Soon after giving birth, Lucy Chuwa realized she wanted to help other mothers in Tanzania safely deliver their babies.
Scarcity of medical equipment and lack of experienced maternal care leads more than half of women in the area known as Maasailand, where Chuwa once lived, to give birth at home. Maternal death rates in Maasailand and across Tanzania are high, with nearly one in five deaths in Tanzanian women aged 15–49 resulting from maternal mortality, according to the World Health Organization.
Chuwa, a 2019 graduate of the U.S. State Department’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), made it her goal to help expectant mothers. “When I became a mother and had the joy of holding my babies, I went back to where I came from and looked for an affordable solution to save this society,” she says.
Now her business, Mama Kits, is saving lives in East Africa. Mama Kits produces small packages containing basic supplies like gloves, cotton, a clean sheet and a sterilized blade, which are critical to preventing infection during childbirth.
While these supplies are often expensive or hard to find in Tanzania, Mama Kits are sold in local pharmacies or medical centers for half the cost of buying the items separately. Chuwa says doctors and nurses in Tanzania often advise expectant mothers to purchase the kits.
AWE, the State Department program where Chuwa received business training, also helps distribute Mama Kits. Launched in 2019, AWE provides women entrepreneurs knowledge, networks and access to launch or build their businesses. AWE has helped more than 16,000 women in 80 countries around the world start or grow businesses and adapt to new economic realities under COVID-19.
In addition to supplies, Mama Kits provides mothers with critical health information. Chuwa is developing a smartphone app to answer women’s questions before, during and after pregnancy. She hopes to set up a texting service to send reminders of appointments, medication times and other critical steps for a safe pregnancy.
The company has provided kits to more than 4,000 women, helping them safely deliver their babies, thereby impacting 8,000 lives. Chuwa attributes the business’s success, in part, to the training she received through AWE.
In the program, she learned to develop a business plan, assess the strengths and weaknesses of her business and make changes to maximize impact. Instruction on keeping detailed financial records has been critical for growing a social enterprise that prioritizes helping the community over making profits.
“It would have been so much harder for me to get where I am now if it wasn’t for AWE,” Chuwa says.
After graduating from AWE, Chuwa won a $25,000 grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation, a U.S. government agency that supports African-led development and community enterprises. Chuwa used the funding to distribute Mama Kits to more medical centers and provide one remote village with 100 kits for free.
Chuwa is excited about the prospect of AWE’s impact on other African businesses as well.
“There are many small-business women here, but many lack proper knowledge on how to run a business. It’s not just about capital but also proper knowledge,” she says. “And AWE is a good platform for people to get this knowledge and make new connections.”
This article was written by freelance writer Allie Dalola.