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Maternal and child health in Africa: Healthcare at your fingertips with OMOMI

The destiny of our continent is shaped by the greatness of our people.

You know this.

But what happens when the greatness that lies within you and is supposed to be developed over the course of a lifetime is being threatened when you are at your most vulnerable?    

Imagine that you are born in a country that is the 2nd highest contributor to maternal and child deaths worldwide and where 2,300 under 5-year-olds die

Every day.

In other words, 839,500 under 5 year-olds die every year. And that is just in one country. On our continent.

In order for you to have a chance at developing your greatness, you first need to fight malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS within the first 5 years of existence on this planet.

Luckily, we have leaders that are appalled by this situation and who are developing innovative technological solutions to tackle this problem.

Meet Charles Immanuel Akhimien from Nigeria.

He is the co-founder of Mobicure, a company that provides mobile technology solutions to solve some of the most pressing health issues.

We had the opportunity to interview this extraordinary leader about his business, marketing strategies and challenges that his company is facing. Many of you will be familiar with some of the challenges so pay close attention and learn how others are dealing with those issues. You might learn something valuable.

1) How did you come up with the idea for MOBicure?

MOBicure was co-founded by two young people; two medical doctors from Nigeria (Dr Emmanuel Owobu and myself). Right from medical school we had always shared a passion to change the world; to make it better than we met it.

Specifically, we were both very appalled by the status of maternal and child health in Nigeria, where according to UNICEF, we are the second largest contributor to maternal and child deaths worldwide. We both attended the same medical school (the University of Benin), and by our final year we had started putting plans in place to start a mobile health company, that would use mobile technology in order to solve some of Nigeria’s most pressing health issues particularly with regards to maternal and child health.

We decided to create a platform called OMOMI (meaning ‚my child‘). OMOMI consists of a mobile app and an SMS service that enables mothers easily monitor their children's health, as well as provides access to specific and life-saving maternal and child health information plus medical expertise, all at the touch of a button.

2) How did you go about building your team?

Being doctors, my co-founder and I both had the medical expertise and the knowledge of the healthcare space to start the company. However, we lacked the technological expertise. That is why we needed to find others with the necessary technology experience and skills. We thus started to steadily build up our tech team which includes young, smart, innovative people who are motivated to change the face of healthcare in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

3) How do you ensure that you understand the needs of your audience (e.g. pregnant women and mothers of under- 5s) so you can tailor your solution with their needs in mind?

Why you need to understand your audiences to create impact
How well do you know your audience?If you do not know your audience, their pain points and your solution to[...]

Everyday Nigeria loses 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of child-bearing age; making Nigeria the second largest contributor to maternal and under-5 deaths worldwide.

The major reason for this high under-5 mortality is lack of information. There is clearly a need for innovative and cost-effective solutions that can empower and engage mothers on antenatal, postnatal and child care. Since 9 out of every 10 women in Nigeria own a mobile device, iot makes perfect sense to use mobile technology to empower, engage and inform these women on their health as weel as that of their children.

Our soulution (OMOMI) is a cost-effective solution that reaches these women and provides them access to vital health information, either via android app (for smart phone users) or simple SMS (for rural women with basic phones).

4) How do you ensure the company has the required capacities to successfully execute its mission? (E.g. app development, marketing, recruiting, strategy etc.)

At MOBicure, our core values are innovation and excellence and this reflects in all that we do particularly in hiring. We recruit people that are innovative and enthusiastic about doing things differently. Everyone in the team understands our mission, which is to bring healthcare to the fingertips of everyone using mobile technology and thus create a paradigm shift in the healthcare sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

5) What is your business model and how did you come up with it?

Coming up with a viable business model for my company and my innovation was no easy feat due in part to the fact that most of the people who need our services either cannot afford it or do not see sufficient reason to pay for our services.

This is coupled with the fact that a mobile health company was viewed with enormous scepticism at the beginning. In time, however, we have been able to refine our business model to one that is centred around advertising and subscription payments.

Our innovation (OMOMI) generates revenue from advert placements by businesses, organizations and companies that want to reach mothers in order to sell their goods and services. These businesses and organisations include (but are not limited to): companies that make baby diapers, sanitary pads, baby food, hair care products, etcetera.

OMOMI also generates revenue from bulk subscriptions (payments) for the OMOMI SMS service. Organizations such as hospitals, health insurance agencies, churches, even governments pay for their clients (patients, members, citizens, as the case may be). 

Organizations can pay for hundreds, thousands or millions of women to receive the OMOMI SMS messages by paying the monthly subscription fee for these women.In the future, OMOMI will aclso charge our ‚premium‘ users when they use certain select or premium features on the OMOMI app, such as: one-on-one doctor consultations.

6) On your website it says that you have managed to reach 7,000 mothers. How did you go about reaching such numbers? Through partnerships, digital marketing?

Actually, we now reach a little over 14,000 women with life-saving maternal and child health information, as well as access to medical personnel at the touch of a button.

These women have been reached through a combination of digital marketing and ‘on-the-ground’ marketing. We have successfully partnered with scores of health facilities and we already have a growing user base of young medical doctors using the MOTHERS’ COMMUNITY section of the OMOMI app, and through them we shall be reaching their patients (mothers) in maternity and paediatric clinics of hospitals.

Mobicure google play store

We have also taken advantage of social media (especially Facebook) to reach these women and to keep them, engaged. Perhaps our most effective strategy has been the use of mobile marketers (aka “foot ambassadors”). These are young people (mainly university undergraduates) whose jobs are to sign up women on the platform on a daily basis. These marketers would be paid on the basis of the number of users they successfully sign up.

Mobicure app

7) What are your biggest challenges at the moment?

Our biggest challenge is sustainability and making sure that we successfully implement our business model. Another challenge is marketing our innovation in order to reach even more women and spread the word of our innovation.

8) What steps are you currently taking to solve the challenges you are facing?

We are investing more in our marketing efforts and hiring more experienced personnel in order to improve both revenue generation and marketing of our innovation.

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9) How do you measure your impact that you create?

As a social enterprise, the measure of our success is based on how much social impact we can make whilst still sustainable.

Our innovation (OMOMI) is saving lives and is contributing to the reduction in the high maternal and child mortality rate in Nigeria because it is designed to address all of the WHO Childhood Survival Strategies (which have been proven to reduce maternal and child mortality in developing nations). The numeric indicators of the expected outcomes of OMOMI include:

  • Improving antenatal clinic attendance by over 40% amongst mothers who use OMOMI.
  • Improving that the percentage of children (whose mothers use OMOMI) who are fully immunized is above the national average of 21%.
  • Roll-out of the Interactive Voice Recording (IVR) version of OMOMI (to reach even the most uneducated, rural women) by January 2018.
  •  Launch of the OMOMI app across all mobile platforms (iOS, windows and Blackberry) by June 2018.
  • 500,000 women using the platform by December 2018. Quite simply our innovation saves lives; and the more women who use OMOMI, the mor ewomen and children that will be saved.

10) Which are your 3 most valuable habits in leading social innovation and why?

  1. Excellence
  2.  attention to detail
  3. A hunger to change the status quo.

These are the most important habits in my view that lead social innovation, because they determine just how far a social enterprise will thrive.

11) You are part of various networks such as Yunus & Youth or the Mandela Washington Fellowship. How do you use those to benefit your work as a social innovator?

The most important asset a person can have (especially an entrepreneur) is people. Over the years I have steadily built up a network of valuable connection leveraging on my networks and ties to the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the Global Startup Youth, Yunus & Youth, Royal Commonwealth Society, etc. This global network of contacts I have garnered over the years from attending events all around the world have been invaluable in advancing MOBicure in terms of raising funding, forging strong partnerships and getting the best people to come on our team.

12) What is your leadership philosophy and what shaped it?

President Obama said to us at the Town Hall for the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship in Washington D.C. that “it’s all about the work”. This has been my guiding philosophy. I do what I do as a social entrepreneur and innovator because I am passionate about saving lives and for me, that is all that matters.

13) One of the most important skills of any social innovator is the management of one’s emotions in the face of intense external events (e.g. failure, setbacks, media attention etc.). What are your tips on how to best manage one’s emotions as a social innovator?

Don’t believe the hype!

Often times people will tell you how much good you’re doing and how much of a ‘rock star’ you are. While it is important to recognise that the work any social entrepreneur (innovator) does is great, it is even more important for social innovators to stay grounded and keep their feet firmly on the ground. We need to keep working and keep creating solutions.

14) What is your favourite digital tool for business (e.g. twitter, a certain app, certain software etc.) and why?

Facebook; because with Facebook I can reach the world of my customers, partners, business networks, colleagues, in an instant!

Mobicure Omomi app

15) If you could time travel back to day one of your social enterprise and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heartache, what would you tell yourself?

Passion is not enough; the importance of using strong business acumen to make long-term decisions cannot be overemphasised.

​16) What has your biggest milestone been to date?

Signing up 5,000 rural women on our SMS service in less than 3 months.

Thank you, Charles for sharing your insights and lessons with our community. It is always great to connect with great minds, innovators and people who use their greatness to shape the destiny of our continent.

Let us know in the comments section below what the main lessons are that you have learnt and what challenges are that you are facing.

About the Author Rise Africa Rise

Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to tech entrepreneurship and (social) innovation for African entrepreneurs, startups and businesses. Our aim is to provide you with valuable digital strategies, tools and insights to support you in building a world-class and competitive business in the 21st century.

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