A Beacon of Leadership: Pioneering Resilience for Vulnerable Communities through Insurance 

Woman with umbrella against disaster

By Pamela Martinez

In the traditionally male-dominated field of insurance, Ekhosuehi Iyahen stands out not only for her groundbreaking work but also for her role as a pioneering female leader. As the Secretary General of the Insurance Development Forum (IDF), she has led the charge in building an institution whose mandate is more relevant than ever, with an impressive track record of delivery that belies its short years of existence. 

The IDF, a public-private partnership led by the insurance industry and supported by international organisations, aims to optimise and extend the use of insurance and its related risk management capabilities. The goal is to build greater resilience and protection for people, communities, businesses, and public institutions vulnerable to disasters and their associated economic shocks. In an era marked by escalating climate crises and deep concerns about insurability, the need for innovative insurance and risk management solutions has never been more urgent, nor has it resonated more loudly with governments and the communities they serve than it does today.  

Appointed as the first Secretary General of the institution in October 2018, Ekhosuehi was tasked with translating the vision and ambition of the IDF into practical programmes. She explains: 

“When I took on the role, the mandate I was charged with was to build an institution that would enable the optimal coordination of insurance-related activities; the development of shared priorities; the mobilisation of resources; the promotion of strategic and operational relationships within and between governments, industry, and international institutions; and to do so in a way that would safeguard the integrity and effectiveness of joint efforts and collective resources.   

Anyone who has a shred of experience with institutional or team building would know that this is not an easy task! Despite the challenge, I understood the importance of the work given my own personal and professional experience. I therefore saw the role and mandate as an unprecedented opportunity to drive meaningful change with the actors around the table on a pressing global issue. I was also absolutely clear in my vision that a differentiator for the institution would need to be a focus on (i) implementation and the development of solutions, (ii) driving engagement with and amongst the members of the IDF aimed at building trust, a sense of community, and shared sense of purpose and priorities, and (iii) a focus on advocacy as to the relevance of insurance in the context of resilience and adaptation.” 

Bridging the Protection Gap 

In a world where headlines frequently feature natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, and heatwaves wreaking havoc on both people and economies, the IDF has emerged as a beacon of leadership. The organisation effectively bridges public and private sector efforts toward defining practical solutions needed by those on the front lines of disasters who often have little financial protection available to them. 

The IDF’s mission is simple yet profound: to harness the power of the insurance industry to help vulnerable communities become more resilient against disasters, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global 2030 Agenda. 

The protection gap, representing the global disparity between insured and uninsured losses, illustrates a society’s and economy’s resilience to disasters. A significant protection gap reduces the financial capacity of economies to recover from disasters, as the absence of insurance complicates recovery efforts for businesses and individuals. For 2023, Swiss Re’s sigma report revealed that only 38% (USD 108 billion) of global economic losses totaling USD 280 billion were insured. With climate change exacerbating hazards, increasing asset accumulation, and more people residing in high-risk zones, the repercussions of natural catastrophes are expected to escalate, and continue to disproportionately impact vulnerable communities.  

The IDF’s mission is guided by three pillars: Implementation, Engagement, and Advocacy. These pillars ensure that each project and partnership is purpose-driven and delivers practical, positive results. By deepening engagement across sectors, fostering greater ownership and understanding, and advocating for a shift from ex-post to ex-ante financing, we aim to drive impactful long-term change. 

The year 2023 marked a significant moment for the insurance industry’s role in global development, with the IDF playing a central role in driving this change and supporting the strategic implementation of insurance and pre-arranged finance to expedite economic recovery after disasters and help rebuild communities with improved resilience. 

In 2023, the IDF initiated several successful projects, demonstrating that further reinforced it as convening power and leadership role in driving solutions. This included deepened public and private sector engagement through high-level events and partnerships with 42 projects across 30 countries, over 500 participants involved in inclusive insurance roadmap developments, 150+ community leaders trained in Geospatial Information Management (GIM) under the Anticipatory Action (AA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Initiative, and USD 30 million in insurance industry co-investments in sovereign Disaster Risk Financing Programmes. This is just a snapshot of some of the outcomes that underscore the organisation’s growing impact.  

A Vision for the Future 

As we head further into 2024, the vision for the IDF is rooted in the belief that its members and partners must quickly and effectively translate ideas into operational realities and impact. The challenges that vulnerable communities face, particularly those related to climate change, require both immediate action and long-term solutions. These solutions must strive to maintain a balance between regional and global initiatives while always keeping a strong connection to local contexts, and building partnerships and initiatives designed for the long-term, with scalability and replicability firmly in mind, as Ekhosuehi explains: 

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is bringing together diverse communities and stakeholders. The collaboration between the public and private sectors, international organisations, and local governments is essential in addressing complex issues like the climate crisis. This collective effort is critical for creating effective solutions. 

I firmly believe that insurance can play a transformative role in driving global resilience. It provides essential financial protection and support for communities facing climate and disaster risks. However, access to such protection needs to be scaled and the urgency of the moment demands more than incremental change. We must continue to build on the progress we’ve made in policy engagement and practical implementation.  

A Call to Action 

As we move further into 2024, the IDF is committed to driving action aimed at narrowing the global protection gap and provoking systemic change. Ekhosuehi outlines: 

“I am constantly inspired by the diversity and depth of expertise I encounter in my work at all levels. Each perspective is crucial in shaping effective policies and strategies. As an institution, the IDF strives to combine technical expertise with a commitment to integrity.  

The IDF’s journey in this field is a testament to the power of collaboration and the potential of visionary leadership in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We work hard to avoid cynicism even in the face of the complexity of the challenges encountered because it is clear that the solutions needed will require effective partnerships.  

Looking ahead to the rest of 2024 as we near COP29, I am convinced that while we’ve reached an important milestone in the recognition of the role insurance plays in global resilience and adaptation, there is an opportunity to further accelerate our efforts. Collaboration between the public, private, and development sectors is not just beneficial—it is essential.  

Earlier this year, we broke a new frontier when we announced plans to facilitate investments in resilient infrastructure in developing/emerging markets through a pioneering Blueprint, developed in partnership with BlackRock. The objective of the Blueprint is to catalyse investments in resilient infrastructure, thereby enhancing the resilience of vulnerable communities in developing and emerging economies to risks specifically from climate change and other natural disasters. Through innovative investment structures and leveraging the expertise of the insurance industry, the Blueprint aims to provide a replicable, scalable solution for resilient infrastructure projects with measurable positive outcomes on communities. It is a truly unique, innovative, and exciting initiative, and we look forward to providing updates as the year progresses.” 

In a role as challenging and multifaceted as the IDF’s, steadiness and focus are paramount. Navigating the complexities of the public and private sector and myriad of stakeholders, each with their own perspectives and interests is a skill. To be effective, it’s essential to listen and engage thoughtfully while remaining firm about the institution’s purpose, objectives, and outcomes. Establishing clear direction and rules of engagement is crucial; it is this clarity that builds the trust, confidence, and support necessary for successful collaboration and ultimately impact. 

Find out more about the Insurance Development Forum.

Executive Profile

Ekhosuehi IyahenEkhosuehi Iyahen is the Secretary General of the Insurance Development Forum (IDF), a Public-Private Partnership led by the insurance industry and supported by the World Bank and the United Nations and other international organisations, aiming to enhance the use of insurance to build greater resilience against disasters and to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Global 2030 Agenda.

Ekhosuehi has extensive experience working with Governments, international development agencies, private sector entities and academic institutions on public financial management and strengthening risk management and financing systems and the role of insurance. 


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