Cross-Domain Solutions

In November 2016, New York University posted an assessment of the 15 most exciting urban innovations across the past decade. Among them, was the Garbage Clinical Insurance, which originated in Malang, Indonesia. The program provides health care services to those uninsured, living on less than $2 USD per day, in exchange for dropping off waste. According to the founder, Doctor Gamal Albinsaid, the organization addresses the poor’s inability access to care by “allowing them [the poor] to use resources they already produce, namely garbage…” to pay for services.

Interestingly, while the objective was to expand health care services to those excluded from the system, the initiative tackles an additional issue plaguing Indonesian society; mismanagement of waste disposal. “The poor management of municipal waste services has been linked to premature deaths and chronic illnesses dues to rubbish lying around.” Indonesia is the second highest generator of plastic waste worldwide, so the program’s recycling and household-level waste management incentives present the opportunity to reduce overall waste generation as well.

Many times, government agencies or private organizations are differentiated by the specific services they provide, and these distinctions lead to siloed innovations. Dr. Albinsaid’s is micro health insurance is different. In aiming to solve one problem, he addresses two, creating a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem in Malang.

His approach to creating more access to health care feels revolutionary because of its cross-domain approach, and I think there is a place for this type of thinking in New York City. As Jonathan Bowles and David Giles have pointed out in their work “Center for an Urban Future”, the city is primed for technological innovation due to industry specific expertise and recent, yet consistent, investments from venture capitalists. While specific innovations in fintech, health tech, and others should continue to flourish, an interesting next iteration of innovation is something akin to Dr. Albinsaid’s solution; using the same technology and/or platform to solve problems across multiple industries.