Business for Good: Grad Helps Bring Microinsurance to Kenya

At Bethel, Dan Wanous ’15 learned how business could rise above profits and shareholders to be a force for good. That led him to a career at Thrivent Financial and a trip to Kenya, where he helped set up microinsurance for small dairy farmers.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

March 21, 2019 | Noon

Dan Wanous '15

Dan Wanous ’15, center, spent September to November 2018 working with a Thrivent Financial team to set up a system to offer low-cost insurance options for Kenyan farmers.

Dan Wanous ’15 knows business plays a key role in driving change, a conviction he traces to his days at Bethel University. “As Christ followers, it’s incumbent on us to use our strengths, our skills, our passions for the benefit of the world,” he says. “It was a different perspective than I think I would have gotten at another school.”

Wanous, who majored in economics and finance, followed that belief into his work as director of business development at Thrivent Financial. And he continues striving for ways to use his strength to serve. Last year, he spent September through November in Nairobi, Kenya, where he worked with a team to provide low-cost insurance options to give dairy farmers stability and security should something happen to their cows. “[Farmers] can live much more stable, confident, and balanced lives,” he says.

A large percentage of Kenya’s dairy production comes from farmers with one to five cows, but Wanous notes most of them are uninsured. Wanous worked with a team through the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF) as part of its 5-5-5 initiative, which aims to reach five million uninsured families over the course of five years in five underserved countries.

Education played a key role in the team’s efforts, in part because insurance penetration in Kenya is only 3%. “You never started a conversation by saying, ‘Let me sell you cow insurance,’” Wanous says. “That concept was completely foreign.” Conversations instead centered on farmers’ goals and how their lives intersected with their business, as education efforts focused on improving farmers’ business, their production, and then how to protect that and get stability.
Dan Wanous ’15

Dan Wanous ’15, third from left, and a Thrivent Financial team worked on the contracts, infrastructure, and systems to support low-cost insurance plans for Kenyan dairy farmers.

Much of the education happened through Kenya’s dairy cooperatives. Since many farmers don’t have access to individual refrigeration to store their milk, they utilize cooperatives where they bring their milk for refrigeration. From there, it’s processed and then sent to distribution companies. Cooperatives allow farmers to have a stronger negotiating position on milk prices than they’d have on their own, Wanous says. Wanous’ team formed relationships with leaders at the dairy cooperatives and held trainings at the sites.

Individually, the team wrote policies for more than 1,200 farmers, but that number is set to increase through the cooperatives. The team signed six contracts with dairy cooperatives to insure a certain number of that cooperative’s farmers. The cooperatives will then help give out policies to cover tens of thousands of new farmers in the coming years.

Wanous and the team worked on the contracts, infrastructure, and systems surrounding the insurance plans. To maintain affordability, Wanous and a technology vendor started developing texting-based or app-based services to offer efficient ways to meet the growing number of plans without requiring cost-prohibitive staffing levels. Wanous also worked to set up monitoring and tracking methods to follow new farmers, services, and updates on claims.

To Wanous, it was an eye-opening experience to live in Nairobi, especially for an extended period.

You become embedded more in a culture when you’re there for a long period of time and you’re building relationships, you’re going into the office every day. You build much deeper relationships that way.

— Dan Wanous ’15

The experience also further supported his belief that businesses can drive positive change. It showed Wanous how specific agencies and groups—like businesses, charities, churches, and governments—are each best suited to address certain issues. Government aid or charitable groups can assist farmers, but Wanous says an affordable insurance policy can provide stability and reduce risk.

Wanous’ experience in Nairobi continues a journey he started through Bethel’s Department of Business and Economics. He credits faculty like Professor of Economics Tim Essenburg and courses like Economic Development of Less-Developed Countries for helping him recognize that business isn’t just about returning money to shareholders or maximizing profit; it can be a force for good. “Bethel cultivated a thoughtfulness around how Christians should engage with the world,” Wanous says.

He took a Leaders for Change study abroad course during his sophomore year, traveling to Amman, Jordan, and then Israel and Palestine. The class highlighted how business and political leaders serve as agents for change in the community. In Israel and Palestine, they met with people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who were working toward peace. “That was a pivotal experience for me to really experience a different part of the world,” he says.

Such experiences led him to work with Thrivent. “We are really devoted to think through ways that business can be used for a force for good in the world,” he says of Thrivent. “Our mission here is to serve U.S. Christians and help them be wise with money and live generously. But there are so many different learnings that we can bring into other markets where we don’t have plans to do business, but there’s a lot of knowledge transfer that can go on.”

Thrivent will continue to be engaged in Kenya and other countries in the next several years as part of the 5-5-5 Initiative. While Wanous would love to return to Kenya, the project’s next steps are still being developed. However, he’s happy to be part of a team that provided stability for farmers in Kenya by helping them protect their livelihood.

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