Improving global health and gender equality is crucial for a healthy economy and a prosperous nation. These two components also actively drive progress towards Africa’s 2030 Sustainable development Goals. It’s on this basis that IFPMA and Speak Up Africa hosted a virtual event titled “Women-led innovation in Africa: Achieving sustainable health and gender equality on the continent” that focused on capturing the contribution of women in driving innovation and development of societies and economies.
The virtual event was part of the Africa LeadHERS Forum in which Angella Kyomugisha, Co-founder and co-CEO, Kaaro Health and participant on the Women’s Innovation Incubator, Yacine Djibo, Executive Director at Speak Up Africa; Greg Perry, Assistant Secretary-General at IFPMA, and a host of distinguished women leaders in healthcare and business management participated in.
The discussion addressed the key challenges women have overcome in their entrepreneurial and career journeys, the available support mechanisms and ways to overcome the gender innovation gap and uplift women in innovation not just on International Women’s Day but every day.
During the event, Yacine Djibo, Executive Director at Speak Up Africa, stated, “Unfortunately, we have seen that women are excluded from decision-making spaces and programs that affect their well-being and health for a long time. And today, we know that their voice, participation, and leadership are critical to women empowerment .”
While speaking, she explained the primary goal behind the Africa LeadHERS Forum initiative that supports the inclusion of women and girls on public platforms and leadership roles to encourage their participation in decision making spaces for improved health. “We will be able to demystify the notion that women have a limited role in business and innovation and that we will inspire future generations of an African woman to break the bias and embark in this field,” she continued.
Speaking in support of the forum, Madi Sharma, Founder, Madi Group said, “You cannot have the economic impact and sustainability that we need for development unless women are healthy and each woman and girl needs to be healthy because each woman and girl will go on to help more people.”
In line with the African LeadHERS initiative is the Women Innovators Incubator, a flagship program launched by IFPMA and Speak Up Africa to address the gender imbalance in Africa’s health innovation landscape. The program supports female innovators with financial support, mentorship, media training, expert advice on intellectual property protection, and access to the rich network of Africa Young Innovators for Health Award supporters. Angella Kyomugisha, the co-founder of Kaaro Health and a participant on the incubator, noted, “We have an Africa full of energetic young people, and if they are sick or unhealthy, they will not be productive.”
Angella leads the team at Kaaro Health, a social enterprise driving healthcare access to the most remote areas through deploying telehealth-enabled container clinics managed by nurses on a lease to own basis. The enterprise also trains these nurses in financial and business management to sustainably operate these clinics. But this isn’t without challenges. She highlighted that as a woman innovator, “one of the things I experienced personally was not having a person to provide mentorship and tell me how to address issues around management and product development.”
With the support of the Women Innovators Incubator, Angella continues to overcome some of these challenges through adopting a “No Excuses” approach, breathing life into her ideas and surrounding herself with the right team and people along her entrepreneurial journey.
Besides the work of the forum and the incubator, the virtual event also suggested broader avenues and ways to support and propel women’s participation and inclusion to achieve Africa’s desired health impact.
“Nobody can do it all alone. So it’s important to design platforms that bring governments, development partners and the private sector together to align on policies, programs and resources in support of women-led innovation,” said Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Chief Digital Officer, Africa CDC.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Start small. And then you’ll start to realize that it takes baby steps to get to where you were. And by the time you look back, you’ve achieved so much by taking those little steps. Finally, have a long term perspective,” said Jennie Nwokoye, CEO/Founder, Clafiya.
“Anyone can do what you do, but no one can be who you are. So there might be a million versions of a healthcare startup, but you’re no one is going to run it the way you do. So if you’re listening and there’s something that you’re thinking of doing, and you feel like the market is saturated, there’s no place for you. There’s a place for you because none of us will, you know, each one of us is born unique,” said Desiree Joule-Adam, Deputy Director of Communications & Development for the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Cooperative (AWEC).
In closing, Greg Perry noted the spotlight around stories from amazing African women in innovation, entrepreneurship and diversity that show the possibility of women doing and achieving great things propelling Africa forward. He noted a renewed focus on the importance of youth and women leadership coupled with building skills in Africa to strengthen the ecosystem and push forward innovation and access.
“Of course, what comes from all this is the burning flame and desire to make change and innovation, given African women are the most entrepreneurial in the world. And through avenues like these, it’s important to build networks for everyone to share their stories,” he continued.
About Africa LeadHERS Forum
The African LeadHERs initiative was launched on the Generation Equality Forum, which took place from 30 June to 2 July, organized by UN Women and co-chaired by the governments of France and Mexico in partnership with civil society and youth. The event aimed to make concrete commitments to gender equality, following the previous ones made in Beijing in 1995. African LeadHERs supports the inclusion of women and girls on public platforms and in leadership and aims to encourage women and girls, in all their diversity, to participate in decision-making spaces for improved public health significantly. Gender Equality is paramount to achieving every one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. At Speak Up Africa, we are committed to transforming this belief into meaningful action and engagement. Through the African leadHERS program, we partner with leaders from all sectors of society, including sports, fashion, culture and art, to creatively build a more robust, fairer and more inclusive world.