Imperial alumni in East Africa share stories of innovation for good

24 Feb 2022 | Network Updates | Update from Imperial College London
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

Imperial has a growing network of alumni in East Africa, where innovation has been accelerating in the last few decades.

Four entrepreneurs share their stories of how they are leading innovative businesses that are striving to create positive change in the region. 

Improving healthcare access

Margaret Mutumba (Master of Public Health, 2010) started MedAtlas, a telemedicine platform to reduce inequality in accessing specialist healthcare across the continent, around 18 months ago. 

Originally from Uganda, Margaret now splits her time between Canada and Uganda, where MedAtlas is based. 

Margaret said: “I had been working in the infertility space for more than ten years, which is very stigmatised in Africa and people who struggle to have children are often ignored in our health system.  
“By meeting many people experiencing this, including friends and family, it made me realise there’s a gap here to address.  
“When COVID came and we went into lockdown, people were more open to engage virtually and so the stars aligned for us. 

Margaret explained that the aim for MedAtlas is to transition into more specialist conditions which can be supported virtually, including mental health, and cancers. MetAtlas will connect patients to specialists all over the world and the majority of consultations happen via WhatsApp. 

Margaret said: “Our innovation is to bring clinicians online so that patients that need them don’t have to go through so many channels to access them. When we launched our fertility pilot in Uganda, our patients came from all over Africa.  

“Now we have clinicians in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia, and depending on where the patient is we connect them with a clinician. 

“Clinicians who have left the region and are now working abroad but want to give back to Africa can come online and provide consultations to patients here in Africa.” 

Expanding markets for small businesses

Misha Patel and Anusha Mahtani (MSc Management 2016) met at Imperial and co-founded Zola Collective, a platform for exporting products from Africa to the Middle East.  

Misha, who is based in Nairobi, said: “Our common mission is to improve and empower females across the continent, we realised that there’s a big gap in the workforce between men and women.

"Women are doing so much in terms of harvesting and manufacturing unique and natural products, so we wanted to help them scale and give them a stable source of income.” 

Anusha, who is based in one of their key markets, Dubai, said: “One of the ways we’re trying to innovate is to popularise African products in international markets in a way that makes the products appeal to a more premium and luxury audience.

"We’re trying to aggregate all these small businesses onto one platform. 
“When COVID hit there were a lot of small business owners who couldn’t access markets, so from there we onboarded more and more small businesses to help them and enable them with the skills to sell online.” 

Widening access to education

Nisha Ligon (Science Media Production 2011) is a social entrepreneur with a background in media and science, and a passion for education. She is the co-founder and CEO of Ubongo, Africa’s leading producer of kids’ edutainment. 

It now reaches 24 million families across the continent each month. 

Nisha, from Tanzania, said: “We are trying to ensure people get a strong educational foundation that allows them to feel empowered and take decisions and go out and solve problems.

“The idea started when I came back to Tanzania and Kenya and met some people at an innovation hub and we’d all been asking how we can deliver localised quality education, but using the technology that people already have.  
"We wanted to create really great educational content and make sure we can get it out to lots of kids on whatever device they can access. 
“It’s making a great impact and we’re seeing 12% gains in cognitive development such as reading and literacy after watching daily for a month.” 
The entrepreneurs were speaking at an alumni event, Innovation for Good: Stories from East Africa, chaired by Imperial College Business School’s Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Tim Weiss. 

Dr Weiss, who has written about the digital revolution in Kenya, said: "What we are witnessing today is over the past decade there is a large community of creators, makers and innovators that have sprung up. It's completely different from the way the face of East Africa looked just 10 years ago." 

This article was first published on 22 February by Imperial College London.

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