While growing up in Rwanda, Umunyana Marie Chantal saw her mother struggle during pregnancies and wished she knew exactly how to help.
“As a young girl, I noticed that my mother was sickly whenever she was expectant with my siblings,” says Chantal, who later felt similar apprehension during her own pregnancy. “I longed for someone to hold her hand and walk her through the nine-month journey.”
The desire to help pregnant women find the information they need led Chantal, who is currently studying medicine, to launch Umubyeyi Elevate Limited. The telehealth platform, named for the Kinyarwanda word for motherhood, connects women and families with essential health information during pregnancy.
Chantal credits the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) with teaching her skills to grow her business. “AWE not only believes in already existing businesses, but also supports the ideas to get new businesses off the ground,” she said.
Launched in 2019 and run by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, AWE has empowered more than 16,000 enterprising women in 80 countries with the knowledge and networks to launch and scale successful businesses.
By giving women access to essential maternal health information, Chantal reduces life-threatening health risks for women and children in Rwanda. The country’s maternal mortality rate is slightly above the global average at 248 deaths per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization. But the country is widely viewed as having been successful in reducing its maternal mortality by 55% since 2010. Innovations like Chantal’s are helping Rwanda get even closer to its sustainable development goal.
While access to health care in Rwanda can be limited, nearly everyone has a phone. So Chantal designed Umubyeyi Elevate to bring accurate information on childbirth to women’s fingertips. She started by answering friends’ questions on WhatsApp, then expanded to other social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Soon she was struggling to keep up with the demand for information on these platforms. Through AWE, Chantal learned how to make a business plan and used digital marketing tools. She received guidance on practical skills like applying for seed funding from local sources, which helps her constantly innovate and offer new services.
In 2021, she received the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award and other grants, bringing funding she used to expand Umubyeyi Elevate’s online presence and hire a team to better collaborate with medical professionals and share information with the public.
She is launching an online event with health care professionals called “TheBeSpace” to combat common pregnancy myths that lead to health problems. And she hopes to one day start a subscription program to support the business.
“My wish is to have attainable maternal health and parental education where everyone is free to come and learn and receive information as he or she really needs — not just in Rwanda, but in other African countries as well,” Chantal says.
This article was written by freelance writer Emily Zhu.