Febby Mulewa, Seasoned Underwriter

BAIA: What are you passionate about?

Febby Mulewa: My biggest passion is reading. I started my childhood education in a very rural school. The school lacked good learning facilities and so even after completing my primary education, I could not read properly and struggled with comprehension.

Later, I was privileged to go to boarding school with a fully stocked library. There I spent the first year of my high school life reading all kinds of books - from story books to nonfiction. By the end of that year I had read almost every book on the shelf. The library was a fascinating place to me. It was like a totally different world! 

Avid reading helped improve my language skills and I learned a lot about people and the world in general. To me, reading holds the key to education. One of my greatest dreams is to see every child exposed to reading as many books as they can.

BAIA: What inspired you to join the insurance/underwriting industry?

FM: I would like to mention here that I did not plan to join the insurance industry. I started off just exploring to see where I would make a difference and when I joined insurance, I felt at home. Although I sort of stumbled on this industry, I am grateful that I did because this is the place where I would have wanted to be to start with. The thought of being part of an industry that promises to take care of people's misfortunes or losses is inspiring.

BAIA: What are some of the highs and lows of your industry in Africa?

FM: Some of the highs are that Africa is a green field with a lot of opportunities and room for ideas and innovations. With this, we can do a lot to make sure that we bring insurance to the majority of Africans and products that make sense to them.

On the downside, insurance is not very well understood in Africa with most people believing that should misfortune befall them, their family or friends will help them. This unfortunately is part of the African culture as I saw with my own family. When my Dad's sister died, he had to buy the coffin and pay for all funeral expenses alone, since he was the only breadwinner in his family. In addition, he had to support his sister's daughter and grandchildren as there was no money from insurance to make sure that they were taken care of financially. This put extra strain on my father who already had ten of his own children to support. What this implies, regrettably, is that breadwinners cannot sustain this "support system" since at some point their financial resources will be depleted and they too will have to depend on others to help them out.

We need to educate our communities to understand the value of insurance so that when misfortunes happen, we are not left  financially  worse off. The burning down of Soweto market in Lusaka, Zambia, broke my heart because for most of those small business, that was the end. If the marketeers had insurance, most of those business would have been put back in the position that they were before the dreadful fire struck the market.

BAIA: Who are or were some of the positive influencers in your life?

FM: The biggest influencers in my life were my Dad and Mum who, despite having ten children were determined to give all of us a decent education. They worked tirelessly to make sure that we had food and reasonable education. My Dad was a policeman and my Mum a housewife.

My Mum had no formal schooling but she was an entrepreneur who taught herself to read and write and worked hard to make sure we were all provided for. She understood the value of doing business and investing. She taught us that formal education cannot be a limitation to one's ambitions. I am really in awe of what my mum has achieved and she inspired all of us to be entrepreneurs. Because of this, I believe that one cannot underestimate the power of informal education and we should not give up on people who never had a chance to have formal education like we did.

Other influencers have been the senior underwriters in the industry who believed in me and gave me opportunities to excel. They are just too many to mention and I have deep respect for them all.

My advice to young people is make the most of your seniors in the workplace. The experience that they have can only enrich your own experience.

Febby is currently Manager L&H Underwriting for sub-Saharan Africa at Swiss Re.