Across Nigeria’s rural communities, which account for more than 80% of the country’s maternal mortality rates, more than 60% of births are assisted by unskilled attendants. Women routinely give birth on bare floors, risking sepsis. And umbilical cords are severed by rusty blades, exposing new-borns to tetanus.
For Adepeju Jaiyeoba, the winner of the Prince of Wales Prize at Unilever’s Young Entrepreneurs Award 2018, there’s a very personal story behind the statistics. One of her closest friends died in labour in 2011 – a tragedy which inspired her to leave behind a promising career in law, and set up a social enterprise that provides women with access to simple but vital equipment to make their delivery as safe as possible
Adepeju’s business, Mother’s Delivery Kit, provides sterile birthing kits and training to traditional birth attendants, health centres, hospitals, and maternal and child health organisations.
We caught up with Adepeju to find out more about her ambitions to grow Mother’s Delivery Kit beyond Nigeria, what winning the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award means to her, and the impact winning will make to her enterprise.
You’ve won the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award (YEA). What’s next?
We currently reach six of Nigeria’s 36 states so there’s a huge opportunity to scale up our business. The communities we reach now are relatively stable and we are keen to reach women in post-conflict areas – parts of Nigeria that have been affected by the extremist sect Boko Haram. We need to gain experience of working in these areas, and a greater understanding of what women there will need.
How will the support you received help expand your enterprise?
The time I spent on the accelerator programme in Cambridge was an incredible opportunity to critically examine our business with some of the brightest minds in sustainability. It was also wonderful to connect with previous YEA winners. I met with the 2015 winner Daniel Yu, the founder of ReliefWatch, and his advice will be invaluable for our business. The support does not end with you winning – it is continuous. And I look forward to offering support to people in the future.
What are your plans for the €50,000 prize money?
We’ll use it to help scale up Mother’s Delivery Kit across more communities in Nigeria, and we’re hoping to buy a truck to reduce delivery expenses. That will mean we can pass savings on to the people buying our kits. We’re also exploring more partnerships so that we can acquire the equipment in our kits at a better price – something which will drive costs down even more.
What impact would you love to make in the future?
Our ultimate goal is to be able to give every mother an opportunity to watch their baby grow, and every child a chance to live their potential.
We’d love to reach every state in Nigeria and eventually expand into other African countries. Other parts of the continent have diverse problems but the solutions that can make childbirth safer are similar everywhere. We can make a difference, if we can scale our business up.
What does access to maternal care mean to you?
When I graduated from law school I never imagined I would leave the profession for a social enterprise. I had no knowledge of running a business and little interest in it. But all that changed when my friend died in childbirth. She had dreams, and they were over in a split second.
My friend’s story is something I think about every day. It could have been me, or any of my four sisters. If statistics say one in ten women in my country have a chance of dying in childbirth, then most of us will lose someone we know. That must change. And it can.
How can people create positive change in the world?
Invest in people. My own trajectory of progress has been about people investing in me and giving me opportunities to make a difference. When you invest in a person you invest in a whole chain of events and opportunities, and that influences other people too. Someone believed in me and invested in my ideas. Now I will invest in others. It’s a cycle that benefits us all.
L-R: Dame Polly Courtice, Adepeju Jaiyeoba, Unilever CEO Paul Polman