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Marie-Chantal Umunyana - Rwandese

Founder And The Managing Director Of Umubyeyi Elevate Ltd

WiredUp had a Q & A session with Marie-Chantal Umunyana

Who is Marie-Chantal Umunyana? What is your background?

  • I am a final-year medical student at the University of Rwanda. I am of Rwandese nationality. I was born and raised in Rwanda. I am happily married and blessed with one child, and I am the founder and the managing director of Umubyeyi Elevate. Umubyeyi Elevate Ltd is a health technology social business for young parents, pregnant women, prospective parents, and youth, that is aimed at reducing disease and death associated with pregnancy and childbirth due to lack of knowledge and vital support. We aim to promote maternal, newborn and children’s health by providing health and parenting information and support on maternal and children’s health. We make this easily accessible by applying a comprehensive approach to improving maternal and children’s well-being that makes use of digital platforms and community engagement intervention.

What sparked your passionfor the STEM field?

  • Growing up in a rural town in the south of Rwanda, surrounded by close-knit family members, was a beautiful and memorable experience. It all started when I was still a little girl, who knew nothing about the world but was always hurt by growing up around a mother who was ill most of the time. I only understood why my mother was ill after I was a bit older. I learned that it was pregnancy that made her ill. I noticed that my mother was sickly most of the time when she was pregnant with my siblings. I never understood why and neither did I know how this experience would shape my outlook on maternal health, but I knew there was no better choice than to follow a science path at all costs. I achieved my childhood dream the moment I set foot in medical school. With my family’s unflagging support and motivation, and my own consistent hard work, I got the opportunity to pursue my dreams through a noble career in general medicine and surgery.

As a final year medical student and the founder of Umubyeyi Elevate, who is passionate about saving lives and serving her community – what challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome some of these challenges?

  • Being an innovator in itself is a challenging journey. Combining it with medical school and motherhood makes it even more difficult. I faced many constraints on this journey.

  • My number one constraint is juggling all the responsibilities – keeping up with my studies and excelling at them, meeting different stakeholders and going back home to my family. It is challenging at times, but having schedules, prioritising some items on the schedule and sticking to my goals, although difficult, have helped me to manage these demanding responsibilities (some not entirely).

  • When I started up Umubyeyi Elevate, I had little knowledge of entrepreneurship, networking and strategic planning – all of which are key to a start-up. I used the internet to search for information on different incubators, I learned about many of them and applied to some. I got accepted to some and from them I got the knowledge necessary to navigate the business world.

  • Culture norms that women cannot be innovators are barriers that I face every day. Having a firm grip on what I wanted and why I wanted it kept me going and I will forever be indebted to the different platforms that empowered me and nurtured the confidence in me, including Digital Opportunity Trust, MASHAV, LaunchLab and AWE Rwanda. I am also confident and certain that the next generation of young girls who dream of being innovators in Africa will have a guided path to exploit their ideas beyond these traditional barriers.

What achievement are you most proud of?

  • Being recognised and awarded as a woman innovator who is bringing a solution that can improve African health care, is a milestone that I celebrate every day. I appreciate the great support offered by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA)and Speak Up Africa via the Women Innovators for Health Awards, which enabled me to bring my idea to life. I deeply appreciate that someone is holding my hand TODAY.

Is there anything Umubyeyi Elevate is doing to support women with a lack of knowledge and social support who suffer or experience life-threatening situations when pregnant or as young mothers?

  • Umubyeyi Elevate intends to improve maternal health. Our services are designed to optimally reach the targeted beneficiaries. We will be organising safe spaces for women to share and learn from fellow women’s experiences. As social media is one of the most used tools today, we also share information on social media as one of the channels to reach as many as possible of the targeted population. In addition to social media and safe spaces, women will be reached in various other ways that are both digital and community oriented.

What message do you have for young mothers who are not being proactive about their health and have access to social media channels?

  • Everyone should take good care of their health. When it comes to mothers, this should be emphasised, since their health also affects the children they give birth to. Through social media women have access to different platforms, including Umubyeyi Elevate, that provide information about health which, when used wisely, can lead to improved health outcomes for both the mothers and their offspring.

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