Reflecting on 2021 thus far, it is impossible not to take the past 1.5 years of the COVID-19 pandemic into account. It has been filled with some of the greatest challenges our continent and world have faced, yet we also have plenty to celebrate as we reflect on our journey. Although the pandemic has been damaging to our communities and economies, it has also inspired a new commitment to innovations that have a positive impact. 

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Here are a few highlights from Villgro’s past year:

Of course, efforts to build an ecosystem for innovation were more challenging due to the pandemic, as the process of negotiating with stakeholders across various sectors in a virtual context proved difficult. However, we were able to establish relationships and are having ongoing conversations with relevant government bodies that are key in convening other stakeholder partners. Additionally, the Innovators Forum, a virtual event series exploring the challenges and opportunities for biomedical and diagnostic innovation and manufacturing, has been established and partnerships with other key stakeholders are taking shape.  

The Villgro team is especially proud of the successful transition from Villgro Kenya to Villgro Africa. This took place to both reflect the continental expansion that was already taking place as well as to catalyse further expansion, establishing firm partnerships to extend our reach. Visibility and brand recognition across the continent has increased, which has been reflected in the wide geographic spread of media reports, incubation applications, and attention from funders and investors.  

The circumstances of the past year have only reaffirmed the importance of our mission at Villgro Africa: to support startups with a global social impact focus in the African region. As we move forward, we remain committed to this mission and look forward to the partnerships and collaborations with you, our community, which are an essential feature of our success. 

Villgro Africa is very pleased to welcome four new additions to our team. Wambui Nyabero, Villgro’s new Chief Technology Officer, is an inventor and innovator who is passionate about the healthcare industry, especially technology that keeps us healthy, and helps us live better and get better faster. Franciscah Nzanga joins us as the Operations Director, bringing her experience in project management, operations, and the implementation of health innovations. Ndeye Thiaw is our newest board member, joining us from Dakar, Senegal, with a background in the financial sphere of Francophone West Africa. Joelle Mumley is a writer and entrepreneur based in Nairobi, and is helping to lead our communications team.

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Not only are each of these individuals uniquely qualified for the roles they are filling, but we are excited to be contributing to increased diversity and balance in an industry often dominated by men. As we know, gender diversity in an organisation is not simply a box to be ticked, but a characteristic that identifies a mature organisation. Having a gender balanced group of employees adds value to both Villgro Africa itself as well as the innovators and funders we work with. We view this as a significant milestone in our growth trajectory.

Franciscah Nzanga was motivated to join Villgro Africa because of our holistic support for startups. She understands that, when it comes to running an effective organisation, a great idea is not enough. And much more than money, these innovators need people who are willing to mentor and build capacity. Seeing Villgro’s commitment to this type of support made her confident that joining the team was the right choice. In her role, she plans to support more robust operational systems to facilitate further expansion and growth.

Wambui Nyabero recently returned home to Kenya after more than 20 years living and working in the United States. She is excited about working at Villgro because she wants to not only contribute to specific innovations, but also to improve the entire system. The African medical devices ecosystem is very young and she feels she can make a real impact working for a company like Villgro Africa, to grow the industry as a whole and bring her experience to help innovators succeed.

Ndeye Thiaw, joining our board, currently heads deal sourcing and transaction execution as the managing partner and a co-founder of Brightmore Capital, an impact investment firm focused on enterprises with regional high growth potential. She has experience leading the identification of investment opportunities, executing transactions, actively managing portfolio projects and building relationships with clients in the banking sector. Her professional experience and insights into Francophone West Africa will further strengthen the expertise and knowledge base of our board.

Joelle Mumley has worked for the past four years supporting businesses in the area of writing and communications. She has significant work experience in the African healthcare sector and is excited to help the Villgro team spread their message, raising awareness about the achievements, opportunities and challenges facing the African innovation space.

As Villgro continues to grow, we will stay committed to promoting gender equity, knowing that by doing so we are better equipped to carry out our mission. We are excited to have these new team members on board, each of whom will play a significant part in pushing Villgro Africa closer to achieving our goals.