Neil Wengerd of Nonfiction sits with Samuel Baddoo to discover how he positioned Fleri for success during a pandemic and how a tragic loss further fueled his motivation.
Hello, I’m Neil Wengerd. I’m a partner at the branding firm Nonfiction and I’m part of the marketing committee of the Columbus chapter of conscious capitalism. Conscious capitalism is a way of thinking about capitalism and business that better reflects the potential of business to make a positive impact on our community and our world. And our goal is to elevate community through business. As part of that this year, we’re focusing on amplifying the stories of women owned businesses, black owned businesses and businesses owned by people of color. And today I’m really excited to be talking with Sam Baddoo founder of Fleri. Sam, tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you very much, Neil. My name is Sam Baddoo. I’m currently a CEO and founder at Fleri. Fleri makes a product that helps immigrants living abroad to buy healthcare plans for their families back home. We’re currently focused on Africa and African immigrants in the diaspora. I grew up in Ghana, have lived in the U.S. over the last six years. I consider myself a pan African, and definitely one who seeks and plans life for people like me who’ve lived and journeyed to different parts of the world and continue connect the different pieces of their world to support [them] in various ways.
And you have a really interesting story too, and maybe talk a little bit about how you got to Columbus specifically, and then I would love to dig in a little bit to the origin story of Fleri too, because I think there are a lot of interesting numbers and realizations that you had around the insurance world in particular.
Yeah. So, you know, growing up, I grew up in Ghana, like I mentioned, for most of my life until, you know, college, then I had the chance to win a United nation scholarship that led me to Morocco, where I spent the next five years of my life. During that time, I got really involved in community building and technology. An interesting part of that was also, beyond learning social entrepreneurship and getting really fascinated by how social entrepreneurs, especially in Asia, was being used to move millions of people out of poverty, which previously wasn’t seen. My thoughts were, this is something that can definitely apply to my home country of Ghana and the greater African continent. And so, in 2012, I decided to tag with a group of friends, and start what be my first social entrepreneurship.
The goal was of this was to build a commercially viable social impact business. One that would allow us to scale a business that was local to Ghana, but create international products that could rally more young people into starting their own companies there. This led, a couple of years after, to starting two other businesses, one of them which was a consulting company, helping other startups scale beyond individual or founders. That experience of course got me interested in doing a lot more with my life, and I couldn’t think of a better place, to get that challenge, than to move to America. So literally I, I did move to this country, primarily, cuz I wanted to change my life. I wanted to change my opportunities, the things I worked on.
So I moved here, it was a struggle initially lived in New York for about a year and then moved to Columbus. In Columbus it was a rough start, but meeting people, one of the most influential people that I’ve met in, in my personal story, Hailey Boehning. And, and I remember when I met Hailey, yeah, so, you know, moving to Columbus was an interesting part of my life, right? Cuz it was very different from life in New York. New York, everybody is busy moving around. In Columbus, it was meeting one person unlocking another door, meeting the next person and building this web of relationships that have ended up being a very solid foundation for me, to find my own footing in the city. You know, most significant was how I met Hailey, you know, who’s part of the leadership at Conscious Capitalism Columbus. You know, I met Hailey through my work at Empowerbus with Aslyne. You know, which at that time was really amazing work, to uplift people, people who, who were struggling. That relationship with Hailey opened lots more doors in Columbus meeting other people. And, and it’s been very, very influential in terms of my trajectory, you know, in the city over time.
Speaker 1 (05:40):
Yeah. And so I, that’s an interesting point and I think you touched on a few things there, specifically on relationships, and the relationships that you had when you were in Africa and the relationships that you built when you came here and, thinking about your business, Fleri, specifically, it makes me think about the complexity of that stakeholder relationship. And so your primary audience is African immigrants in the United States who are in turn buying insurance for their families in Africa. So your immediate stakeholder is here, but the people who have the biggest impact are back home and are their families. So how do you take into account those various stakeholders when you’re planning the future of Fleri, and the future of your business?
Yeah. You’re, you’re very correct in, in looking at it this way. right.
And I think the interesting two line is one that all stakeholders are connected and have really come to appreciate if you look at the work we did at Restart prior to Fleri, it’s this idea that people are never by themselves, you know, customers or just users or whatever term you apply to them, right? People are connected with other people and at various points in time, they’re playing different roles in an ecosystem. And so for us at Fleri, it was looking at where did we want to have the impact? Right. I started this company primarily because I’d experienced a personal loss that led me to understand that the loss was not unique, however painful. But it was only a signal of what so many other people were experiencing. And in looking at the people who were experiencing that, the millions of people who die in Africa every year, as a result of that lack of access to quality healthcare. So many of them were already being financed and supported by families, you know, and individuals just like myself living here. Right? And so if that’s where we wanted to have an impact, and they were connected to these people who were very much trying to have an impact on them and support them, then it showed that it was the threads that connected them, the systems that did not exist, that really could be built. Right. And that was the opportunity that we saw, to look at an ecosystem system of stakeholders and build a system that was, strengthening those connections, providing accountability, but most importantly, bringing a much more efficient channel to create that desired outcome. Right. Which in this case is more moving more people towards better access to healthcare, right, than we previously had while using the same, you know, ideologies or the same motivations to achieve them. Yeah.
Yeah. And that idea that, that very well-articulated purpose of, of getting healthcare to more people, is, like I said, very well-articulated. And you touched on a couple of things, personal loss and then kind of the idea of trying to have this greater mission. How did all of that influence the founding of Fleri and how does it sort of continue to influence Fleri today? How does that keep you focused?
I think one of the ways it does that is having a higher purpose. That’s extremely important. I’m a conscious capitalism believer through and through, you know, way before I even knew what conscious capitalism was. It’s this idea that, you know, social entrepreneurship, and I see myself as a social entrepreneur, the path that I decided to take was all about, you know, using the same fundamentals and foundations of, capitalist business, right. To serve the higher purpose of, you know, scalable impact. And so for me, it keeps me really grounded that what we are trying to achieve is not, you know, more revenue, it’s not, you know, popularity. It’s really, how do we scale impact, right? And, and just to kind of focus on, you know, what that really looks like, 6 million people every year die from really basic, you know, lack of access to care.
We’re not talking major operations, we’re not talking huge, you know, unpronounceable diseases, it’s things like hypertension, it’s things like malaria is things like typhiod, you know, bilharzia, stuff like that. Like very curable, very preventable, very manageable. This is what kills a lot of people, right. Malnutrition. And we are trying to have an effect on that 6 million, if in my lifetime, over the next 10 years, we can move that number down a million, that’s the kind of impact that we are trying to achieve. And it is very humbling to look at where we’re starting from and where, how much more we have to do. And that keeps me very grounded and focused that the, the work that it lies ahead of us is a lot.
Yeah. I, I think that’s so having a mission like that, that you stay focused on, that gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, but then drives your whole company, I think is so crucial because what you’re doing when you’re dealing with saving lives, it’s easy to get discouraged to kind of feel like you’re not having an impact, but you, if you save one life, like you said, if you, you, you take a chunk out of that top number, you’ve had an impact. And so remembering, that’s why you’re here is so important. So, being in the healthcare industry, the insurance industry, what did 2020 look like for you? How did the pandemic you impact what you’re doing?
So the pandemic gave breath to what we were doing, right. My grandmother passed away in February. That grieving period was enlightening for me, right. Talking to other people and knowing for several reasons that one, the pandemic laid bed, you know, the disparities that we have in healthcare, you know, people here were just as terrified, just as worried, but regardless of however we feel about the healthcare system in the us, it is a million times better than the healthcare that we have in Africa. Right. And there are social infrastructures, social policies that are in place to provide some support where all beneficiaries of, you know, the stimulus checks that they gave. Right. If you think about it, who’s given the stimulus check in any country in Africa, right. How are people even getting tested? We get tested a lot over here and mostly for free in the initial stages of, of the pandemic, people back home in Ghana and Nigeria had to pay for their own testing. What is the end result of that? It simply means that a lot more people, even when they have COVID are just gonna continue doing what they’re doing every single day. Cause there’s no incentive to go pay something so expensive that cost four weeks salary, right? To go get tested. Nobody’s doing that. And for families here who their loved ones back home, that’s a major source of worry, right., and not having a way to provide them care except a reactive way, which is just sending money, when they’ve already contracted the disease, already probably critically ill and not much can be done, then you’re not really having an impact. Right. Second is the fact that with the pandemic, a lot more people living here, immigrants, lost their jobs. Just like a lot of people.
They tend to work in a lot of the frontline work. They tend to do the cleaning in places. They tend to do a lot of the work that was risky. So as people are losing wages, there’s a greater need for them to efficiently use their resources, which means that seeing how people back home rely on their families here to send them money, there’s less money that goes, right. Less money that’s available. But the interesting part about this is over decades, it’s been proven that the more difficult the economic situation is in emerging countries and even globally, it is actually asymmetrical to the aid or the remittances that are sent by relatives, which we means that because there’s a greater need, immigrants have to suffer, sacrifice more to send to their families back home. And for us, that was an impetus for what we are building, because what we’re trying to do is to create a much more efficient system to avoid the 9- 12% in fees that you pay to a money transfer company just to send money back home and the middlemen that have to be gone through, right. And instead provide a way for you to directly offer healthcare, which is what people needed most here in the pandemic. Right. And that for us was an opportune moment to build something like this that did not exist.
Yeah. Yeah. I, I think you’re absolutely right. So building on that and as 2020 being the impetus for the entire initiative, where do you see 2021 going, what do you see as your biggest hurdles to, to really build the company over the next year?
2021 is about validating, to the larger extent, the need that we recognize. To understand our customers, our members, you know, the immigrants who live here and live abroad in different places, right. And the needs that they have to fulfill support to their families. Where are they spending money today? Where are they, you know, most in need of support. Right. We, we understand a lot. I understand a lot, living this very, you know, experience, but also it’s an opportunity for us to really move beyond our primary pilots, right, in Ghana and Nigeria, to really expand this as an opportunity. We’ve already seen how much it is impacting lives in Ghana, how much it’s impacting lives in Nigeria. But the problems are everywhere throughout Africa, right. And the diaspora is huge. And so, it’s about being able to scale to different countries after 2021. But right now, what we’re trying to do is to deeply understand the people that we’re serving, and to be able to care more for their families.
Yeah. Going deeper into who these stakeholders are, what they need and how you can best help them. Yeah. Yeah. And, and speaking of getting involved, how can our community help you? How can we get involved with Fleri?
I think there are a number of ways that, you know, the local Columbus community, all conscious capitalism, even as an organization can support, right. The first one is in finding more ways to spread the message. Very often it’s, we all know, you know, someone who comes from a different country, we all probably know someone who is from some place in Africa, right, but rarely do we have an opportunity to, Hey, I want to speak to this person that I know who is from Ghana about something, you know, that impacts us life. I think this is a very, very good opportunity to kind of get to know these people that we meet and know, throughout our city, right, what are their experiences like? How are their families surviving the pandemic? What are they having to do to help them?
Right. If you know someone from Zimbabwe, then you probably know, it’s just as hard to get oxygen in places like Zimbabwe, right. Or respirators, or ventilators, you know, during a time like this, how do we support that? How do we rally around them? And so creating an awareness is one of them, most people that I talk to are like, how come I’ve never heard about this? Yeah. That’s, that’s why we’re doing it. It’s not been, available, right. So that’s one, number two is highlighting a little bit deeper, what, you know, immigrant communities, are going through at a time like this, we all are trying to get as many people as possible vaccinated. There’s a lot of misinformation. There’s a lot of worry. But the situation is even more dire in the countries where they come from.
Engaging these communities also has the side benefit of giving them more arsenal in their toolkit, to be able to talk to their families back home and influence them to get vaccinated. Why? Because, as we all get vaccinated globally, it actually increases, you know, reoccurrings across, cuz people are constantly traveling. Those are some of the ways I can think of, and then generally, in creating opportunities for Fleri, as well, to connect with people who might have that experience, whether it’s in insurance and healthcare in public health, in the nonprofit world, these are, these are people that we would love to talk to, who influence the way in which we’re thinking about the product and iterating.
Excellent. Yeah. Empathy and making sure we understand everyone’s life experiences are not our own. That’s so important. Sam, thank you so much for your time. This has been great. Anybody that wants to learn more can go to joinfleri.com and check out Fleri. Thanks, Sam.