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If you ever doubt that women can do it all, you need to look no further than Dr. Frida Njogu-Ndongwe to reassure yourself. In addition to being a doctor, wife, mother, and mentor, Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe is the co-founder and Head of Strategy for the Kenya-based startup Afyakit. The company develops “cutting edge analytics to enable decision making for public health managers.”
Afyakit is specifically focused on maternal and newborn health within the healthcare space. The startup was incubated by Lexlink Consulting, a professional services firm in Kenya where Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe met her co-founders. Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe first became interested in the sector as a young doctor. “Women who come in to deliver are not sick, so losing them during delivery was especially hard. If the mother dies, it’s also likely that the baby will not survive,” she said. A study in neighboring Ethiopia found that “babies whose mothers died had a statistically significant 46 times greater risk of dying before one month of age than infants of surviving mothers.” Overall 81% of Ethiopian babies who lose their mother during childbirth die.
Soon after starting Afyakit, the dangers associated with childbirth became more than a statistic for Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe. While delivering her third child, she suffered from a post-partem hemorrhage. “Because I am a doctor, the moment it happened, I knew it was dangerous,” she said. Thankfully mother and baby survived. With Afyakit, Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe wants to make sure that women like her can deliver safely.
Afyakit is the output of the imagination, grit, and skill of a diverse founding team. In addition to Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe, Dr. Moses Owino is the Head of Partnerships, Roseline K. Njogu leads Operations and Kennedy Mukuana is the Product Leader. Their founding team is 50% women and their overall employee break-down holds the trend. Contrary to expectations, the women tend to hold the more technical roles at Afyakit. It was not intentional. Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe explained that when hiring, they are looking for the best person, regardless of gender. It’s just that when a company is equally led by women, they have an easier time recognizing when the best candidate is a woman.
When asked about her experience as a female startup executive Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe is generally positive. She has found that cultural and biological duties of women have added some complexity to running her startup. She could not take a true maternity leave and no matter what is going on at her children’s school, if they need a parent, they call the mother. On the other hand, she has the power to set policies that are helpful for women. The leadership has several new mothers, including Njogu. They close off the boardroom at certain times to pump milk and have procured a refrigerator for the office with the main aim to provide storage for this milk. In Njogu’s experience, Kenya does “ok” in terms of workplace gender equality. Her experience is proven in the data. The World Bank’s Women’s Workplace Equality Index Data gives Kenya a score of 75.2 out of 100 compared to all lower-middle income countries who score 54.3 out of 100 or Sub-Saharan Africa with an average score of 59.1 out of 100.
Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe acknowledges that her middle-class upbringing and quality education play a role in her experience of relative gender equality in Kenya. The reality for poor and rural women is starkly different. Dr. Owino explained, “Kenya is basically schizophrenic. Top-level women have a reasonably level playing field; if you work hard, you can get ahead. But below a certain socio-economic level, women are heavily disadvantaged. They suffer terribly.”
The Afyakit team tries to be a leading voice for gender equality for all women in Kenya. Roseline Njogu, a lawyer by training, advocates nationally for fair hiring practices and female-friendly workspaces. Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe mentors not only women but young couples, to help women succeed at home and at work. But at the end of the day, it is the work of Afyakit that is doing the most to advance gender equality. Dr. Njogu-Ndongwe states its plainly, “For women to have access, they must survive childbirth.” Out of every 100,000 births, 362 Kenyan mothers still die. By using analytics to improve decision making for health workers, Afyakit is working to bring that number down to zero.
March 9, 2019 at 02:20PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs