InConversation: The right place – HMi meets IFC’s Zeynep Kantur Ozenci

Zeynep Kantur Ozenci, global sector manager for Health & Education at IFC

In April, Zeynep Kantur Ozenci took up the position of global sector manager for Health & Education at IFC, the private finance arm of the World Bank. In her new role, Kantur Ozenci is charged with growing IFC’s more than US$3bn investment and advisory portfolio in healthcare, life sciences, medical technology, and education in emerging markets.

A Turkish national, Kantur Ozenci has over 20 years of professional experience that blends debt capital market structuring experience at HSBC, diagnostic and policy work at the IBRD, and investment and market creation projects at IFC.

‘I came to the development finance world early in my career,’ she said. ‘I worked for the World Bank in the early-2000s, just after the Asian crisis, and that’s when I fell in love with the development finance world. What really amazed me during this time is the agility and innovation that is found in developing countries.’

As part of her efforts to build a career in development finance, she spent some time in investment banking.

‘I wanted to see the private sector at first hand and to gain some experience in it,’ she said. ‘I always planned to come back to development finance, and because of my private sector experience I felt that IFC was the right place to be.’

Among her flagship contributions at IFC, Kantur Ozenci led efforts to create bankable structures for a major hospital public-private partnership programme in Turkey.

She also played two key roles in IFC’s Upstream division that scopes out potential future investments, serving as lead for the Health & Education sectors, and global lead for pandemic readiness and health resilience initiatives. During the pandemic, Kantur Ozenci led development of IFC’s US$4bn Global Health Platform created to address the severe shortage of medical supplies in developing countries.

Kantur Ozenci replaced Elena Sterlin who left the supranational to take up a position at Vitality, part of the South-Africa based Discovery.

‘I met Sterlin in my first week at IFC and she brought me into her team to be the anchor for Europe and Central Asia – undertaking business origination and project processing,’ said Kantur Ozenci. ‘I found working in the social sectors very rewarding both from a development perspective and in terms of innovation within IFC and without.’

HMi caught up with Kantur Ozenci to discover how she has settled into her new role and discuss her plans and aspirations for the position.

‘We all have a vision and mission to help fight poverty but the vibe you get from developing countries, in terms of grasping problems, turning them into opportunities, innovating and navigating through challenges, is amazing,’ she said.

The following transcript of HMi’s interview with Zeynep Kantur Ozenci has been edited for brevity and clarity.

HMi How have you found the transition to the new role?

Zeynep Kantur Ozenci I may be in a new position, but I have been part of the health and education family during my 14 years at IFC including, for the last three years, the upstream work we do for early-stage projects. The scenery is a little bit different and I’m in a more enabling role, but I’m with people who know me very well and know that I’m very focused on client relationships and transactions. It’s a direction setting role, which I’m sure I’m going to love.

What is the new direction?

ZKO It is not a new direction as such, but an expansion of our mission. I think part of IFC’s strength comes from the fact that we have a strong core direction; our mission is to bring affordable access to healthcare for all.

Around that core we have flexibility, which is something that proved invaluable during the pandemic.

The pandemic brutally exposed the importance of the job that we do. We were able to redirect people in new directions without abandoning our core mission – helping fight the pandemic, helping build resilience and supporting pandemic readiness for the future.

Going forward, we will continue to evolve. We need to maintain a strong business as that creates the environment to do new things. I’d like IFC to do a few firsts in the healthcare sector, and for that to happen, we need a strong business, a strong portfolio and strong partnerships. Partnerships have grown in the past few years.

I’m trying to create a vision around a core mission to see where IFC can create the most impact.

You have a strong portfolio of some US$2bn in emerging markets. Will that grow?

ZKO We would like to grow and diversify our portfolio. As such, we’ve been looking across the value chain.

In the past few years, for instance, our presence in the medtech space has been growing. But it is a broad sector – everything from medical consumables to high tech equipment. We’re trying to evaluate how best we can position emerging markets as potential manufacturing hubs for healthcare equipment so that countries can create self-reliant health ecosystems across the value chain. That’s the kind of sector into which we’re diversifying, and by doing that, we will continue to grow and strengthen our portfolio.

The African Medical Equipment Facility (AMEF) programme, for example, is not only a financing facility for health SMEs but, importantly, we are working with a diversified group of medtech OEMs that see AMEF as an entry point and a way to learn about the African markets with a view to setting up manufacturing lines and expanding supply chains into these regions.

The whole ecosystem around providing medical products to the rest of the world is shifting. There’s a strong notion for the opportunity to diversify supply chains and manufacturing bases, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to be creating big white elephants in developing countries. Participating in AMEF is one way for companies to learn about these markets before making the next bold step, and this is where IFC can help with its experience and ‘upstream’ approach. We also support companies at an early stage to select the most appropriate country, find the right local partners and choose the right business model for expansion into new markets.

We can help create commercially viable investments.

Is the importance of a diversified supply chain one of the lessons learned from Covid?

ZKO Yes. Another one is how the adoption of new technology can help these markets leapfrog to the next level of healthcare.

The healthcare landscape is changing around the globe, including in emerging markets. There are certainly risks in dealing in emerging markets as there are lots of uncertainties, but I think important opportunities will develop in which these countries can successfully position themselves through leveraging new technologies and their specific competencies. But there is a need to focus on the right sectors and policies to improve the enabling environments. The idea is not for ever country to produce everything, but to create regional hubs that can create self sufficient regional ecosystems.

You mentioned partnerships. Is IFC establishing partnerships with a non-traditional set of stakeholders?

ZKO Absolutely. In fact, we have started interacting with companies that wouldn’t normally be our natural partners if we were just wearing our financing hat.

We’ve started supporting a lot of early-stage initiatives, bringing our commercial structuring know-how to the table, something that enables businesses to build a viable, sustainable future from their investment. It’s a very different approach to donor financing.

We’ve started working with companies like BioNTech for example, which is improving the vaccine supply in Africa by establishing manufacturing facilities based on a container solution. We’re looking to help local partners develop the right structures, to provide ancillary services and to be at the receiving end of tech transfer. These conversations position us in an integrator role between many different partners.

For example, we signed an MOU with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which conducts early R&D for Covid vaccines. IFC and CEPI agreed to collaborate to find opportunities to co-develop an ecosystem of local vaccine manufacturers prepared to take over once products are developed.

Is there any one geography that you’re looking at?

ZKO Not really because, unfortunately, healthcare systems are broken in almost every geography we work in. The challenges are different. The types of companies and the projects may be different, but we are active in every developing country in every region.

Africa has been a main priority, especially during the pandemic, given the vast discrepancies we faced in this region. But we have been quite active in other geographies as well. And what we’ve also been trying to support is bringing Asian companies into Africa, into Latin America, and vice versa.

How is the current economic and political landscape affecting your operations?

ZKO In our line of business, we’re constantly dealing with political and macroeconomic crises.

We need to continue to keep our business and portfolio strong and we need to make sure we focus on that mission because all our businesses are in countries that get most affected by these developments. In some cases, our role will increase, so we need to be very agile in putting the right resources in place and that calls for the creation of different platforms or programmes as we did with the US$4bn Global Health Platform created during Covid.

Accessibility and affordability are the main target for our healthcare business, especially in an ecosystem where there’s a lot of dependency on foreign technology. Diversifying supply chains and encouraging access to value-based, diversified equipment more in line with emerging market needs are key ingredients.

Our strategy in healthcare – as in many other sectors, is for IFC not just to be financiers but to position ourselves as thought leaders, continuously adding value to the sectors and to our clients. And because of the number and diversity of projects we do, we can identify gaps in the markets where we feel we have a unique position to influence the situation.

For example, the IQ-Healthcare tool is something that came about because clients needed help and assistance in improving the quality of service. We introduced this advisory tool to assess and help implement quality systems for healthcare clients.

Similarly, with Ethical Principles in Health Care, known as EPIHC, which is an amazing initiative advocating for ethical principles, and is now independent of the IFC and has grown to 200 signatories this month, proving to be a strong advocator for ethics in the sector.

All these activities go beyond our investee companies, which enables us to have a more deliberate effect on the sector itself.

What targets have you set yourself?

ZKO I have a lot of targets in terms of growing our investments, advisory and upstream work. Personally, I’ve set additional targets for myself. I would like to further integrate some of the different pieces we have at IFC into a holistic value proposition for clients. I am in a unique position where I can connect the dots and make sure we’re using our tools efficiently to maximise our impact.

I’d also like to see if I can support more firsts in the sector, which will happen through the partnerships we’re forming. I’m trying to see if we can build on our partnerships and expanded toolkit, spanning across investment, advisory and upstream market creation work, to be able to  identify and pro-actively support game-changing opportunities.