Change agent Mosima Mabunda joins Population Services International Board of Directors

January 2021 marked the exciting start of the latest term for PSI’s Board of Directors. So began the tenure of four new and returning talented Board members and new Board Chair Carolyn Brehm. This month, we are conducting interviews with the Board members, delving into their backgrounds, personal and professional journeys, as well as their call to PSI and its mission to deliver consumer-powered healthcare.

Here, we welcome business leader, physician, feminist and change agent Mosima Mabunda, head of Wellness for Discovery Vitality, to the 2021 PSI Board slate.

PSI: What should we know about Mosima Mabunda? 

Mosima Mabunda: I am a South African born and bred lady from the township of Seshego, which is in Polokwane, Limpopo province, north of Johannesburg. I am the only girl in my family, I have two brothers, and I am married and blessed with three sons.

I studied medicine at the University of Cape Town. I am passionate about empowering people to own their health and wellbeing. I have always been fascinated by the sector and its impact on individuals and societies. It is that curiosity early in life that sparked my interest and led me to pursue a career in the health sector. I have had the privilege of practicing medicine both in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The experience in both countries was markedly different yet equally fulfilling. Whilst in the UK, I completed an MBA at the University of Oxford, Said Business School. The main driver for reading for the MBA was to support my desire to acquire the requisite business knowledge to allow me to explore career opportunities on the business side of health. Part of the reason I was interested in the business side of health was from my experience when I worked in rural hospital settings. It was apparent even at that time that having organised systems and processes could allow the doctors and the nurses to be a lot more effective in their work and will ultimately improve health outcomes. It was very clear to me that the biggest impact I could make would be to have expertise to remove some of the things that were creating unnecessary problems in the system.

So that’s why I thought, let me do an MBA to start shifting my way of thinking and combine this strategic thinking with healthcare expertise to see where this leads me. Subsequent to the MBA; I worked in the pharmaceutical industry in product development at Roche in the UK. I was the assistant product development medical director in virology.

PSI: PSI is full of people who transition from one career to another and bring multiple perspectives with them. It sounds like you can relate.

MM: Indeed. We moved back to South Africa and I worked with AbbVie in the medical management side of the business. That is when the opportunity to join McKinsey came along. I enjoyed my time in the pharmaceutical industry, but felt a little bit constrained, especially because I was no longer on the development side, which I enjoyed due to its bias on constant problem solving. I then joined McKinsey as a consultant in their Johannesburg office. When my family moved Uganda, McKinsey was accommodating enough to let me work from the Kenyan office, commuting between Nairobi and Kampala on a weekly basis. I must mention that I was also pregnant at this time with our last born son. The experience of accessing reproductive health services in Uganda was eye opening. I considered myself as someone who was exposed having lived and travelled to various countries. I had taken the healthy system structures in South Africa and most of the Western world as the norm. I never imagined a world where you can go and buy a daily dose of antibiotics vs a course of antibiotics, but when you think about how people earn income and manage cash flow, you can understand why that set-up is the case.

I had never been in an environment where I had to pay before a consultation for each step in the hospital care journey. I was curious to understand how health care was delivered in various settings and how one can optimise, within the constraints, to ensure everyone still has equitable access to quality healthcare.  I actually got to appreciate the model of public and private health care provision in South Africa because they bring the service providers together. But in Uganda, I was exposed to another way of doing things. Another aspect to healthcare is understanding the cultural context and how people use services, and that informs how you actually deliver for those people. Uganda was completely different from South Africa, and it taught me the importance of understanding the context of your users when designing services for them.

PSI: PSI works hard to hear directly from consumers about their needs and what would remove obstacles for them. Have you had the opportunity to apply what you saw in Uganda?  

MM: When I came back to South Africa, I worked for an insurance company in a role similar to my current role but smaller. The exciting part about working in wellness is that you work on interventions that are targeted directly at the consumers of health services. You start to want to understand a lot more about them, their lives, their needs, their environment; attitudes towards health and associated services, etc. If you actually get to that, you are in a better space to meet them where they are, get them to own their health and ultimately start shifting their healthcare behaviours, towards the ultimate vision to reduce health risk and improve health outcomes.

After that, I worked at Accenture in the public health division as an Associate Director. The exciting thing about associations like Accenture is how they work with organisations to leverage technology for better outcomes across industries, including Health. Technology has been a big enabler in facilitating the work that I’m doing. It allows you to reach people that you never thought you would reach. It is a tool that allows you to actually see people in a way that you just never imagined you would see them in, because you can connect the dots. It allows you to create one universe, therefore you can personalise your offering and be targeted in your approach. You break the information arbitrage. You are able to broker knowledge. Most importantly, you can empower people. For me, it just affirmed the reason why I am at Discovery today, because it’s a merger of the two – you are empowering people to own their health, reducing health risk by leveraging behavioural science to shift health behaviour and rewarding people through our technology platform to re-enforce the desired behaviors. And it’s how you leverage technology that allows you to design meaningful products that resonate with the intended users. I enjoy the work I do as the head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery.

PSI: What motivates you about PSI’s mission to make it easier for all people to live healthier lives and plan for the families they desire, and how that brought you to PSI?

MM: I am currently studying a course on Behavioural Science and Complex Interventions in Health with Oxford University. As I was completing my assignment, I realised that I am a person who thrives when I’m intrinsically motivated. As I was reflecting on the question of “why PSI?”, the one thing that stood out for me is that there is an alignment between PSI’s values and my own values. That, for me, is always the starting point: where do purpose and values align?

Empowering people is essential to the work PSI is doing. Things like being in the context of consumers; engaging with consumers to better understand their needs; is central to PSI’s strategy and those ideals are quite important to me. In not using the word “patients” and instead using “consumers,” that is quite powerful.

The “how PSI tackles healthcare” was also key, because there are so many organisations that are involved in this space, and their “how” differs. PSI draws on the power people have, to make their own choices and build on that to provide access to healthcare services; on consumer’s terms. The approach resonated with me.

The second thing is the PSI team and the Board. I have never met a group of [such] humble, caring, smart people. Everyone speaking the same language, the consistent thread of how they engage with others, and how they conduct themselves. You actually see consumer-powered care in how they engage. All the conversations I have had always started with wanting to understand me, to hear me, and then bringing themselves into the conversation. That doesn’t happen a lot. I believe you do great work with great people, and great people are people that you can connect with.

Third is the mission that PSI stands for. So those three things moved me from motivation to feeling very privileged to be invited to join the Board. When you get opportunities that tick the boxes that are meaningful for you, it feels surreal.

PSI: What does consumer-powered healthcare mean to you and how do you see it making change for the people PSI serves? 

I interpret consumer-powered healthcare as being in a space where you intimately understand the consumer you are trying to serve. Not just a secondary understanding, but a combination of primary and secondary understanding that allows you to tailor the solutions, taking into consideration their context, to facilitate adoption.

It is exciting when organisations like PSI to think and act in that way. For you to move toward consumer-powered healthcare means that you are clear about the outcome and the barriers and facilitators of the desired outcomes in the settings you are working in. You always measure the interventions that you do against the outcome. It is clear that PSI sees the value of putting healthcare in the hands of people as the work they do centres around the people they serve.

So for me, consumer-powered healthcare, means that you’re meeting consumers where they are, and that is actually empowering them to make good decisions.

PSI: Any other fun challenges you’ve been focusing on? 

MM: I learned how to ride a bike three years ago. I’m an adult cycling student. I learned three years ago because my son refused to learn if his mom didn’t know how to ride — because moms lead by example. So I said “fair,” and now I’m at a place where I cannot imagine my life without my bicycle. I ride races. Last year we did a team race of 200 kilometres. It is unbelievable but three years ago, I was learning how to ride in the back of a factory. As of next week, I’m polishing my mountain biking skills.


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