[Editor’s note: Emily Endres, Program Officer at Results for Development (R4D), recently interviewed Dr. Muyi Aina, Managing Partner and Founder of Solina Group, a Nigeria-based consulting firm dedicated to improving the effectiveness of its clients which include governments, businesses, academic institutions and development organizations.
Muyi is a seasoned management consultant and public health professional with a track record of success in developing innovative and sustainable models that leverage private sector assets for the public good, facilitating public-private partnerships, and supporting young innovators in Nigeria. This interview was conducted in the context of a long-standing partnership between R4D and Solina on the Center for Health Market Innovations.
Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, and separated into two parts. Below is the second blog in this series. To read Part I of our conversation with Dr. Aina, click here.]
PART 2: Insights on innovation and the possibilities in front of us
R4D and Solina first started working together through R4D’s Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI) initiative, which promotes innovation and collaborative learning in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). What was particularly meaningful to you about the work with CHMI, and what did you take away or learn from it? Where does your interest in innovation and learning come from?
Dr. Aina: When I was working with McKinsey & Company, I was able to observe the health systems in various countries, and I saw big differences between the public and private actors that make up a health system. One was that private sector players put a lot of focus on the use of data for decisions. Also, in the development sector there are lot of blind operations—you just trust that what’s written will work and you just do it, versus the alternative where you’re delivering an intervention, you’re collecting the information, you’re tracking results, and you’re course correcting as you go along. I just didn’t see enough of that alternative. So that’s where I started getting very interested in organizations and models that did things differently. The kind of innovation we were most interested in was innovation that was very nimble, and was able to measure itself and show results.
What was clear from the beginning through our interactions with the CHMI team was that we aligned in our objectives around how to support and work with innovators. However, CHMI was thinking about it from a global level. At Solina, we had a very limited view and visibility into what was going on. Before then, we didn’t think of service delivery models as innovation. We thought it had to have something to do with the deployment of technology. But we now recognize that there are many, many innovative service delivery models out there too, so our work with CHMI really broadened our own understanding of the innovation space. Another thing that was really great about working with CHMI was that we got to meet and interact with some of the other regional brokers in other parts of the world. It was really amazing to interact with organizations like ACCESS Health International and we actually went to Bangalore, India for a workshop where we met a lot of other players and we established partnerships that are ongoing — some formal and some informal. So this work has been a way of expanding our view and understanding of the space, and our network of people that we can rely on for information and learning. And those people rely on us, too.
What is Solina’s approach to supporting innovators and innovations to scale? What are the needs of innovative organizations in Nigeria and in West Africa?
Dr. Aina: What’s interesting is that the government has a platform for scale but has almost nothing else, while the private sector has about everything else but no opportunity to scale. Because of how fragmented the private sector is, many private sector innovators face challenges to achieving high quality and reaching scale because of a lack of access to the resources they need. Some organizations lack access to funding, but most lack access to partnerships and information and capabilities. The way we support innovators, then, is to try to address that root cause — What are your basic needs? How can we link you with opportunities to address those specific needs? For example, when the Direct Vaccine Deliveries to Health Facilities program took off in one state, a lot of other states and even the national health ministry came forward and said they wanted to do this as well. But there were not enough private sector logisticians available with these capabilities. So we worked with a few existing ones to build their capacity, but also build the capacity of other local providers to help them operate as logisticians, and that worked really well.
Another way we’ve supported innovations in health is working with the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN) to establish a network of private sector institutions with specific capabilities. With this network, PHN is able to identify specific needs in healthcare — technical needs or resource needs — and this group is able to help address those needs. For example, can we leverage the constant power supply of telecommunications masts to power vaccine cold chain storage equipment in nearby remote health facilities?
Another challenge is that a lot of healthcare innovators are passion driven but not capability driven. They almost always have a healthcare background themselves, but they know very little about business. So, we try to create the linkages and opportunities to help them learn how to do this kind of stuff. And that work goes beyond health. The program called Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN) identified small and medium enterprises in Nigeria that were innovative in some way, and provided government grants to help them grow their businesses. We were able to manage the disbursement of grants to 3,900 businesses and created 30,000–40,000 jobs over that period. That was very exciting and it really deepened our engagement in the innovation space. Once we got it off the ground, we handed it off to the government.
In addition to supporting innovators, one of the things that Solina helped us do on CHMI was to build out this database of innovative health programs in Nigeria and West Africa. What are some of the most exciting ideas you’ve seen of that are coming out of Nigeria or West Africa?
Dr. Aina: I think our work in innovation was sort of ad hoc before the partnership with CHMI. There weren’t a lot of domestic partners that were focused on innovation and there was no platform to give visibility to those people doing creative things and to help develop them. There were three things we did with CHMI: One was curating this big database of innovations both in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria, which really opened my eyes to the fact that there are actually a lot of organizations that were also interested in the innovation space that I was unaware of. The second thing we did with CHMI was to support the building of this platform called the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN) with CHMI’s support and technical assistance. Our vision was to bridge those things that the private sector did really well with the things the development sector is doing, starting with health. And finally, coordinating peer learning activities among health program managers doing innovative things across Africa. The goal is to allow joint problem solving and knowledge sharing between programs working in various settings to solve common challenges in health care. We’ve hosted two of these peer learning events – one in Lagos, Nigeria and one in Nairobi, Kenya.
One of the innovative models that caught our eye very early on was PurpleSource. They were responding to a problem that we saw from the very beginning of Solina’s work, which is the fragmentation and lack of organization in the private sector. And personally, I’d always fantasized about addressing that very problem in my own work, and then boom, here comes PurpleSource. So it just made sense to support them and work with them.
Another exciting innovation in the public sector — which we’re directly involved with — is an Innovative Financing mechanism we set up with the Gates Foundation in six states in Nigeria called Northern Nigerian States Routine Immunization Strengthening Program (NNRISP). The issue we were trying to address with this approach was that there basically wasn’t enough money going into basic healthcare services in these states, and immunization coverage was very low. We looked at some of the lowest coverage states in northern Nigeria and asked: how can we incentivize state governments to put money into basic healthcare services and immunizations? The Gates Foundation and Dangote Foundation were able to come together with the state government to create a basket fund which provided a sliding scale type contribution mechanism where the foundations would contribute the bulk of the funding in the beginning and then gradually transition that over to the state governments. This work has resulted in greater public investment in immunization, and at a more tactical level, we were able to open doors for a new kind of public private partnership. This partnership between state governments and private sector logisticians was unheard of before this project.
We learned a couple of things from this initiative: one, that you can actually make vaccines available at healthcare facilities if you put all the pieces in place. This was not the case before that. Everybody thought you couldn’t do it because the system is too broken. Two, with the right systems and oversight mechanisms, the public sector and private sector can really collaborate in a way that’s mutually beneficial to achieve outcomes in the health or education sector or other development sectors.
Click here to read Part I of our conversation with Dr. Muyi Aina.