The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) finds, funds, and supports African entrepreneurs who are using business ventures to impact their communities, countries, and continent. As part of USADF’s support, we’re introducing 10 of these innovators to Opportunity Collaboration 2019 – the global network of leaders dedicated to building sustainable solutions to the problems of poverty and injustice. The USADF Fellows will participate in this annual convening in October, forging alliances and advancing their social impact initiatives.
Nigerian entrepreneur and medical doctor Charles Immanuel Akhimien is creating access to health care in some of Nigeria’s most underserved communities. He’s the co-founder of MOBicure, a digital health company created with the goal of using mobile technology to address some of Africa’s most pressing health challenges.
MOBicure offers mobile applications that provide users with quality health information as well as real-time virtual assistance from medical personnel and professionals. Charles and his team envision a future where everyone can access life-saving health care through the simple touch of a button.
As a talented medical doctor with years of training, Charles was on course for a successful career as a professional surgeon – until one experience changed his life. During his time interning at a hospital in Nigeria, he witnessed the death of a four-month-old baby girl who had been dehydrated for more than 24 hours. “She was severely dehydrated as a result of diarrhea,” he said. “Diarrhea is very treatable, but the woman was poor, and she did not know what to do.”
According to Charles, instances such as the little girl’s death weren’t rare and occurred consistently throughout his one-year stint at the hospital. In Nigeria, more than 2,300 children under the age of five die every day and most of these preventable deaths are due to a severe absence of accessible health care information among many communities.
“I started becoming dissatisfied with the status-quo,” Charles said. “I started thinking ‘how could we use technology,’ which was something that was rapidly developing in Nigeria, ‘to improve our maternal and child health indices?’ ”
From that point on, he set his sights on ways to better maternal and child health care services for mothers and families in his home country. His pursuits led him to entrepreneurship, and he decided to co-found his own digital health company, MOBicure. In 2015, his company designed and launched the app Omomi, which now provides quality, accurate, and real-time maternal and child health assistance directly to the mobile phones of more than 40,000 pregnant women and mothers.
After the growth and success of Omomi, Charles applied and was accepted to the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. As the flagship program of the U.S. State Department’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the Mandela Washington Fellowship brings together young African change makers for coursework, leadership training and networking at various universities throughout the United States
During the fellowship, he was able to demonstrate his dedication and talent for using innovation and social enterprise to improve the livelihoods of African people. He also showcased the impact and vision of MOBicure to hundreds of other likeminded young African leaders, as well as potential partners and investors. The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) awarded him a $25,000 grant to continue his work with MOBicure in bringing healthcare to the fingertips of underserved Africans.
“[The USADF grant] was a really huge deal for us. We were on our last legs and we were probably weeks away from closing operations because we had run out of cash. So that funding basically brought us back to life.”
USADF’s funding enabled Charles and his team to launch their second mobile app, myPaddi. The technology provides young Africans with a virtual platform to access substantive, unbiased, and youth-friendly information on sexual and reproductive health. The myPaddi app, whose name stems from a Nigerian slang word for “buddy” or “confidant,” allows users to ask questions, share experiences, and chat to medical professionals in real-time, all while remaining anonymous, thus creating a safe space for interactive learning.
Charles says myPaddi has grown to a platform with 15,000 young people talking openly about sexual and reproductive health from 16 countries across Africa. The expansion of myPaddi proved to be a wise business decision as well. As users make small payments to chat privately with doctors, myPaddi has evolved into a reliable source of revenue for MOBicure. This improvement in financial stability has allowed MOBicure to attract greater funds from investors and raise more than $275,000 (as of September 2019).
“As a social impact health start-up, we will always be judged based on impact because we are a health entity. But as a start-up, as a tech business, you will always be judged based on other metrics, the chief of which is revenue. Now, we are earning revenue consistently, our numbers are growing, [and] the last 12 months have been the best for us.”
The journey he’s taken with MOBicure has enhanced the lives of thousands across Africa, and it’s made him more grateful and motivated to go further.
“I left clinical practice to become an entrepreneur… I should be doing surgery somewhere, you know? The USADF award, at the time, was really great for us as a business, and for me personally. It was validation that said, ‘Hey Charles, you are not wasting your time.’ ”
Written by Narayan Felix, USADF intern