Meet Mariatheresa S. Kadushi, Founder of M-afya, A Mobile App Providing Health Information In Native Languages In Africa
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
Also Read: Interview With Oyetola Oduyemi On The END Fund, Impact Philanthropy And Sustainability in Africa
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)
Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR
Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?
Mary: I grew up in Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive.
Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations.
Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?
Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism.
Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences.
Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?
Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included.
Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?
Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.
Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?
Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.
Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?
Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa, inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this.
Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?
Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.
Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?
Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.
Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?
Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories.
Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya
Young entrepreneurs in Libya face many challenges, including accessing markets and financial resources, and navigating regulations and administrative procedures. The Deraya initiative is designed to equip entrepreneurs with the essential know-how to turn innovative ideas into successful startups. The initiative was jointly developed by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Targeting youth and vulnerable groups, Deraya is open to innovative and aspiring entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. Through interactive webinars, the initiative’s participants will be given an opportunity to engage with experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and role models from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia and learn from their success stories, wealth of knowledge, and expertise. The initiative will also entail startup weekends in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Derna, culminating with a pitch competition where the winning startups will receive financial support, financed by EU and AfDB, to further develop, grow, and take their business ideas to the next level. As a critical step towards sustainability, entrepreneurs will be linked to the municipal business incubators being set up with MoLG with UNDP’s technical support.
Commenting on the launch of the programme, Dr. Bader Al-Deen Al-Tomi, Minister of Local Government, said: “The Deraya initiative plays a pivotal role in the Ministry of Local Government’s strategy to develop entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises at the local level, empower municipalities economically, and provide job opportunities in line with Law 592 and Resolution 15003. We are delighted to work towards these goals in cooperation with our international partners, EU, AfDB and UNDP.”
EU Ambassador Mr. José Sabadell added: “Libya’s economic prosperity will be driven by young entrepreneurs with innovative, forward-looking ideas. They will be the key to a more diversified Libyan economy, a strong private sector and new jobs. Together with our Libya and international partners, the European Union therefore seeks to offer strong and concrete support to young Libyan entrepreneurs, to realise their business ideas.”
Mr Mohamed El Azizi, Regional Director for North Africa at the African Development Bank, further commented: “Private sector development is key to boosting economic diversification and job creation in Libya. Supporting the trajectory of young Libyan men and women to develop and grow their start-ups has enormous socio-economic potential and will contribute to job creation. It is also important to ensure an adequate business enabling environment and institutional support. The EEYES project, financed by the AfDB through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multidonor Trust Fund, and implemented by UNDP, supports these components.”
UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Marc-André Franche, said: “Libya has a new generation of young people, women and men, with promising capacity and big ambitions. The country has the potential to be one of the biggest entrepreneurial ecosystems in North Africa, and through the Deraya programme, UNDP seeks to help inspire and provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and assets to realise growth and innovation.”
The Deraya programme is part of UNDP’s Local Peacebuilding and Resilience efforts in partnership with MoLG, aimed at creating socio-economic opportunities for youth and vulnerable groups to promote sustainable growth in Libya, including the establishment of the first Municipality-led business incubator and the TEC+ Accelerator programme.
The Deraya initiative, co-funded by AfDB and EU, is designed and implemented in collaboration with a consortium consisting of Flat6Labs, Tatweer Research and MAZAM, bringing in years of experience and specialized knowledge in helping young entrepreneurs launch successful ventures in both the Middle East & Africa regions.
Senegalese Agripreneur says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success
Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.
“Due to lack of finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.
“Digitizing our buying process was really important. We were also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” the 29-year-old added.
Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales. As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.
Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.
The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.
The competition, which this year awarded $140,000 in prizes, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.
“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the Bank’s Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator.
AgriPitch organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.
“I was pitching in front of my shop – where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall. She received $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition women-owned business category.
Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.
“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” Fall said.
Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.
“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.
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