Dorothy Maseke is a high-octane woman with a forceful sense of purpose. The head of risk at ICEA Lion is an influential figure in the insurance industry in Africa and one of the key voices from the continent leading conversations on the place of risk management in the jigsaw of climate change at COP27 in Egypt.
After more than a dozen certifications in different areas, Dorothy’s appetite for books only gets whetted. She tells me she lives for new knowledge every day. She also speaks with precision and has piercing understanding of the business of risk amid climate change. She loves flowers.
When I tracked her down as she hopped from one conference hall to another here in Sharm-el-Sheikh, I was unsure if she would talk.
You have over a dozen certifications. It is not an obsession with books, is it?
I am just a person with a huge learning mindset. There is no year that goes without allowing myself to learn something new. Sometimes I have taken courses without knowing how I would apply the skills. Today, I am able to contribute to multiple conversations as a result. No education is ever wasted. You will always apply the skills somewhere along the journey of life.
What is your biggest takeaway from the discussions at COP27?
It is the commitment by 85 African insurers to develop the Africa Climate Risk Facility (ACRF). This is a Sh1.7 trillion ($14 billion) joint cover that will help the continent’s most vulnerable communities to deal with calamities such as floods, droughts and cyclones.
The world is getting hotter and disasters will continue to happen. Solutions around mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage have to be developed now. It is not about which of these elements wins. They must go hand in hand.
Explain ‘loss and damage’ to an illiterate person in Africa…
This is considered the third line of defence in the fight against climate change after mitigation and adaptation. It is a mechanism that allows victims of effects of climate change to be compensated for the loss or destruction of their livelihoods. An example would be a pastoralist whose herd has died as a result of climate change-induced drought. This fund enables them to recover quickly from the devastation.
For someone in the risks business, what is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Getting into the climate change conversation without really knowing what I was doing. I did not have prior experience. That was five years ago. I had to convince my employer that it was the right thing to do. I would be the lone voice in the discourse for some years. My employer, though, supported me in this journey. It is a privilege.
Does a woman of your stature have fears?
To be honest, yes. I keep asking myself, is there more that I could do? I have been highly critical of myself. But as I grow older, I am learning to be content and to be kinder to myself. It also keeps me inspired.
Where else do you draw your inspiration from?
My husband. I got married at 25. He is a strong pillar of my life and has been very involved and supportive of every major career decision I have made. It is a privilege to have a spouse who is your main supporter and challenger.
You have also had good bosses…
Yes. I credit my career success to them. Having bosses who empower their teams, trust them to deliver and cheer them is priceless.
Do you ever think about what else you would do for a living besides insurance?
(Laughs). I would be a florist, a restaurant owner or an event organiser. In that order. I love to arrange flowers. And to receive them, of course. I love food. I also love to plan weddings.
Would you say climate change is an opportunity for the insurance business?
This is our core purpose. As the climate changes and threats to life and businesses grow, insurance will be in great demand. The industry will have to insure governments and even humanitarian organisations to enable them to deal with catastrophes whenever they occur. This way, they will not have to go to donors for aid to facilitate rescue efforts.
In other words, it is the business of the future?
Banks choose whether or not to lend money to businesses. Insurers provide covers against risks by playing three unique roles in a market. We manage risks, carry risks on behalf of our clients and invest the money. With climate change threatening businesses, we help to de-risk investments. Early exploration of investments such as renewable energy and technology, for instance, are expensive undertakings. Investors need insurance.
Is it true that the private sector in Kenya is not doing enough to provide climate finance?
The scale of finance required for climate adaptation and mitigation against climate change cannot be met by public capital and commitments made by development partners alone. We need to bring private capital into the equation. This would allow money from donors to go into subsidising premiums for insurers. We also need to build capacity so that appropriate products by underwriters can be developed. Sometimes we use models that are not customised due to lack of loss data.
Most people have a turning point in their life. Do you?
I studied computer science for my undergraduate degree. We were only five girls in our class. I was working on a project on computational linguistics in a programme that developed a text-to-speech software. It was a difficult assignment. In the early 2000s, studying computer science was tough. One lonely evening I was sitting in my room, dejected and unable to proceed. I was nearly giving up. Then I inserted one line of code and it worked.
What was it like?
Unbelievable. The computer spoke my mother tongue (Luo). I jumped. Every time I am about to give up, I tell myself, Dorothy, you can do it. By the way I graduated with a First Class Honours.