The Entrepreneur Who Impressed the Queen of England

  • Nationality: Nigerian
  • Age: 24
  • Enterprise: Safermom

When the subjects of motherhood, pregnancy and childcare are brought up, you would be forgiven for not immediately imagining a 6+ foot, 24-year old Nigerian male dressed in traditional clothing. Yet, this is precisely the image of Adeloye Olanrewaju (known by his nickname “Lanre"), a young social entrepreneur who has been leading a movement in Nigeria to help save the lives of mothers and their babies. His enterprise SaferMom is a mobile service ensuring pregnant and nursing mothers can make informed and life-saving decisions about their pregnancy and their baby’s health using SMS, voice calls and a mobile app. According to their latest figures, SaferMom has already reached out to 7000+ pregnant and new mothers in the space of a year, and is continuing to save lives.

Lanre’s success has been recognized several times. He received mentorship and training from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme for African Startups. He was also named one of the “100 Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs” by SOCAP. `In June 2016, he travelled to London to receive the Queens’ Young Leader Award from Queen Elizabeth II herself in Buckingham Palace. As one of the 60 exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth to win this award, he was offered mentoring and training by the University of Cambridge.

Today, Lanre tells us about his journey from Lagos to Buckingham Palace.

Starting with Commerce

Lanre studied Medical Physiology in Nigeria – not entrepreneurship or business as you might expect. But while still a student, he founded a company called Lans and Creamy. This company made corporate gifts and promotional material for small businesses and corporate brands. This seemed like a natural fit for Lanre, as he is a great designer and very creative. He knew leveraging his branding skills would be a great thing to do.

The team got the money to start Lans and Creamy from their friends and family, and they managed to make a profit quite quickly. By using a low-cost business model which involved requesting 70% upfront payments from their clients, they were able to enjoy the profit in only their second month – which is extremely rare for a startup.

Although he enjoyed working at Lans and Creamy, Lanre was feeling quite dissatisfied. He wanted to do something that was closer to his field of study; something that would have a positive impact on his community. He started an internship at a health centre in Lagos, leaving behind Lans and Creamy, which still enjoys success until today.

Technological Solutions to a Social Problem

As an intern in a primary health centre in a small community, Lanre had a lot of time to observe and talk to pregnant and nursing mothers. He was shocked to discover just how bad the death rate amongst newborn children really was. His research showed him that, according to the World Health Organization, the neonatal mortality rate in Nigeria was 34.5% in 2015. That meant that every 7 out of 20 children would die in the first 28 days after being born. And it was not just the babies who were at risk: For every 100 000 live births, 814 new mothers would die. These realities put Nigeria 4th in the world ranking for maternal mortality rate.

As Lanre explains, “One time a mother brought her baby to our health centre. It was the first time this baby had been brought into the facility, although he was one and a half years old.  After some diagnosis, the doctor found out that the child had Polio. This was very frustrating because the baby could have been vaccinated against Polio much sooner and this whole situation could have been avoided. There is a lack of education and clear monitoring for pregnant women. I asked myself why. Nigeria presently losses 260 000 newborns every year, out of the 7 million pregnancies recorded yearly. 40 000 pregnant mothers also die yearly due to complications arising from pregnancy. We wanted to change this embarrassing situation, that’s why we started Safermom.”

Lanre created a team which included coders and developers. Together they set up a system which uses SMS, voice calls and android mobile app to provide tips that help new and expecting mothers on topic such as breastfeeding, vaccinations, family planning, nutrition, prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, malaria prevention, disease outbreaks and a whole range of issues causing high maternal and infant mortality.

But they had two major problems: How to reach out to the maximum number of women, and how to offer this service if most of the women could not afford it?

The answer was to partner with NGOs, hospitals and corporations that could help them.  “Our biggest challenge was getting the partnerships to come onboard. Our mission was to impact 1 million mothers. At first, we tried to reach the mothers by ourselves. Then, we had to tweak our business model a little bit. It required a lot of networking. We reached out to doctors and hospitals. We went to look for private partnerships. The more we grew, the easier it got to find a partnership. The health centres were fascinated by how our technology lowers costs, increases mother-to-doctor engagement, improves presentation of child for vaccination, reduces no-show rates for antenatal visits, and how it also simplifies their day-to-day activities, increasing overall awareness," Lanre describes.

Lanre and his team were able to raise the initial money they needed from his first enterprise. This helped to sustain them until they found corporate partners.

Loneliness and Perseverance

“Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey at early stages,” Lanre shares. It might be strange to think that this globally recognized entrepreneur, who seems to be surrounded by supporters and many people who want to learn from him, would feel that way. “I wish I could have looked for a mentor when I was much younger, say 10-15 years old. I have seen 14 and 15 year olds who were taken under the wing of a mentor, someone who has stood by them early enough.  It would have been amazing to have that.”

Most times, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to sell my vision. I think a mentor-mentee relationship is just like any good personal relationship. You have to dedicate yourself.”

Lanre knows he still has a long way to go before he reaches his target of 1 million mothers, but he feels confident with his team, and his mission: “Good management is connecting dots between different elements like marketing, customer relationship, and impact measurement. I want to believe that when you have a great team, good management, the right structure, and amazing networks, you’ll succeed.”

In the meantime, Lanre can count on his team of supporters and fans – including the Queen of England.

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