Alumni Spotlight Series: Robert Smith, Co-founder & COO, Afya Pamoja (MBA21)
I’m the co-founder of Afya Pamoja (Health Together in Swahili), a GovTech social enterprise based in Dar es Salaam which provides digital healthcare services to Tanzania’s Ministry of Health. Our mission is to put the voices of citizens at the heart of public health decision-making.
We provide a technology platform which collects feedback from clients receiving services at primary care facilities in order to support more client-centred, data-driven decision making among public healthcare managers, and ultimately to improve service quality and healthcare outcomes.
Current Role Overview
Being a co-founder, my role is usually everything all at once - in the same single day I will be discussing our long-term vision with external partners, meeting government officials or citizens to discuss and test product design features, and then having to urgently figure out how we’re going to print 20 promotional T shirts by the next morning! It demands flexibility and adaptability, but that’s something I enjoy and I find the sense of ownership very energising.
Prior to the MBA, I worked for several years in Kenya and Tanzania in roles in the agriculture and public health sectors and before that, started my career in consulting in London.
On starting LBS I was interested to shift my career to working at the intersection of CivicTech and GovTech. During the first year of my MBA, I came across some ground-breaking research highlighted by LBS’ Wheeler Institute on the impact of citizen engagement interventions in strengthening healthcare systems during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone (article here). As I started reading more research from this field I found more and more evidence for the significant impact that connecting the voices of citizens to public healthcare managers could have on key healthcare outcome indicators, such as infant and maternal mortality. Around the same time I was working for Wheeler’s DigitalxScale research initiative which explores how digital technology companies in emerging market achieve scale, and I began to wonder if there were ways to take these high-impact solutions out of an analogue research environments and deploy them through a digital approach at scale.
I reached out to Dr. Helga Mutasingwa, a close friend of mine, and an experienced doctor and public health professional in Tanzania. Helga’s been working in primary healthcare settings and with local government healthcare decision-makers on a daily basis for years. She had the real-world experience and understood the challenges within the Tanzanian healthcare system and was able to see how we could implement a tech-driven system to collect client feedback that could be funneled back to government decision makers. We quickly got to work. We formed a founding team with Simon and Patrick and together we began to devise a solution and engage our government partners about our vision for this service. We’re currently running a pilot in a number of facilities in Dar es Salaam and have alignment with our partners to scale this nationally over the next five years to reach approximately 50 million citizens using 6,000 public facilities.
Afya Pamoja founding team (L-R): Patrick Anyanga, Rob Smith, Dr. Helga Mutasingwa, Simon DeBere
Notable Tech Trends & Advice for LBS Tech Enthusiasts
Globally and across multiple sectors, I think there’s a huge space opening up within the CivicTech and GovTech sectors. Finding opportunities to deploy digital technology that change how citizens and governments interact with one another unlocks opportunities for systems change impact, supports more inclusive public decision-making and helps to develop more responsive, essential public services which truly meet the needs of communities. In this way, digital technology has the potential to deliver great public good at immense scale.
Consider the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow. As the whole world wrestles with how to address the climate crisis it’s clear that our existing mechanisms for elevating the voices of citizens around the world most effected by climate change, and for holding public leaders accountable to their promises are totally inadequate. Digital technology applied in ingenious and innovative ways to drive behaviour change and influence incentive structures can enable us to do this better. We can use technology to build trust between disparate communities and to address imbalances of power in order to ensure more equitable social outcomes.
I’m happy to connect with any current students or alums interested in this space!
The TMC Alumni Spotlight series features LBS alumni working in tech and media across the globe. To stay connected and up to date on TMC's Alumni Engagement initiatives please join the LBS Tech & Media Student & Alumni LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9080226/.