Profit-with-purpose investor LeapFrog backs businesses in emerging markets in Africa and Asia, specialising in insurance and healthcare investments. Its companies operate across 23 countries, reaching more than 90m people and providing over 100,000 jobs. Sam Duncan, LeapFrog’s London-based head of impact, tells Julian Blake about the role of digital in driving forward the ventures it supports.
If you’re working to help make a genuinely lasting impact on the world with your business, there’s little sense in being anything other than super-ambitious in your targets. If you then find yourselves in a place where what you’re doing improves the lives of more than 90m people worldwide, creates 100,000 jobs, and you have $1bn at hand to help you achieve that, the chances are that you are making a pretty significant impact indeed.
When you first hear about the work of LeapFrog Investments, the very first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of its ambition to deliver positive impact to some of the world’s most deprived economies. Ninety million people is without doubt big scale. And over the past 10 years, LeapFrog has secured over $1bn in commitments from a host of world-leading financial institutions to deliver on this ambition.
LeapFrog was founded in 2007 (and is still led today) by South African serial entrepreneur and investor Andrew Kuper with a clear initial purpose – to be an “insurer to the poor” in emerging economies in Africa and Asia. Kuper was convinced that a lack of insurance was holding back ordinary families from health and prosperity, so set about encouraging insurance products that would cost as little as $1 a month.
To help the 25m people LeapFrog initially targeted for support in 2008 – given the crash the worst year in living memory for money – it raised a total of $135m for a financial inclusion fund, supported by the likes of the European Investment Bank, Triodos Bank and the eBay founder-backed Omidyar Network. Former US president Bill Clinton said in 2009 that LeapFrog had opened up “a new frontier for alternative investment”.
LeapFrog’s goal from the start – and which continues to this day – has been two-fold: to help bring people out of poverty permanently, and at the same time open up new markets for business. The insurance market penetration in those emerging economies was as low as 3%, so for Kuper the move was “good business” as well as big impact. Its work is, as Kuper said, all about “building a bridge between profit and purpose”.
In London, a key figure in the LeapFrog operation is Sam Duncan, an Australian-born Brit who for the past five years has headed up the investor’s impact team.
“We are now the largest equity impact investor in companies focused on emerging markets,” Duncan says. “Those companies provide financial services and healthcare to more than 90m low-income people. That is a number we hold very close to our hearts.”
Among LeapFrog’s most recent investments in Africa has been Enterprise Group, Ghana’s fastest-growing insurance business. In June that firm was the beneficiary of a $180m commitment from LeapFrog Strategic African Investments, a $350m account in which Prudential Financial is the primary investor. Affordable insurance cover should now be made available to the 95% of Ghana’s population who are uninsured, meaning families will now have access to better healthcare. A further LeapFrog investment has seen $22m backing for Kenya’s Good Life pharmacy chain, to improve that country’s access to quality medicines.
“Essentially at LeapFrog what we are trying to do is take what has been a persistent social problem in developed worlds and emerging markets,” says Duncan. “We have about two billion people just in our markets, living not hand-to-mouth as many people would say or would think but actually just living with minimal resources and striving to make their lives better through different opportunities and a lot of hard work.
“But these two billion people don’t have access to critical services that we take for granted, such as financial services and healthcare. There are also a bunch of other services like education, energy and big infrastructure that just don’t exist. What we have tried to do as an impact investor is to identify the problems and the commercial solutions, then back them to get people access to these critical services.”
Sam Duncan’s own career journey has taken in both ends of the global economy. She graduated in business from the University of Queensland in 2006. After working as a consultant for PwC in Brisbane, in 2007 she moved to become an analyst at the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs Australia. That was just before the global financial crisis and the problems that created for investment banking.
From there Duncan decided to change course completely. She made a move to Latin America, where she went to head up microfinance and economic development for the Supporting Kids in Peru charity. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she says. It also offered serious lessons for the work to come at LeapFrog. “In the business we are in, we can’t really be authentic unless you spend time with low-income people,” she says. “Certainly Peru is not representative of the rest of the world but it just made me realise the reality of who we call low-income people.”
Duncan is not the only investment professional to have changed tack because of the financial crash. She’s also not alone in seeing 2008 as a watershed moment for investment. “The global financial crisis definitely called out a lot of the shortfalls in the way that the capital system was working,” she says.
That, she says, has led to a “wave of social awareness around the need for corporations to be more responsible. Now we have for example the UNPRI promoting principles for responsible investments and has now got half of the world’s $7trn of capital committed to principled investing responsibilities.”
She also sees a recognition among world leaders that private markets can and do deliver the changes that economies need. “A lot of the development world has now come to the recognition that we need private sector solutions. There is certainly also a role for grant capital too. There is a meeting in the middle.”
Perhaps the most significant change, she says, is that “there is a new generation of investment and development professionals – Gen Y or Next Gens – who want to live in a different world. They imagine a different way of working and a different way of creating value than the generations before them.
“When you think about the world we have grown up in, you traditionally were for profit or non-profit,” she says. “You were forced to choose between being Donald Trump or Mother Teresa. The reality doesn’t really ring true for a lot of people in today’s world.”
Looking back, says Duncan, “Peru was a defining experience for me, but so was working at Goldman Sachs, because I saw how that world was and was being run. My driving passion has been to take those two experiences and see if we can’t build on how we drive financial returns because that can drive social returns in an equally rigorous way.”
LeapFrog, she hopes, has brought the two approaches together. “Most private equity firms just maximise your profit,” she says. “When we started we wanted do that but we also wanted to reach 25m low-income people. With our approach we wanted to see if we could achieve both objectives.”
So how does LeapFrog measure impact, that most complex and elusive of goals? “Impact is incredibly complex and particularly social impact,” she agrees. “In this realm we have worked to clearly define impact, which can be very fuzzy, and then be clear about where we can influence and where we can’t influence – and be clear about what we can and cannot earn.”
LeapFrog’s initial target, to reach 25m low-income people without insurance, was expanded on the back of a study that showed that actually there were about 1bn people worldwide that also demanded insurance to provide themselves with a safety net. That meant an expansion of the scale of the investor’s ambition. How though, is the impact of its investors measured?
“We track a number of indicators, such as those around product quality, and we have a rubric that enables companies to define what is quality. We also look at things like claims ratios, which are a leading financial indicator but really indicate value to the consumer,” she explains.
Although the recipients of LeapFrog investment are not based in the UK, what – given that she’s based in London – is her perspective on the approach to impact investment being taken here?”
“The UK is one of the most forward-thinking markets in the development of this sector,” she says. “Having had the perspective of Australia, the US and the UK, I can say that the UK has a particularly social way of looking at business that underlies a lot of the activities in this sector. It is no surprise to me that the UK has been leading on social impact funds, with institutions like Big Society Capital and ClearlySo.”
Duncan says she and the LeapFrog team are now keen to engage further with the social impact sector in the UK, including with foundations, philanthropists and the private sector too, of course.
Where in all of Leapfrog’s investment work does technology sit? Does digital help it to measure impact, for instance?
“In measuring impact we use technology to conduct a lot of our consumer research work,” she says. “We use technology all the time to conduct that analysis because it is so much simpler and it’s so much more scalable. But we find in emerging markets that the most important thing in this type of work is to complement digital interaction with in-person interaction.
But, she says, the biggest way that LeapFrog uses digital to effect change is by investing in businesses that understand the power of technology to deliver real impact at sale.
She points to the news in June that the firm is investing in Cignifi, a big data platform powering large-scale financial inclusion. “Cignifi is a fintech pioneer that has basically created financial profiles for over 100m people in 13 emerging markets,” says Duncan. “They address the fact that fewer than one in 10 people in those countries actually have a form of credit history and therefore have no chance of getting any access to finance.”
LeapFrog has invested in other tech-led businesses. BIMA, which partners with mobile network operators to offer insurance in emerging markets, is expected to reach 30m low-income consumers soon. Jumo uses cloud technologies to create a large-scale, low-cost financial services platform for more than 3m consumers across Africa and Asia. And AllLife, which was the first insurer in the world to offer life cover to people living with HIV, uses “advanced robo-underwriting” to offer quick, affordable life cover to its customers.
Looking at LeapFrog’s investments and trends supporting businesses in future, then, how much more of a role will digital tools play in aiding investment decisions?
“There is really no way to overstate the importance of it,” says Duncan. “Most companies are thinking about how they better use digital to enhance their operations as well, so it comes into many, if not every conversation these days.”
But, Duncan says, when it comes to investing for impact, the human impact should never be overlooked. “We are just conscious we can’t take away from the human element here,” she says. “A lot of our investments recognise that as well, which is why they invest in human insight and interaction to complement the digital. But it is just front and centre in a world of emerging markets were you don’t have you don’t have the brick and mortar infrastructure that we have here. You can’t really get away from that.”
Sam Duncan – CV
Director and head of impact, LeapFrog Investments
Independent consultant, LAP Latin American Partners LLC
Independent consultant, Grassroots Business Fund, New Delhi
Independent consultant, TechnoServe, Honduras
Head, microfinance and economic development, Supporting Kids in Peru
Analyst, Investment Banking Division, Goldman Sachs Australia
Consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Brisbane, Australia
MA, International Economics and Development, Johns Hopkins University, Washington – Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
BCom bachelor of business, University of Queensland.