics, and the first Academic Chair of the Joep Lange Institute. Professor Ariely and his team at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University were brought on board by the Joep Lange Institute to help make the M-TIBA health wallet more effective by discovering ways to encourage users to save for healthcare.
Ariely’s talk at De Balie focused on how predictably irrational we are how we think about and spend our money. He stressed that money and health are intertwined and therefore need to be thought about together. By personalizing the examples, he asked attendees to focus on the economic concept of opportunity cost: forgoing something of value to acquire something else. For example: How many lattes do I need to give up to afford these new earbuds? Or, in the case of the very the impoverished, how much less food can I buy for my family to afford this doctors visit? Ariely: “Caring about the future and saving is difficult for everybody, not just the poor, of course for them it is extra difficult. M-TIBA, electronic wallets or the coin experiment, all of them are attempts to tools for better thinking.”
Before Ariely took the stage, Onno Schellekens, Managing Director of PharmAccess Group, described their joint undertaking as “Bringing healthcare and solidarity to the people who need it most through digital technology.” Ultimately it appears as though inclusive healthcare is indeed possible, but achieving it will depend on political will and breaking the status quo. Enabling peer-to-peer donations and a new form of healthcare solidarity, using M-TIBA, is one important step in this direction.
M-TIBA, develop by PharmAccess with support from the Dutch government is a mobile health wallet that allows people to send, save and receive digital money and entitlements that can only be used for health – directly on their phone. M-TIBA recently won the Financial Times/IFC Transformational Business Award.
Not only does the mobile health wallet encourage people to save, but it disrupts the notion that poor people cannot save and that effective healthcare financing is not possible for the poor. Ariely asks, “How can we get deeply embedded into people’s lives to help them save more?” It turns it’s about changing the small details of people’s live and making a place for it in the home. He went on to explain that a core part of this kind of behavior change is to become part of people’s daily lives – to overcome the difference between remembering and acting. Becoming part of people’s daily lives on this scale has now for the first time become possible through the widespread usage of the mobile phone.
Premier of The Great Escape
Another important aspect of the evening was the premier of the documentary The Great Escape, which refers to the great escape from poverty. It is a tribute to Joep Lange’s dream: to leverage digital tech to improve healthcare, particularly for the world’s poorest. This moving documentary focuses on the lives and words of two protagonists: Dr. Khamo Rogo, a professor, gynecologist, and head of the World Bank Group’s Health in Africa Initiative, and a young Kenyan woman named Gladys Akinyi, a single mother in the slums, who struggles to survive each day.
Rogo lays out the case for disruptive thinking and how it is solving some of the health challenges of people like Gladys. He describes cellphones as one of the biggest social equalizers in Sub-Saharan Africa, because it for the first time gives identities to individuals, it helps locate them and gives you a record of what these individuals do. The cell phone has enabled Africa to leapfrog technologically, with the continent now leading the world in mobile phones.
The evening concluded with a short panel discussion where Njide Ndili, PharmAccess’ country director Nigeria and Marc Wesselink, Serial Entrepreneur, Director StartupBootcamp, joined Dr. Ariely and moderator Tracy Metz onstage. Referring to M-TIBA, Marc Wesselink said “the best ideas now come from Africa, but it lacks execution. That is where we can help.”