FOR Hewa Tele, a social enterprise operating in Western Kenya, the concept of using business to drive positive change, is saving lives. In 2014, they built the first oxygen plant in Siaya District Hospital, which now serves hospitals in five counties in Western Kenya.
The plant has brought down the cost of oxygen in hospitals by 30 per cent and the lives of patients who would be lost to life-threatening diseases like pneumonia are now being saved.
Hewa Tele, led by Steve Adudans, was among the 14 social enterprises that successfully graduated from the GE healthymagination Mother and Child Programme in February 2017. The programme, an initiative of General Electric in partnership with the Miller Centre for social entrepreneurship was created to accelerate maternal health outcomes in Sub Saharan Africa by providing training and mentorship to social entrepreneurs working to address maternal and child mortality in Sub Saharan Africa.
Both GE and the Miller Centre help the social healthcare entrepreneurs throughout the length of the programme to develop their business strategies and to pitch for investment. Participants are connected with seasoned, executive mentors who bring Silicon Valley principles and expertise to help validate their business and scale their work to effect greater impact in the communities they operate in.
Currently, women in the poorest countries are most at risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth. It is estimated that half of Africa’s population of 1.2-billion people lack access to proper healthcare. This is compounded by several challenges facing the continent such as a lack of infrastructure development, stable power and investment. According to a recent UNICEF report, of the 10 countries with the highest newborn mortality rates, eight are in sub-Saharan Africa while two are in South Asia.
Kenya was ranked as the third highest newborn mortality rate in East Africa. The country’s ranking stood at 22.6 deaths per 1,000 births after South Sudan (37.9) and Burundi (24.2). In the report released on 20th of February, Rwanda had the lowest ranking - 16.5 deaths per this number of births followed by Uganda at 21.4 and then Tanzania at 21.7.
Companies such as General Electric and others have been coming up with innovative ways to support the healthcare sector and one initiative that has proven to be a success is the GE Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme. The first cohort of social entrepreneurs selected from across Sub Saharan Aftalsrica was graduated in February 2017 with the second group of SEs’ who have completed training and mentorship graduated on March 1, this year. Building on the success of the first group of entrepreneurs, all of whom have reported a notable impact of the programme on their businesses.
The company hopes to expand the footprint of social entrepreneurs on the continent so as to sustainably contribute to the development of healthcare especially in maternal health in the region.
Reached for comment, Robert Wells Executive Director, New Growth Markets, Business Innovations at GE said: “Social entrepreneurs working to improve the quality of life for mothers and children in Africa are exceptional change agents. Our goal was to create a program that would support them and champion that innovation ecosystem that we think will become a driving force for change.”
He added that blending Silicon Valley entrepreneurial principles with venture impact investing helped the SE’s to acquire business fundamenthatAftals. Improve their strategic thought processes and articulate a vision that would create impact, growth and long-term financial sustainability. In essence, the ethos of Silicon Valley, the methodology of entrepreneurship found there is effectively established in Sub Saharan Africa.
Finalists are also introduced to GE’s portfolio of products; hence they gain specialized support and training on technologies and resources for the maternal and child health sector. Dr Efunbo Dosekun, an alumni of the programme who leads Outreach Medical Services, an enterprise that seeks to address the high rate of childhood deaths in Nigeria by setting up a chain of women and children hospitals in the slums of Lagos commented: “The programme created a disruption in our organization, changing our model to create greater impact.
Very fundamental principles were ingrained in us and helped us to understand more complex principles” For Pamela Roussos, the chief innovative officer at Miller Centre the enterprises working to address this pressing issue through their initiatives are the perfect example of the strong entrepreneurial spirit in Africa. She added that social entrepreneurship, a growing sector that combines the ingenuity and innovation of startups.
With sustainable business with the primary objective of creating social change is the best vehicle to create economic growth. While addressing some of the most pressing problems on the continent. It has become evident that innovation and creativity are increasingly becoming crucial assets in facing formidable challenges in healthcare. Social entrepreneurs have a novel but instrumental role to play in the healthcare industry, especially in a day and age where new public health challenges are constantly being presented to conventional medicine and healthcare professionals.
Even though significant progress has been made by governments, NGOs and medical professionals to advance health across developing markets, growing populations continue to struggle with limited resources, a shortage in health workforce and poor infrastructure. As far as healthcare interventions go, the GE healthymagination initiative seems to be poised to achieve a meaningful impact in improving maternal and child health outcomes Sub Saharan African.
Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. What sets apart most social entrepreneurs from other business people is their dedication to a social mission, supported by bold ideas, big thinking and continuous innovation.