Innovator Spotlight: Dawa Health

An Interview with Dawa Health Founder, Dr. Tafadzwa Kalisto Munzwa
Innovators Sportlight Dawa Health VF 1
What is your innovation?

Dawa Health is a healthcare company based in Zambia that is working to solve the problems associated with access to maternal health. About three years ago, my cousin was pregnant and I witnessed firsthand what she went through and how difficult it was for women like her and other African women to access the healthcare they needed, despite all the development that has happened across the continent. So we came up with a system that we believe is going to go a long way in trying to solve the maternal mortality crisis. 

We believe technology is going to play a big role in solving these problems, so we've created a platform that enables women to get 24/7 digital support where patients have access to a chatbot on WhatsApp. We also have a mobile app that enables the mother to register her last menstrual period date, which we then use to provide tailored maternal health support based on the gestational age. This is all provided in localized languages. Information is key to aid these women in making informed decisions. 

The second layer is our point-of-care kits, which we provide to a network of community health workers. These kits are essentially democratizing healthcare and enabling community healthcare agents, who we onboard, train, and screen on the platform, to go on behalf of Dawa Health into the community and provide point-of-care support. We believe this is vital in identifying high-risk pregnancies early. Once we get the data on the platform, we can profile who is high risk and those mothers are monitored more frequently. We can also refer them to the nearest facility for continued support and to intervene in the case of any complications. 

Our solution brings health services to the mother. We've been doing this for close to two years now and we're trying to scale across Sub-Saharan Africa, which will go a long way in terms of getting maternal health services to women when they need it. Our overall mission is to prevent maternal mortality, which is happening at a scale that we find unacceptable. 

What progress have you recently made that you are celebrating?

Just this year we have formed a partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), a large humanitarian organization improving health access in low- and middle-income countries. Their Zambian office reached out to us to work with them in the northern part of Zambia. Working with international partners provides traction, as they’re helping us get more people onto the platform in order to reach more people with our solution. 

We also recently got to the fifth stage of the UNICEF Innovation Fund. We applied early last year, and they will give out $100,000 grant to services that can help health outcomes for children. Our proposal was that, if we're able to support the mother, the child is also protected from infections and other complications that can happen during pregnancy. We’re excited and nervous and don’t know how it will turn out, but it shows we’re heading in the right direction and that we’re doing something worthwhile. It’s inspiring us to continue building and see where we can get this to.

What are your primary challenges?

The challenges we're facing at the moment is building the right expertise within the team. We are not experienced entrepreneurs, so hiring the right talent is taking us a bit of time. We’re still learning how to choose someone who is the right fit and improving our hiring skills. The primary challenge is hiring the right talent in terms of getting people on the core team.

We also have operational challenges, such as facilitating the network of community health workers we need for all our projects. We need to make sure the operation is running smoothly, which requires standardized training in terms of what they provide. It’s always a challenge, but I'm not really worried about this, as I think we will figure it out as we learn. 

What is something that you have learned that might help other innovators?

Get collaboration early on. It makes the whole journey easier. I wasn’t an entrepreneur and hadn’t built products to take to market before. Many entrepreneurs are skeptical about collaboration, thinking somebody might steal an idea or not wanting to give up any equity. You can do this, but you won’t be able to scale without partnerships. You need to find partners with experience and be willing to give out some portion of your business to the right partner in order to get the capital you need. If you collaborate and have partnerships already on, it's easier to get to market and you will be able to understand the dynamics of the African ecosystem and scale more easily.

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

If you want to develop an innovation in the health space on the African continent, Villgro are the people to go to. They have the expertise and the network you will need. They have taken a lot of products and innovations to market in Africa so you'll be wasting time to not go to Villgro. The knowledge they have in terms of actually creating businesses out of an innovation is the most important thing.

Just for the short time I've been working with Villgro, I think I've turned from just being a project lead into an actual entrepreneur, a business leader. They provide accountability, having people to report back to who can provide insights. Villgro also provides opportunities for capital, which is great, but I think it's not the most important part. The most important part is creating you into an entrepreneur which is one thing I'm grateful for. I'm ready to start building a business that's ready for scale. Looking back before Villgro, I didn't know a lot of things and it's been an exciting journey, so we're all excited to see what this year holds.

“Dr. Tafadzwa and the Dawa Health team are very dynamic and skilled entrepreneurs; They are really committed to improving access to quality maternal care and we are thrilled to be a part of their growth journey, to see their innovative approach reach mothers in need, throughout Zambia and beyond.” -  Rob Beyer, Co-Founder, Villgro Africa