Neal Keny-Guyer '82 Talks Social Innovation

Social entrepreneur and Mercy Corps chief executive officer Neal Keny-Guyer '82 visited campus on April 19 to discuss his work creating social innovation in the world's toughest places.

"I think we are on the cusp in our generation and in this next generation of the greatest breakthroughs of alleviating suffering, of bringing services, benefits, and gains to the world's most marginalized and poor that we have seen in any time in humanity," said Keny-Guyer.

He argued that one factor making this shift possible is technology—specifically mobile connectivity—that has changed the way companies can organize and deliver financial services, healthcare, and new forms of education. "There are more people who have cell phones than have access to toilets," he said. "If you just look in Africa right now, 70% of the continent has mobile connectivity. It is changing so rapidly and the potential that it represents is incredible."

Keny-Guyer joined Mercy Corps in 1994 as CEO and has helped build it into a leading international humanitarian and development organization with operations in 40 countries, a staff of 4,000, and an operating budget of $300 million.

Keny-Guyer has also observed a shift in the attitude of the international relief and development world. "The traditional aid architecture is fairly broken," he said. "I think there is a trend of recognizing the power of markets and of partnerships with the private sector to solve social challenges," he said. "That's where you see a lot of the energy in our world now that you didn't see 10 years ago."

He said that Mercy Corps is in dialog with companies around ideas of shared interest and shared value. In one example, Mercy Corps recently partnered with BanKO, a joint venture bank founded in the Philippines, and the Gates Foundation, in an effort to bring financial services to the poorest people of Indonesia and the Philippines. According to Keny-Guyer, because of the fragmented microfinance market, there was "no way to, at scale, introduce new products and services like mobile banking, mobile insurance, and so forth." The partnership is building out a technology platform that connects more than 1,000 banks so customers can be introduced to innovative products and services cost-effectively.

Mercy Corps has also partnered with the local microfinance institute Fonkoze in Haiti to offer insurance coverage against natural disasters to low-income entrepreneurs. "This is not a panacea. This is not going to transform Haiti. But for the now almost 200,000 people who have that coverage, it has already paid out twice with two big storms that have come through since the earthquake. And it's a sustainable model because it is market-based."

The lecture was sponsored by the Net Impact Club. Keny-Guyer is a fellow of the Yale Corporation, serves on the Yale President's Council on International Affairs, and is a member of the Yale SOM Board of Advisors.