Mariatheresa Samson Kadushi is a Tanzanian innovator working to disrupt the public health sector in Africa. She is founder of Mobile afya (M-afya), a “Mobile encyclopedia for public health in Africa” that provide basic health information on-demand as well as personal wellbeing education to parents and youth, with a focus on young women. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, she shares insights on the gap the her Mobile App is filling, the challenges faced by the startup, her plans for its future, and the development of the e-Health ecosystem in Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about M-afya and the gap its filling?
Mariatheresa: Mobile afya (M-afya) is the first USSD application in Africa using internet-free mobile technology to provide basic health information in local and native languages starting with Swahili in Tanzania, East Africa. M stands for mobile and Afya means health in Swahili — the most spoken language in Africa.
THE GAP: Digital divide in Africa resulting in health information gap.
For decades there has been a gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology and those that don’t or have only restricted access. It can include services like telephone, television, personal computers and the Internet. Majorly affecting developing countries, this digital divide prevents distribution of essential information and knowledge to those who need it the most.
Health information gap in Tanzania — Radio is the main source of information and news in Tanzanian homes, but only 5% of all broadcasted content is health-related and yet listeners do not have influence or choice of which topics to be covered.
Internet fails to be an efficient source of information because only 30% of Tanzanians can actively access the web; and in addition, most of the content online is in English, a language spoken by only a minority group of Tanzanians.
This gap results in unnecessary suffering and deaths from easily preventable diseases and health conditions; also it continues family cycles of poverty due to lack of access to information on family planning, resulting in large numbers of unplanned children and high levels of child/teen pregnancy as well as many other negative side effects.
Mobile afya (M-afya) is tackling this problem by making health and wellbeing information accessible.
Alaba: What is the inspiration behind this brand?
Mariatheresa: My work and study with children in poverty / homeless children which led me to discover the gap of information in “Sexual and reproductive health” leading to families having more children than they can take care of, the findings encouraged me to do further research where a bigger gap was then discovered. What keeps us going is the fact that we have the ability to influence informed decisions on health and wellbeing of Africans resulting to life saving impacts.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Mariatheresa: Our startup is still in seed funding level. We have been able to raise the funds first and foremost from ourselves (the founding team), after we got support from family and friends. We have done our best to bootstrap for as long as possible and now we are working to secure our first investment round with interested partners from Germany and the United States.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competitions and how are you overcoming them?
Mariatheresa: We have limited competition as we are looking to be first in market with offline USSD application – existing solutions operate online. We believe we will face competition in the near future thus our efforts in preparing competitive strategies to ensure larger market share. Utilizing user data is key in giving us first hand advantage in this strategizing effort.
As a startup the biggest challenges has been working with limited resources but also the long journey of product validation and creating a user centered product which was our main priority.
As a founder I faced challenges in creating structures to support our growing operations but with the advice of experienced mentors I managed to work my way around it. The second challenge was onboarding the right people in the team which involved putting in work to identify what exactly is needed and who is the best fit. l needed people who believed in my vision more than they care for the paycheck as I didn’t have much money to give them anyway, through it all I relied a lot on my gut, how I feel deep in my stomach when I sat next to either a new team member, potential partner, mentor or investor.
Alaba: What’s the future for your brand and what steps are you taking
towards achieving them?
Mariatheresa: Expansion — scale to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa where we have more than 100 million potential users starting with Kenya, Uganda and Congo. In 3 years we are looking at expansion and presence in 5 African countries and in 5 different national languages.
Scaling to web platform and Android and iOS apps, to allow smartphone users to still access our services.
Creating substantial “DATA” to support policy makers, decision makers, influence the education system and build smart digital health products for Africa’s fastest growing tech marketplace
First step we are taking is to finalize our round of funding which will allow us to grow our team and develop more content to scale to other parts of Africa.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of the e-health ecosystem in Africa?
Mariatheresa: We have seen major developments in healthcare and emergency support. For example my country Tanzania has a “digital health investment road map 2017–2023″ with one of the biggest components being to computerize
primary health care including digitisation of patient records. This allows easier data storage, accessibility of records by other medical departments, referral process leading to better patient care.
Also the nation’s medicine and medical equipment stock “Medical Store Department (MSD)” launched electronic logistics management information system (eLMIS) where drugs and other medical supplies all over the country can be ordered online by hospitals and health centers.
Along these national level initiatives there are hundreds of solutions feeding in to the e-health ecosystem for example MomConnect from South Africa and Wazazi Nipendeni from Tanzania both providing maternal health information to subscribers using free text messages. SMS for life working to eliminate stock out of essential medications in Kenya, Ghana, DRC, Cameroon etc. Zipline using drone technology to deliver blood supply in Rwanda. mPedigree a company working to fight counterfeit medications by checking their authenticity in Ghana and Nigeria and many, many more solutions and services with digital components.
Still within the African e-health ecosystem there is a large gap in public health especially with access to information focusing on preventive measures. Few stakeholders are working in the area and that’s where we come in with our startup.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Mariatheresa: Working on Mobile afya (M-afya) for nearly three years has been the most difficult experience of my professional life, yet I feel that I’m making a difference, that the work we do is important and necessary. As I’m working on a cause I’m entirely passionate about, I mostly feel fulfilled but now and then I also feel exhausted as it takes a strong will, focus, organisation skills and consistency to keep up with my work’s demanding schedule.
Alaba: What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and investors?
Mariatheresa: To entrepreneur– Persistence is key — the percentage of startups and businesses that fail is very high, this is because not all ideas are good, and not all ideas have a market / not all ideas come when the time is right for them. In general the entrepreneurial journey is challenging, it will require and take everything you have. There will be times when giving up might feel like the most convenient option; if you are not sure, if you are not ready to give it all – then don’t waste your time.
To investors: Foster diversity, equality and fund grassroot solutions that seek to generate new areas of impact. Apply the “think global, act local mentality”for ideas, services and products formed naturally based on problems or needs of certain regions and countries. Also promote diversity around technologies — it doesn’t always have to be high tech and mainstream — give a chance to low and mid tech companies with viable business modes.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Mariatheresa– Relax : Meditate, travel and taking time off to nature, mountains are my favorite to go place.
Books: Currently reading Becoming by Michele Obama and Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Alaba: Teach us one word in your local language. What is your favourite local dish and holiday spot within Africa?
Mariatheresa– One word: “Asante” — thank you
Local dish: “Rice and Fish — Wali na samaki”
Holiday spot: Zanzibar
B I O G R A P H Y
Mariatheresa Samson Kadushi is a Tanzanian innovator working to disrupt the public health sector in Africa, she has founded Mobile afya (M-afya), a mobile application developed by medical professionals, doctors, engineers and technology enthusiasts to provide health information in native and local languages in Africa.
She is passionate about disruptive solutions, human centered approaches and public health with a goal of impacting well being of Africans using technology as a transformative medium.
Mariatheresa is a recipient of IVLP — A state fellowship for emerging African leaders under US Department of State. Her alma mater is Kampala International University — ICT (Information, Communications & technology)college. She is also a YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) alumni.
She is currently utilizing her experiences and skill sets at Moin world Hamburg while exploring partnerships, investment opportunities and potential synergies for her startup.
Visit: Mobile afya (M-afya)
African Diaspora: The face behind the only Black woman founded and led ice cream brand in Amsterdam
African Diaspora, Nekeia Boone is a senior UX and tech manager turned ice cream entrepreneur. Originally from Harlem, NYC, she created her brand, Tudy’s Kitchen in the midst of a burnout, family tragedies, personal health issues and a pandemic. Named after her Grandma Tudy, she dedicate this brand as a legacy to all that she did for others – and in gratitude to all that she’s done for her. Tudy’s Kitchen is a Black woman founded and led ice cream brand based in Amsterdam. Their flavors are a delightful surprise, turning traditions right side up. Sweet and savory is umami heaven in their book – and often the star of the show in their handmade desserts.
Tudy’s Kitchen is using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, while creating business opportunities for underrepresented groups. Particularly womxn and people of color, is at the heart of what they do. As such, Tudy’s Kitchen has a strong bias to collaborate with people who come from these groups. And partner with entities who believe in these values, to help them build their brand.
In just a few months, they have taken production literally from her kitchen into Kitchen Republic, a startup space aimed at helping food and drink entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
Currently, Tudy’s Kitchen is sold at Sterk Amsterdam, a speciality shop with a host of unique international products. And coming soon, they hope to kickstart their own webshop, along with having their products available on a variety of delivery apps.
The above have already proven useful in helping them scale up production, gain greater brand awareness, and attach new customers. But limited funding has created several roadblocks in helping them fully realize these efforts.
Goals and timeline
In the first six months of launch, they’ve established two key goals:
- Create brand identity and establish awareness.
- Tap into opportunities that allow them to scale.
Their approach to scaling this business leverages the small-step philosophy. They are currently doing this by:
- Setting small, measurable and achievable goals.
- Quick roll out of product to the market.
- Gathering data from customers to validate their efforts.
- Then iterating, improving and rolling out again.
In taking this approach, they envision success at the end of the six-month period to include, but not limited to:
- Boosting sales, having reached their target audience via multiple platforms (e.g. food delivery apps, new retail locations, Tudy’s Kitchen webshop).
- Building their social media following to a minimum of 1000 new followers.
- Increasing number of mentions in publications (e.g. digital or print), influencer pages (e.g. food bloggers), and/or other marketing mediums, creating an uplift in brand awareness and sales.
- Expanding the team to include support staff (sous chef, cleaning crew, dedicated delivery service), more creatives (designers, writers, stylists), and operations (financial planning/analysis, logistics, strategists).
- Generating enough data (e.g. via surveys, product reviews/feedback, etc) to establish goals for the following six-month period.
- Creating financial stability for the brand to cover operational costs (e.g. rent, equipment, etc) and to pay the many volunteers the money they deserve for helping us get this far.
Let’s keep that momentum going strong and help them African Diaspora bring it home! Support her
Margaret Adekunle, Founder of the first Black owned Canadian company with a branded secured credit card
Margaret Adekunle is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of City Lending Centers, a credit building solution company. She has worked in the banking industry for 20 years, and her passion for progress and dedication to her community has been universally praised by Friends and Colleagues alike. Margaret has seen the struggles immigrants face and experienced them firsthand. Driving her forward to take action and uplift her community, so that nobody will have to endure their struggles alone. She founded Immigrants Inclusive Credit to tackle the complex struggles with systemic racism and financial insecurities that immigrants are forced to adapt to as they integrate into the Alberta ecosystem.
A Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and the Founder of ATB Black team members Network. The network that advance the Inclusion of Black team members by providing development opportunities and creating diverse talents throughout the organization. Her vision is to create a pathway to leadership for all underrepresented groups.
Margaret Adekunle is committed to bringing Inclusion, Diversity, Human Right and a Sense of belonging to the forefront through education and community initiatives. Teaching and mentoring new immigrants on how to adapt to the Canadian workplace culture is a cause that has been fulfilling for her.
About City Lending Centers (CLC)
City Lending Centers (CLC) is a custom credit building solutions that help you take control of your finances. And helps you get a good credit score, and a high score means better loan terms and lower interest rates on lending facilities such as loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. CLC helps build new credit, improve existing credit scores and fix damaged credit.
With over 21 years of experience helping customers rebuild damaged credit, build new credit, get out of debt, and save more. A company of former bankers with branch management experience and equipped to advise on all areas of money management. They understand how credit scores work, and can help you improve your credit scores faster. Also, they understand that financial strain could impact mental health. Therefore, provide free credit counseling and mental health evaluations through their partners.
They offer a secured credit card that works like any other card that helps build credit. CLC’s secure credit card helps customers create new credit or rebuild damaged credit. The only difference between CLC’s credit card and regular credit card is that clients pay an upfront deposit to secure their credit limit. CLC reports all payments to credit bureaus similar to the bank’s process. Clients are be expected to make their monthly payments promptly.
Shalom Lloyd: Building A Skincare Company on Valuing Healthy, Ethical and Sustainable Living
Shalom Ijeoma Lloyd is an award-winning, senior business professional, with over 25 year’s experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Shalom is the Founder of Naturally Tribal Skincare, a natural chemical-free skincare company built on valuing healthy, ethical and sustainable living whilst empowering African women. She holds several NED positions on the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce and SEMLEP boards. Alaba Ayinuola had an amazing opportunity to ask Shalom a few questions. Time to discover Naturally Tribal.
Alaba: Hi Shalom, could you briefly tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship?
Shalom: In 2014, after four cycles of IVF, I gave birth to my twins, Joshua and Amara. My son Joshua was covered in eczema. As a pharmacist I understand the value of medicines in our life, but I tapped into my African roots. After experimenting and mixing in my kitchen, I stumbled across the right formulation. Three days later Joshua’s skin cleared and this was the birth of my company Naturally Tribal Skincare.
With Shea Butter being my main ingredient, this journey led me to build a Shea Butter processing facility in Niger State, Nigeria, where we employ and empower our women. In addition to being a supplier of proudly made in Nigeria Shea Butter, I source my ingredients ethically from there, and then bring them into the UK to manufacture, formulate, test and distribute the finished products.
Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is stocked in Harrods Beauty. So, if you are looking for quality unrefined Shea butter and great natural skincare products, Naturally Tribal Nigeria is able to supply that.
I am also one of the directors of JE Oils, a state of the art Shea processing facility based in Gwagwalada, Abuja!
In 2018 I co-founded another amazing company called Emerging Markets Quality Trials. Although black people represent about 17% of the world’s population, less than 3% of us are involved in clinical trials, so this company, eMQT, focuses on bringing diversity into clinical trials. It gives African patients access to medicines and African healthcare professionals the opportunity to be part of global trials. It also gives pharmaceutical companies access to a great patient population.
So all roads in my entrepreneurial journey seem to lead back to Africa, which makes me proud of my British African heritage.
Alaba: What are your offerings and the problem you are solving?
Shalom: Our offerings and solutions are;
The Nature lover: Our products speak to the nature lover who is passionate about plant-based power. These are the natural skincare lovers, the vegan and cruelty free skincare lover who is passionate about our environment and planet.
The luxury skincare and beauty lover: We speak to and cater for the results driven and luxury skincare lover who appreciates our use of ingredients with the power to battle wrinkles and tighten the skin naturally.
For skin conditions: With around 900 million people in the world suffering with a skin condition, skin diseases remain a major cause of disability worldwide. We are changing the narrative and will be the leading global natural skincare brand for customers with skin conditions as well as customers who want to maintain their skin as nature intended. From consumers with skin conditions to those undergoing medical interventions that will impact the skin.
Alaba: What is your main product and its pivot story from founding to the current state?
Shalom: YARA Body Food is the product that started Naturally Tribal Skincare so I guess you can call this our ‘hero’ product. YARA is special because it worked for my baby and gave me the confidence to start the company. Hence, the name YARA which in Hausa means children. It depicts love, care, protection; making it amazing for the most sensitive skin. Made with high quality unrefined Shea butter, our YARA is packed with natural goodness. It annoys me when we sometimes turn our noses at the scent of the liquid gold that is Shea Butter not realising the jewel we have.
Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start?
Shalom: When customers see us, they can see themselves as part of our journey because it’s not about the glitz and glamour but more about the substance. The value one brings to the table and the impact we have on skin, on our planet and on people’s lives.
Hard work, tenacity, resilience; these are not just words! We have a long way to go but having the right people with the right mindset and who share my passion has helped the company grow. When you do something that solves a problem, impacts lives, and have fun in the process, that is a winning formula. On the business side, understanding my numbers (which does not come naturally). Defining my supply chain and knowing one’s position in a crazy, beautiful saturated market helps a lot.
Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is a proud United Kingdom Department of International Trade Export Champion!
Alaba: What are the challenges and achievements since you launched?
Shalom: Finance was of course the main challenge. I had to remortgage my home to start this business but it has been worth it. Building the factory in Essan required investment and I am honoured to be working with investors who are also colleagues and friends. I wish I had mastered communication and people skills earlier in life. Involving and working with the right people from the start would have saved me a lot of pain. But going through this process throughout my journey has taught me some valuable life lessons.
The greatest achievement is seeing the proud look on my husband and children’s faces. That feeling that the sacrifice has been worth it. 2021 is the year our products launched in Harrods and that is such a big deal for me and my amazing team. We are exporting more, and have been able to complete the formulation of our facial and hair care products.
Alaba: Why are you so passionate about Nigeria and Africa at large?
Shalom: Naturally Tribal Shea butter supply chain is an impressive demonstration of my love and passion for Africa. It has been a journey of ‘Ethical Sourcing and Empowerment’ Pillar. The Shea industry supports and provides income to over 16 million women across the African continent. My research into potential supply sources led us to Niger state, Nigeria and an introduction to the King of Essan. I fell in love with the Kingdom of Essan and today, the Naturally Tribal group has a Shea Processing facility (with creche and worship rooms) that harvests and processes the shea directly in the region, employing about 22 rural women with plans to employ up to 70 in the future.
Our JE Oils shea processing facility boasts of the fact that all our supervisors are women which is a big deal in Nigeria. Having a facility that produces 400 metric tons of shea butter is no joke! This has created an ecologically sound and sustainable infrastructure, jobs, training and more commercial co-operative opportunities to market and sell shea butter.
Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty and wellness industry?
Shalom: We are more aware of the impact we have on our planet, more aware of consumerism. So the modern beauty industry is on a journey to impact the 120 billion units of unrecyclable plastic we put out annually. Of course, making money is important, we run businesses after all however, It’s not just about making money it’s also about purpose and impact. We no longer look at wellness as a separate topic, we have made beauty, particularly skincare part of one’s holistic wellness – don’t forget that your internal wellness can manifest on your skin.
Alaba: Where do you see yourself and Naturally Tribal in the next 5 years?
Shalom: Our pipeline is exciting, and we are currently working on our facial and hair care products, using innovative and unique ingredients. We are building even stronger relationships with our current stockists. Looking to grow and expand into the Hospitality industry, partner with great luxury SPAs and make great inroads into being stocked in airline duty free luxury goods.
In 5 years time, I see myself, taking a bit of a back seat and overseeing others running my companies. Enjoying the fruits of my labour with my family and friends.
Alaba: Finally, what is your advice to female entrepreneurs in the beauty industry or first-time startup founders?
Shalom: The journey is tough so do something you are passionate about. NEVER let the lack of finance stop you. Align with the right type of people, be genuine, surround yourself with a great team (no one knows it all). Most of all, ENJOY the ride, bumps and all. The beauty industry is so saturated, so be unique. Let your passion shine and come through. Know your numbers and know the value you bring – never sell yourself or your products short. If you are going to do it, do it well and don’t cut corners.