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Episode 17: Dr. Robert Karanja Co-founder Villgro Africa

This is the first podcast episode from Africa, a continent of unmatched pristine beauty, wildlife and origins of modern human race. In this episode Nishant Malhotra chats with Dr Robert Karanja co-founder of Villgro, Africa. Robert has a Ph.D. and Masters in Medical Parasitology & Entomology, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Bachelors in Biology. Before setting up Villgro Africa, Dr Robert wore multiple hats as a professional within the development sector in Africa.

Villgro Africa is inspiring a new wave of innovative thinking to address deep rooted global health challenges in Africa through market-led solutions. We provide seed funding, technical assistance and business development support to global health innovators to take their innovations to the market. Working at the interface of science and industry.

Dr Robert chats about his experience in starting Villgro Africa, his game changing and defining experience in a one-month training program on innovation in Sweden. One of the major partners of the program is Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation, that works through a multifaceted collaborative partnership model enabling social change and impact within the sustainable development sector in emerging markets. His experience at the training session changed the perspective on the innovation sector with a feel-good understanding on drivers guiding a knowledge focussed economy. The discussion delves into how technological innovation can transform Africa from an extractive driven model of natural resources to an innovation focussed mobile platform enabled economy. Example Microfinance, Fintech, Telemedicine etc. Villgro Africa has made a deep impact on the lives of the underprivileged in Africa, impacting more than 1 million lives, with investment of over $800K across 24 startup’s. One very interesting startup is Rescue, the largest network of first Kenya’s best first responders. Wheels for Life enables expectant mothers to reach the hospital during curfew hours. The inventiveness is a significant success during the pandemic as all mothers who have used this service have survived.

The major part of the discussion is on healthcare sector. According to Alt Network, in Africa, fewer than 50% have access to modern healthcare facilities but have 25% of the global disease burden. With health coverage ~ 4% in Africa and government expenditure less than 10% of their GDP, the region faces major acute healthcare crisis. According to the Africa Business Community, 11% of Africans experience catastrophic spending for health care every year, 38% delay or forgo healthcare because of high costs. Dr Robert shares an excellent perspective on this aspect.

Africa has only a 3 to 4 percent share of global pharmaceutical industry and 2 to 3 percent share of global medical devices. Yet many countries with Africa are ahead of the curve in fighting the pandemic. Another troublesome statistic is African DNA is only 2.3 percent of the global genome database.

Robert proposes a universal healthcare plan for the citizens in Kenya and a universal tax to sponsor the initiative. Listen to the in-depth interview to understand the African development ecosystem especially Kenya. The podcast is available on Podbean directory, Spotify, iTunes, iHeart directory etc.


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