By Samuel Ouma
Angella Kyomugisha is the co-founder and CEO of Kaaro Health, a startup that provides solutions to healthcare centres located in rural areas in Uganda. Their aim it to ensure those living on rural areas have access to healthcare service by financing medical equipment and health and IT infrastructure.
Angella was recently declared a winner of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, an International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa’s flagship programme. In a Q & A with PAV, Angella Kyomugisha sheds more light on Kaaro Health , the transformative work it is doing and the importance of STEM education in Africa.
Please can you describe your background in a few words?
I am a social entrepreneur and a financial management professional. I have been building impact-focused businesses that aim to lift women out of poverty for over 6 years. My education background is in economics, statistics, and project management. I currently serve as Co-CEO at Kaaro health
Would you explain to us how you became a founder and how Kaaro Health began, highlighting when you started, where you got the idea, and the problems you are trying to solve.
I started social entrepreneurship way back in school, I have always thought of ways in which certain challenges/problems in my community can be addressed. Along the way, I met a great team of people who share the same passion for entrepreneurship
We have since worked on various projects together in rural Uganda successfully, and on one specific occasion, I experienced firsthand, what it means not be able to have access to timely health care attention. I purposed since that incident to find ways together with my team how we can innovate around access to quality primary rural healthcare services. For the majority of the villages that we target, the nearest health facility is 20km away or more. And so pregnant mothers, children, and the very sick people have to walk long distances to far-away government health centers. This results into complications along the way and we end up losing 19 mothers and 74 babies every day to preventable causes. This is the problem that Kaaro health seeks to address
As an outstanding awardee of the Women Innovators Incubator Programme speaking at the 2021Galien Africa Forum, please share more about the key highlights of this year’s edition focusing on the topic of women in STEM
First of all, I would like to say that I am so honored on behalf of my company to have the opportunity to participate on the 2021 Galien Africa Forum and share my innovation.
This year’s highlights have been to celebrate women innovators and participants of the Women Innovators Incubator (a programme from the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award) developing high-impact solutions to Africa’s various healthcare needs.
During the session; women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the context of global health security addressed the status of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) sector, the challenge of eliminating gender imbalance from science, technology and innovation disciplines in Africa and future actions to advance women-led innovation in the continent’s healthcare entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The virtual webinar aired a number of women entrepreneurs across Africa, which shows that there is great hope for more girls and women to engage in STEM as given platforms are grooming women mentors and role models
How can more young girls and women join and thrive in the science and health sector in Africa?
There is clearly an imbalance, given the fact that 28% is how many women represented in STEM! In order to ensure the full-fledged participation of women and girls in STEM, additional support needs to be channeled towards the training and mentorship necessary to pursue leadership positions in science careers.
Employers should embark on providing a work environment that supports work-life balance for STEM staff. This goes hand in hand with formulating and implementing gender-friendly policy frameworks, such as the provision of childcare facilities at the workplace and career re-entry programs which encourage women scientists to resume their careers after taking a break to start a family.
To nurture the next generation of leading female scientists, it is necessary to go beyond designing more gender-responsive policies and mainstreaming gender into science and research.
More efforts are needed to include gender equity into education both by empowering the female teachers who can, and in the long run, empower girls to take up STEM courses and by promoting role models and mentorship programs that foster a sense of belonging among women in STEM.
Why did you choose to start a business in the healthcare sector and not other sectors, such as agriculture or maybe energy?
I experienced firsthand, what it means not receive treatment when you need it. As innovators, we sat down on the drawing board to see how we can work hand in with nurses in such health centers that have the skills but lack drugs and equipment to deliver services to the sick.
Starting g as a company that leases medical equipment and solar kits to provide light, we learnt over time that the health centers needed more to be able to serve their communities.
Until we designed our unique business model that allows entrepreneurial nurses to own clinics in areas that live in that previously could not own. For a period of three to five years, they pay a monthly lease payment that on completion, eventually own the clinic.
We are proud of this business model it is harmonious to all parties (Kaaro as a business, the nurse as the customer, Doctors as service providers and the community as the beneficiary)
Briefly explain how you got to where you are now, any challenges you faced when you started out, and how did you overcome them?
From just leasing medical equipment and solar kits to health centers/clinics to now leasing our fully stocked modular clinics that are powered by solar to entrepreneurial nurses in hard-to-reach areas so as the communities can receive primary health care in their neighborhood.
One key challenge was capital, setting up a clinic is quite capital intensive and we have managed somehow first through bootstrapping, and then loans, grants and investment. Plus, most importantly embarking on researching about a better business model that benefits all but still sustainable enough to keep us in business.
Second is poor infrastructure in the areas that we deploy, the road network is really poor in rural Uganda thus slows our operations sometimes. And we are a community clinic therefore engage the community leaders in our operations, so we encourage them and show them the importance of prioritizing road networks in these areas and I must say our interactions have bred results. Once in a while tractors are used to grade ad keep these feeder roads in shape thus easing our mobility.
Could you highlight some other important strides you have made since inception?
Like I mentioned, we started by just leasing medical equipment to clinics, as of June 2021, we established a network of modular clinics in rural Uganda, working with a total of 75 entrepreneurial nurses, with 15 medical doctors and the presence of our clinics is impacting over 1700 beneficiaries on a daily basis.
Suppose you were asked to address aspiring entrepreneurs in Uganda and Africa at large, what messages would you pass to them?
We have the solutions to the problems which exist in our communities. On top of passion embrace discipline, consistency and persistence you will eventually come up with the solution. And when you do use technology and embark on getting the right team, thus fewer resources to impact more, because that is what technology does!
What projections do you have for the company in the next five years?
At Kaaro we are passionate about bringing primary health care in their neighborhood, according to research, 1000’s need people like us. Therefore, we plan to install at least 25 more modular neighborhood clinics in rural Uganda by 2026. The presence of these clinics will impact an estimate of 450,000 on a yearly basis. And until everyone can access primary health care within a one-kilometer radius from every village, we will keep stretching!
Can you tell us what you have done differently to emerge among the best in a highly competitive market in the health sector?
First of all, I would like to state that the health sector needs all the operators it can get. We set up our clinics in areas where there is no access at all but beneficiaries are present and have a great need
Second, we are empathetic in our service delivery and all our products have been uniquely co-designed with the users in mind.
We also realize that most of the times, you need hold someone else’s hand to be successful, that is why we embark on empower our entrepreneurial nurses, enable them acquire fully equipped business that they pay in installment to eventually own them. In the long run, use their skills and knowledge to serve the communities they exist in.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Figuring out the most complex piece of the puzzle in business, which is our business model.
What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?
Some of the key activities that successful entrepreneurs must do include:
studying the existing problem and understand it through research, interviews, first hand experience or basically putting them selves in the beneficiary’ shoes before designing a solution
Secondly validating their business model, this is very important for successful operation of a business
Creating a strong team and identifying relevant mentors
What is your best definition of the word success in relation to entrepreneurship?
The definition for a word success for a social entrepreneur is designing an affordable solution to solve your customers’ needs/problem and being able to sustain the business. Also, the possibility of scaling out is a very good indicator of success
Also, “Innovativeness” For any entrepreneur to be successful, they must be very innovative. Given that innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand, it is not surprising that entrepreneurs are more innovative than non-entrepreneurs and are the reason why problems are solved!