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)
OKADEMY: Investing in African Brains
OKADEMY team; Kileshe Kasoma and Samy Mwamba (Image: Itot Africa)
OKADEMY is an on-demand digital training platform. Launched by Itot Africa in 2017 with the aim of sharing digital skills in order to create and bring jobs back to Africa. Itot Africa has already been able to physically train more than 700 people and create more than 100 jobs. To be able to meet the great demand for digital skills and talents in Africa, the team came up with an innovative concept, “a restaurant for the brain ”.
Like a restaurant, people can take these courses at their own pace, at any time, and at affordable prices tailored to the local economic climate. The digital platform provides training on demand, primarily courses that offer digital and business skills. Then, they make these training available online and in all of their partner training centers that they call restaurants for the brain.
Okademy’s main objective is to enable people who are unemployed or far from employment to get closer to, find or create a job through training adapted to the needs of the labour market. Through a career follow-up system and networking with employers.
“We must allow people to feed their brains at their own pace, with the knowledge they really need, for professional purposes or simply out of curiosity,” explains Samy Mwamba, Director of Itot Africa.
“By 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs will require digital skills, and by digital skills, let’s not just think of advanced computer skills, people are looking for basic skills, like Excel, sending emails, searching the web, video conferencing, etc. With the okademy.africa platform , in one hour, a person can learn a new skill, wherever they are.” Samy added.
“For each student who takes our courses, we track their progress through our system integrated into the training platform; this means in concrete terms that we know whether our students are unemployed, have an internship, a fixed-term contract or a permanent contract. We also have information about employers and job offers.” – Kileshe Kasoma, People at Itot Africa
“With this data, we offer digital CVs to students, we connect our students with companies that are hiring, we modify, delete and add more courses and finally we have statistics on the impact of our courses in terms of job creation.” Kileshe added.
In the next 5 years, OKADEMY aims to have 500 courses and at least 2000 students in each course. They also want to be open to all categories of people, which is why our prices take into account the economic realities of Africans. That is, from $10 a person can have access to training.
Trudenty: Redefining the future of identity
Trudenty CO-Founder & CEO, Lerato Matsio (Image: Supplied)
Trudenty is a Web 3 – SSI (Self Sovereign Identity) startup that leverages decentralised identity technology to provide privacy preserving credentials to people for use online. Founded by Lerato Matsio, a South African entrepreneur currently residing in Belgium after a rewarding career at McKinsey & Company that ended in February 2022.
Lerato launched Trudenty after she experienced identity theft and digital banking fraud (as a result) via her bank in South Africa. This experience inspired her to reimagine a world in which people were empowered with control over their information to cut through the root causes of digital fraud. And eliminate the need for companies to collect and store people’s information in a centralised database. Lerato found that blockchain and SSI technology offer a compelling suite of options to enable this.
Trudenty provides people and businesses with an alternative solution to perform identity verification and KYC that maintains the privacy (and security) of people’s sensitive personal information and also gives people control over their information.
In the world today, plenty of solutions exist for identity verification and KYC. However, they exist in a fragmented manner that requires people to share their sensitive information repeatedly across different companies every time they need to establish a new relationship with a company. This creates friction in the onboarding experience for people, but especially painful, exposes information that can be exploited by fraudsters to steal from people and defraud companies. Given the rise in instances of identity theft and digital fraud – it is clear that a change is needed.
“At Trudenty, we are building the future of identity, and by doing so, we provide an answer to the identity-related pain points of our time.” – Lerato Matsio, Founder Trudenty
“Our solution (currently in development) will enable real world trust anchors (e.g., banks, governments, health authorities, etc,) to issue verifiable credentials to their constituents that can be used by people to verify themselves, without compromising their identity, their privacy and allowing them control over who accesses their information. In future, identity verification and KYC will be possible using credentials issued by the real world credential issuer”. says Lerato.
With this inspiration and purpose-led mission, Lerato invited 2 technical co-founders with deep experience and expertise in Web 3 (incl. SSI) and fintech in Africa to help her bring Trudenty to life.
Later on this year, Trudenty plans to launch a pilot with a closed group of fintechs (and people) to test its solution. Through the initial use cases of digital onboarding, KYC and passwordless authentication. The team is currently working to complete development of their MVP for pilot later this year. They are excited to work with institutions and fintechs across the continent to usher in a new paradigm for identity verification, globally.
At McK, Lerato helped clients in Africa and Europe reinvent their business models and drive operational transformations, leveraging technology. Lerato is a Chemical Engineer by education, and spent a few of her early years as a Process Control Engineer at Sasol (a South African petrochemicals company).
Jusnah Gadi: The Tanzanian Native proving it’s possible to do it all
Jusnah Gadi, Managing Director of Young Music Boss
Jusnah Gadi a Tanzanian Native, raised in the Netherlands and currently resident in the UK, whose entrepreneurship has landed her in the likes of Forbes, Elle Magazine and the Evening Standard. She is a music business educator and founder of Young Music Boss which is a resource hub focusing on legal and business affairs.
With its tagline ‘Preparing Future Music Bosses’, YMB is an educational channel and network building platform to empower artists and aspiring music executives learning to navigate the business. With a legal background specialising in intellectual property and commercial law, Jusnah Gadi is fast becoming a formidable and much needed force in the music industry.
She is also the Co-founder of the UK’s No.1 Seafood boil brand (Hot n Juicy Shrimp Ldn) which has two operational takeaway branches and recently launched their microwavable sauce pouches ready to take the retail world by storm. HNJ was founded alongside business partner Samantha Pascal and boasts the likes of ZeZe Millz, Krept, Dappy and Ms Bankz among its notable regular customers.
And as if all of that isn’t enough, Jusnah Gadi also has a full-time corporate job as a Senior Compliance Executive for a FTSE 100 Sports & Entertainment company where she has climbed the ranks in her department leading a team of analysts who ensure the company’s regulatory and legal obligations are upheld.
Alaba: They say ‘don’t try to be a jack of all trades’. Do you believe in this?
Jusnah: Well the idea is that if you try to be a jack of all trades then you will be a master of none. I believe in the statement to an extent. I do believe that ideally you should focus on that ONE thing and become the go to for it, be EXCELLENT at it and then other doors will open. I don’t entirely subscribe to it though, because I believe that skills are transferable and I believe you can be multiple things at once and be a success at it.
Alaba: You speak about Tanzania and Africa a lot, particularly as it relates to the music industry – why is that?
Jusnah: Because Tanzania is my heritage, though I wasn’t born or raised there, I actually visited for the first time in 2003, It is my roots. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of my country and I think that my way is through Music Business. I see an industry that is RICH with talent but poor in infrastructure. I want to lead in that area and for me that begins with education. In order to develop an ecosystem which makes our music industry more sophisticated I believe the starting point is to ensure creatives and all stake-holders are adequately informed on the various different components that come into play.
I consult various artists teams in Tanzania and when I speak to producers/artists who have no.1 hit songs in East Africa, are dominating charts and streaming platforms with unimaginable numbers, yet struggle for basic needs I am reminded of the overwhelming amount of work there is to be done. If not me, then who?
Alaba: You also launched the Young Music Boss Awards in the UK (YMBA), tell us about that?
Jusnah: I am passionate about creating access to the industry but also cultivating and incentivising it, the YMB Awards are an extension of that. The Music Industry, is rich with accolades which celebrates the Artist’s, Producers and sometimes Labels. But rarely the executives behind the scenes who drive it all forward. The YMBA bridges this gap by awarding rising music executives, creatives and entrepreneurs who are the Managers, lawyers, A&Rs, Publicists, Publishers, Stylists, Marketers, Agents etc behind some of the most exciting artists, campaigns and music businesses of our time.
I was that kid who always used to read all the credits in the small print of the CD covers, wondering who those people were and what the different functions meant …now I know they are the people who make the industry revolve and evolve, the YMBA celebrates those individuals.
Alaba: What about your Food Business, what inspired that?
Jusnah: It was really an accident. I never planned to be a food entrepreneur. My business partner and I were craving a Seafood boil on our return to London from a trip in Las Vegas and struggled to find one. Eventually, we found one girl who made them from home, tried it and it was not great AT ALL. My business partner then suggested that we could actually do our own, I didn’t entertain the idea. A week or two later she had begun to test a recipe, telling some friends and family and had asked for my thoughts on a logo.
At this stage, I said to myself ‘okay I want in’. But even then, for me it was just an extra cash injection to fund other projects. Within just over a month, what was meant to be just a weekend gig from our home kitchens, word spread across London and demand increased. We then quickly realised that we could now longer safely or legally operate from our home kitchens which led to us obtaining the relevant licences and moving into a commercial kitchen. Two years later, here we are two branches with a product ready for retail.
Alaba: So what do the next 5 years look like for you?
Jusnah: Like Greatness.