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The woman making childbirth safer for thousands

7 November – According to the World Health Organisation, a woman dies in childbirth in Nigeria every ten minutes. Adepeju Jaiyeoba, winner of The Prince of Wales Prize at Unilever’s Young Entrepreneurs Awards 2018, is changing the story.

Across Nigeria’s rural communities, which account for more than 80 per cent of the country’s maternal mortality rates, more than 60 per cent 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 newborn babies to tetanus.

For Adepeju, the winner of Unilever’s Young Entrepreneur 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 Entrepreneur Award means to her, and the impact winning will make to her enterprise.


You’ve won the Unilever Young Entrepreneur Award (YEA) 2018… What comes 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 through the awards process help you scale up 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 do you plan to do with 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 do you plan to do with 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.

Why does access to maternal care mean so much 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 says 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. 

What one thing would you recommend others can do to help 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.


The Unilever Young Entrepreneur Awards recognise and support brilliant young innovators who are tackling the world’s biggest environmental and social challenges. Winners attend a residential accelerator programme run by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, followed by a year of mentoring support completely tailored to their needs. One overall winner each year is awarded €50,000 to help them scale up their enterprise.

Read about the Awards and more about the 2018 winners.


 

This article was first published on the Unilever website on 31 October.

About

peju interview

Adepeju Jaiyeoba trained as a lawyer and attended Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. She has background training in Business and Entrepreneurship from the University of Texas at Austin USA as well as the Coady International Institute, Canada. Jaiyeoba was mentioned by Barack Obama in his address in 2014 to the Young African Leaders Presidential Summit in Washington and was also hosted at the White House in 2015. In 2014 Adepeju and her team started delivering birth kits and by 2018, over 500,000 kits had been delivered in over 150 communities across Nigeria.

 

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.