Oyetola Oduyemi is the Africa Regional Adviser (Public Affairs) at The END Fund, a private philanthropic organisation whose big goal is to see an end to the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTD’s) that, together, cause up to 90% of the NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Oyetola shares insights on the organisation’s mission, some of it’s challenges, impact philanthropy, social development and sustainability in Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell us about The End Fund and the gap its filling?
Oyetola: The END Fund is the only private philanthropic initiative solely dedicated to ending the most neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). They are a group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that affect over 1.5 billion of the world’s most impoverished people, including 836 million children. NTDs are diseases of neglected communities that do not have a platform to advocate for themselves and raise awareness. They can cause severe pain and long-term disability and lead to death for more than 170,000 people per year. Effects from NTDs such as deformed legs and blindness result in social isolation.
Since being founded in 2012, we have supported the delivery of over 724 million generously donated treatments for NTDs with a value of over $1.3 billion. In addition, over 1.8 million people were trained in NTD control and prevention methods and over 13,000 people have benefited from surgeries.
NTDs have held back human progress; and at the END Fund, we imagine a world free of diseases caused by worms. We are filling the gap by delivering treatments to communities in need. We achieve this by growing and engaging a community of activist-philanthropists, managing high-impact strategic investments, and working in collaboration with government, NGO, pharmaceutical, and academic partners.
There are many generous funders in the space including USAID and DFID, but the END Fund was created to help fill the funding gap specifically with money from the private sector. In some countries, we are even the only funder, and are able to go places that traditional funders cannot go due to instability and conflict. We are also able to move quicker than traditional funders thanks to our unique model.
Alaba: What is the mission and vision of this Initiative in Africa?
Oyetola: The END Fund’s mission is to end the five most prevalent neglected tropical diseases. In Africa, about 40% of the global NTD burden occurs here, affecting over 600 million Africans. In Nigeria alone, over 120 million people are at risk of one or more NTDs. We envision a continent, indeed a world where people at risk of NTDs can live healthy and prosperous lives.
Alaba: How have the priorities of the organisation evolved?
Oyetola: Due to improvements in disease mapping and much broader engagement by in-country and global stakeholders, the END Fund has been able to get key stakeholders and leaders in disease-endemic countries to make commitments around NTDs. There are many more partners with whom to collaborate and coordinate new opportunities. Also, there are more detailed maps of disease prevalence in high-risk communities, indicating an increased level of interest and sophistication. These additions to the space enable us to have more in depth discussions on extending the financing of NTDs and gradually requiring countries to self-fund treatment.
Alaba: How does the organisation measure the impact of its giving?
Oyetola: We convene savvy, international investors interested in impact-driven investments that make the most efficient use of their private capital – “the best bang for buck.” This enables us to ensure that our treatments are the most cost-effective. In addition, the progress that we make in countries when it comes to eliminating the prevalence of NTDs as a public health problem also enables us to understand our impact. Another way that we measure the impact of funds invested in the END Fund is through our ability to provide technical assistance and capacity building, as needed.
We seek to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirements for treatment, but in many cases we look to exceed their targets and ensure the highest levels of treatment possible. We also work with governments and implementing partners to ensure the highest quality of data reporting. In 2018 alone, with our partners, we reached over 134 million people with more than 220 million treatments valued at over $430 million, trained over 745,000 people, and provided over 1,800 surgeries.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Oyetola: Raising awareness about what NTDs are and why they should be on the top of the agenda for governments, donors, and even those affected can sometimes be a challenge. People may be aware of one or two of them but are not necessarily aware of the health and economic implications. Thus, we want to put real-life stories forward, and hope that it would help us reduce the neglect of the attention and awareness about these diseases.
Alaba : What’s the future for the organisation in Africa and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
Oyetola: In the future, I see the END Fund continuing to work with its partners to not only improve the health of underserved communities but also contribute to Africa’s growth. Research has shown that deworming treatment, for example, has the potential to increase an adult’s earnings by 20% and reduce a child’s likelihood of school absenteeism by 25%. Alleviating the NTD burden would not only improve lives, but it would also have a ripple effect on the community, nation, and continent.
We are very strategic and intentional in the steps that we are taking towards achieving our preferred future. We are working tirelessly in bringing together local and global philanthropists to control and eliminate NTDs. Our CEO, Ellen Agler recently co-chaired the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa and participated in key dialogues on how addressing health inequalities – for example, scaling up treatment for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and achieving Universal Health Coverage – can help catapult Africa into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I also believe that more investments would be seen as one and the same – instead of being seen as either good for business or humanity.
The END Fund hosts the Reaching the Last Mile Fund – a ten-year, multi-donor fund, initiated and led by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, with additional support from other funders. It works to eliminate river blindness and lymphatic filariasis across the Middle East and Africa. By working to eliminate these two NTDs, our goal is to break the cycle of poverty by reducing their footprint.
We were also named an Audacious Project in 2019 – a philanthropic collaborative hosted by TED. This project aims to eliminate the public health burden caused by parasitic worm infections in four countries in Africa. In these countries, where local leaders have already made trailblazing commitments to their national deworming programs, the Project’s “Deworming Innovation Fund” will support and amplify these commitments with the goal of eliminating childhood sickness caused by the most prevalent parasitic worms, a feat which has not yet been achieved in Africa.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of impact philanthropy in Africa?
Oyetola: At the heart of philanthropy, is giving. Africa, and indeed Africans generally have an embedded culture of giving or charity, which some would argue is philanthropy in its most basic form. We believe in the concept of giving back, of being your brother’s keeper, and of sustaining your wealth and happiness by helping others. So it is a familiar concept.
Having said that, impact philanthropy is nuanced to reflect a desire to make specific impact, rather than just seemingly random giving. To that extent, it is a practice that the continent is catching on to quickly. It is being practised more by high net worth individuals and activist philanthropists, rather than corporates. The latter are increasingly embracing strategic social investments, which also varies from philanthropy simpliciter.
Alaba: Why are you personally passionate about the work of The End Fund Initiative?
Oyetola: My passion about our work stems from my personal interest in driving the social development of Africa. I have worked in this space for about 15 years now, and the reality is that as more is achieved, more comes to light as needing to be done. For instance you take on education as a cause, and then realize that the health space needs support. And then it is the environment; or infrastructural development. etc. However delivering on the mandate of the END Fund, which is to end the neglected tropical diseases, has positive ripple effects across quite a number of indices – poverty, malnutrition, education, health, sanitation, and partnerships for development (Sustainable Development Goals 1,2,3,4,6 and 17).
As a mum myself, I am passionate about children, they are our future; and the brightness of any nation’s future is determined in large part by the state of her children today. I am passionate about advancing the cause of my nation and continent, and so I have an interest in her youth. As a woman, I am eager to tackle diseases that disproportionately affect women, We are typically the home-makers and primary caregivers. So when family members are unwell, we are the ones with careers or work opportunities that suffer, while we nurse them back to health. We are the ones that are open to STDs and related secondary infections, as a result of urogenital schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis by the way is the second most deadly parasitic infection globally after malaria, and Nigeria has been reported to have the biggest global burden of this disease.
Our work at the END Fund seeks to end the suffering, illness and debilitating conditions caused by the NTDs, and both the sought impact and picture of success, serve as impetus to do and love the work I do.
Alaba : As an expert in the CSR, sustainability and impact philanthropy ecosystem in Africa, can you share your experience?
Oyetola: This is a richly multi-layered ecosystem indeed, with different stakeholder groups, interests, and expectations. The good thing is that the foundational principle of corporates and HNIs contributing to the development of their locations, is here to stay. Having said this, the practice of CSR is not without its criticisms and issues, and Africa is no exception to this. However with issues, always come possibilities and opportunities. For Africa, CSR or social investment, and impact philanthropy present opportunities to drive sustainable and inclusive development; especially given the relatively high levels of inequalities and poverty found here. There is the creation of shared value, when CSR is properly practiced.
The field also goes beyond the social aspect, to companies doing business responsibly, and with sound corporate governance structures firmly established. These also benefit the communities in which they operate, and stakeholders such as employees, regulators, investors, etc. Furthermore, these drive sustainability, of the companies, their host communities, and the environment.
Pertinent to serve as a guiding thought, is that a sense of mutuality is key, between businesses and host communities. And so combined effort, the pooling together of resources, and the mainstreaming of a sense of responsibility – individual as well as corporate; are all critical to finding sustainable solutions to our developmental challenges as a continent.
Alaba : What is your advice to aspiring impact philanthropists?
Oyetola: Anyone can be an impact philanthropist, high networth individuals as well as people with comparatively lower income. Technological developments, innovative offerings and the emergence of digital platforms such as crowdfunding, have paved the way for a new crop of impact philanthropists to emerge. Things to bear in mind in becoming an effective impact philanthropist, include efficient resource management, motivational picture of success or desired impact, innovation and scalability, where applicable.
Kindly click the link to watch how The End Fund is using football to tackle the NTDs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSZJye2aeN4
A great place to start is by joining us to end the neglected diseases!
For more information, please visit The END Fund
B I O G R A P H Y
Oyetola Oduyemi was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2003, and has more than sixteen years working experience. During her time in the Nigerian Law School, she interned at Kyari Chambers, the law firm of JK Gadzama (SAN). Subsequently, she worked at Babalola chambers, law firm of Dele Adesina (SAN).
‘Tola is a qualified member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators UK, and also a member of the Nigerian Society for Corporate Governance. She holds an LL.M. degree from the University of Warwick, with dual majors in Corporate Governance and International Economic Law. ‘Tola has broad experience across sectors, having worked in real estate, banking, oil servicing, and telecommunications industries.
Her specialty is building sustainable brands that have stood the test of time, wearing different though inter-connected hats, including public policy manager keeping employer organisations abreast of policies with an impact on their respective business; corporate communications lead with responsibility for ensuring effective internal and external engagements; and sustainability expert advising business leaders on required and best-practice measures to adopt; all with the focal objective of creating strategic and sustainable value.
For her work in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ‘Tola was recognized as the most outstanding CSR practitioner, at the Sustainability, Enterprise & Responsibility Awards (SERAs) for Africa, 2016. Her passion lies in driving business transformation, providing leadership and finding innovative solutions to business challenges, successfully managing multi-layered key stakeholder groups, and developing and executing best-in-class management strategies to drive business sustainability.
She also enjoys driving ideation of the construct that eliminates barriers between entities and possibilities. In seeking to accomplish this bridge-building, she has discovered that empowering people, communities, companies, even the planet; to survive and flourish, enables all to make possibilities, realities.
‘Tola is an alumnus of the University of Lagos – Nigeria, and University of Warwick, UK. She has also attended numerous training programmes at the Lagos Business School.
The Mansaray Foundation Story- Saibatu Mansaray
Saibatu Mansaray, Founder at The Mansaray Foundation (Source: The Mansaray Foundation)
In September 1997, I lost my aunt. In May 2008, I lost another aunt.
My Aunt, a proud Sierra Leone native, and mother of four, was delivering twins when she suffered a postpartum hemorrhage that not only took her life but also the life of one of her twins. This was in 1997, when my aunt and her baby were lost forever. Her five surviving beautiful children were forced to grow up without their mother. After 23 years, this loss still feels like it was only yesterday and for many more families in my home country, it very well could have been yesterday, or even today.
My family was again forced to endure the aftermath of this crisis in 2008, when a second aunt died from childbirth complications. She, too, went to deliver my beautiful cousin and succumbed to postpartum hemorrhage. Three more cousins of mine were now without their mother: left to navigate life without her loving guidance.
Sierra Leone is an amazing place with incredible people where losses like this have sadly become commonplace. My people, as foreign as it may seem to the outside world, fear childbirth.
When both of my aunts died, my uncles never remarried. They both raised my cousins without a wife, but they were never alone. Our family and the local community rallied to help. The sacrifice, resilience, and the sense of community that Sierra Leonean – and Africans as a whole – have for one another should warrant everyone’s admiration. But they need more, they need all of us to fight with them to affect change and save lives.
Ninety-four percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries like Sierra Leone with 830 women dying every day, and an estimated 300,000 deaths annually around the world from preventable causes. My aunts were two of these women.
They are both just statistics now, but to me, their husbands, and their surviving children they are so much more. While I do not know each of these 830 women who die each day, I know they have families. They have children who love them dearly and will forever miss and long for their mothers.
The maternal deaths are staggering worldwide, but unfortunately most of Africa is far more impacted than the rest of the world.
Women in Africa have, on average, many more pregnancies than women in developed countries, and their lifetime risk of death is higher. Due to African women bearing children at an early age, their lifetime risk of maternal death is extremely high and equates to the probability that a 15 year old girl will eventually die from a maternal cause. In high income countries, this is 1 in 5,400, versus 1 in 45 in low-income countries.
Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women. In Sierra Leone, if we do nothing to change our unfortunate circumstances, 6% of our 15-year-old girls will die from maternal causes sometime in the future. Maternal deaths are common in rural and poorer communities and as it stands today, 1 in 75 births in Sierra Leone results in the death of a woman.
The five countries where a woman is most likely to die in a given pregnancy are Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, and South Sudan. As a continent, countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Libya have demonstrated that we can lower the maternal death rates.
Our beloved Mother Africa is suffering most from a health crisis that is preventable and we must all band together in order to solve this rather unfortunate inordinate number of African maternal deaths.
The Mansaray Foundation begins its work in Sierra Leone, but we envision our work spreading throughout West Africa where we are among the highest maternal mortality rates worldwide. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world but the maternal deaths in Liberia, Guinea, Gambia and Nigeria are unsettling.
The main factors that prevent women from receiving or seeking care during pregnancy and childbirth are poverty, distance to facilities, lack of information, as well as inadequate and poor quality of care.
In Sierra Leone, the foundation will focus its efforts on improving access to quality care and ensuring the rural clinics are properly resourced.
We will utilize a simple, scalable and sustainable health-systemic approach to prevent maternal mortality, promote maternal health, and prolong the quality of life of rural women in Sierra Leone through multi-stakeholder partnerships that is in line with global best practices.
Our goal is to help lead Sierra Leone from the highest maternal mortality rate globally, to the lowest five in Africa.
I look forward to returning to Sierra Leone and embarking upon a journey to address and combat Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality crisis, work tirelessly on youth and women’s empowerment efforts and strongly support local innovative and development opportunities for Mother Africa.
Our efforts must begin here, by sharing the stories of those we have lost. If you have a loss to share or would like to join the #fightforourmothers, reachout on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn: @TheMansarayFdn.
We call on the pioneers, the innovators, and the educators, the global health leaders, big tech, journalists and supply chain experts to join us in this fight. Mother Africa needs you, join us:
Visit us The Mansaray Foundation
Email us email@example.com.
Author: Saibatu Mansaray is the President and Founder of The Mansaray Foundation and Host of The Saibatu Mansaray Journey podcast. Mansaray’s life and career has been dedicated to public service seeking to effect positive change in the world and making her home country and the people of Sierra Leone proud. She works now to highlight the community and speak out on the issues and challenges we in the African community face. The Mansaray Foundation initiative is the latest step in the long line of public service by Sierra Leone-native Saibatu Mansaray, a retired United States Army officer after 23-years of service and two tours of duty to Iraq.
Mansaray served as a White House Physician Assistant and Tactical Medical Officer to President Obama and Vice President Biden followed by Director of Medical Operations and Military Aide to two Vice Presidents. Upon retiring, Mansaray joined Vice President Pence’s team as his Director of Advance. Her final assignment was as a White House senior executive and Assistant Director for Public Health at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.