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on a positive impact

Turning Risks Into Assets: My Journey Accelerating Innovation with the Trust

By Michael Seo, Founder and Director, ReaMedica and Recipient of J&J Trust Accelerator Grant

In October 2017, ReaMedica will open its first clinic in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, Kenya. With the launch of this clinic, I will be able to bring to life what I have been working towards for the past four years: How to accelerate health service delivery entrepreneurship in low resource settings.

My journey from the idea to implementation of ReaMedica began in 2013 and was given new life while attending the Innovating Health for Tomorrow (IHT) program in 2014. At IHT, a joint collaboration between INSEAD Business School and the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust (Trust), senior health care industry managers from across the world came together to discuss the challenges that we confront on a daily basis, learn new innovation processes, reframe risks as assets, and work as teams to prototype business models.

My time at IHT contributed immensely to my thinking behind ReaMedica. By the end of the program, I realized that the natural next step would be to bring IHT-inspired models to health workers in the public, private, and NGO sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. Together with other IHT alumni, and with the support of Johnson & Johnson South Africa and the Trust, I travelled to Pretoria, South Africa where we convened the Gordian Knot, a workshop for emerging health entrepreneurs.

Team activity during the Gordian Knot

It was here that I learned about the exclusively nurse-run Unjani Clinics, a partner of the Trust and Johnson & Johnson South Africa. At the heart of the Unjani Clinics’ success is what Iain Barton, the initiative’s head, describes as the principle of “deal with what you can, refer what you cannot.” This idea is more formally known as “task shifting” – a process whereby tasks are delegated, where appropriate, to less specialized health workers. In South Africa, as in many parts of the world, traditional health institutions are stretched thin, but only a small percentage of people seeking treatment at primary health care facilities actually need the attention of a doctor. In many cases, these services can be shifted to nurses who can effectively provide the care needed, at the same quality, if they have the necessary resources.


Unjani Clinics have been so successful that the network has grown to include 26 clinics throughout South Africa since launching in 2011 and is expected to increase to 41 by the end of the year. This prompted me to ask myself, is it possible to scale up this innovation even further, to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? 

We have a natural tendency to repeat what we know works, a natural desire to mitigate risk. Initially, in Kenya, we hoped to replicate the Unjani model as closely as possible. We soon learned that what worked in South Africa may not be feasible in Kenya, and what didn’t work for the Unjani Clinics could potentially be repurposed for ReaMedica. True innovation is an outcome of leveraging risk and uncertainty with tremendous potential, and in order to harness that potential for ReaMedica, we realized we had to be comfortable with deviating from and tailoring the Unjani model to the Kenyan context.

Through the support of the Trust Network, a group of J&J employees and partners who regularly collaborate, I met team members from Trust Flagship Partner, the Aga Khan Foundation, who helped me shape the service and business model for the first ReaMedica clinic in Kenya. A few months later, we received seed funding from the Trust accelerator program and then additional funds from a Kenyan investor who had, up until then, found it too risky to invest in medical clinics.  I am anxious to open our first clinic doors in October of this year. With the Trust’s continued support, our goal is to eventually expand this social enterprise model and create a network of clinics delivering affordable, quality care to low income families everywhere.

By Michael Seo, Founder and Director, ReaMedica and Recipient of Trust Accelerator Grant