Journey to Kenya

By Lisa Nguyen

When the idea was first proposed about getting involved on a team headed by the USC Institute of Communication Technology Management in collaboration with the USC Institute of Global Health to study Changamka, a Kenya-based micro-health insurance company, I never thought I would actually get to go to Kenya to meet and be involved with the team–ever. The study involved researching the uptake and health impact of Linda Jamii, a family micro-health insurance plan created by Changamka along with four partnering companies. Interest is being garnered towards Linda Jamii because their use of innovative technologies such as a mobile savings mechanism to provide an accessible and affordable insurance plan to their low-income working class target population. Furthermore, Linda Jamii costs about two-thirds less than the average private health care plan while also being just as comprehensive. Linda Jamii also takes advantage of Kenya’s high mobile phone penetration to deliver their product—users can subscribe to Linda Jamii and save little by little towards their premium all on their mobile phone. The affordability and accessibility of Linda Jamii makes the insurance plan the first of its kind and countries with similar high mobile phone and low health insurance concentrations will benefit greatly if the plan becomes successful in Kenya.

The journey from California to Kenya took a total of 35 hours and loss of 10 hours and my sanity. I was completely delirious as I picked up my luggage and exited the Nairobi airport. The sights, sounds, and smells of Nairobi were completely different than the world I had just left. However, I was relieved to find that my taxi driver spoke fluent and clear English and that almost everyone I came to meet in Nairobi did as well.

Arriving in Kenya, I did not know what to expect. It seemed at this point, anything was possible and plans can not always be counted on—especially in a different country and even more so on a entirely different continent. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that not everything can be planned for in advance, mostly when those preparations were made thousands of miles away from the field. For example, before I arrived to Kenya I was under the assumption that Linda Jami would have had its national debut a week before my arrival, however, it did not. As a result, not many Kenyans knew about Linda Jamii which as you could predict, caused issues when trying to find participants to survey about Linda Jamii. No longer could I count on just dong a convenience survey on a pre-selected street corner to collect one hundred surveys. In order to collect or even come close to gathering one hundred surveys, I had to revise my strategy.

Luckily, the team at Changamka offered helpful suggestions on how to collect my goal of one hundred surveys. Suggestions included phone surveys, internet surveys, phoning participants and having them meet us or vice versa. In the end, a combination of the suggestions would be utilized in order to gather as many participant participation as possible in the short week I was there. Linda Jamii subscribers were randomly chosen from the Changamka database, phoned and given three options to complete the survey, by internet, phone, or by meeting at a pre-specified venue. The last option gave participants the incentive of being fed a light dinner if they completed the survey.  The operation would be tedious and time-consuming but necessary and the only real option at the time. However, there was a large glitch in the plan. There was very limited funding for this study to begin with but now money was needed in order to phone participants, reserve a venue, and pay for participant’s meals. Luckily, Changamka agreed to fund the venue and the incentives but only for one day. Therefore participants were asked to come to the venue only on the Thursday that week anytime from 5 pm to 8 pm. With this plan, I knew I had only one day—more like just 3 hours–to collect my goal of one hundred surveys since many of the Linda Jamii subscribers were not too responsive to the other two options due to the length of the survey.

Although I’ve come across many challenges as I try to conduct the surveys in Nairobi, the challenges have helped me think more quickly on my feet. I only have a few days left in Kenya, 2 to be exact, and I have not been able to conduct a single survey due to the complications realized since being physically in Kenya but I, and the staff here remain confident that the solution we have come up with will help me get closer to achieving my goal of one hundred surveys…so stay tuned to see if I am successful on Thursday!
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