A frightening medical emergency inspired an idea that is now changing the health and lives of thousands of people.
Originally from Nigeria, Folake Owodunni (MBET ’21) was compelled to create Emergency Response Africa to address the gaps in health services available to people living in Africa. In many parts of the continent, there is no consistent or reliable central emergency service to call when a person is in medical distress. Owodunni’s health-tech company is transforming the way medical emergencies are managed in Africa, beginning in Nigeria, by connecting communities to a large network of first responders, emergency vehicles and hospitals in minutes.
Owodunni started Emergency Response Africa after meeting her business partner Maame Poku (MBET ’19) in the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program at the University of Waterloo. They won several pitch competitions including $5,000 at the Velocity Fund Finals in 2019.
Since launching the service in Nigeria in March 2021, Emergency Response Africa has addressed more than 3,000 emergency requests and has seen as much as a 40 per cent reduction in response times.
We asked Owodunni about the inspiration behind her social enterprise and her vision for the future of health care in Africa.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start Emergency Response Africa?
The business idea was inspired by a personal experience when we were living in Canada and my 18-month-old son woke up screaming in pain and we had to call 9-1-1 for help.
The prompt response of the paramedics made me reflect on what would have happened if we were in Nigeria, and the realization that providing prompt and efficient emergency response services was essential for saving lives in critical situations.
My co-founder, Maame Poku, also shared a similar experience of losing a family member in Ghana due to lack of timely help. Together, we recognized there was a pan-African problem that needed a solution. We decided to work together to use technology to improve access to emergency medical services across the continent and founded Emergency Response Africa to achieve this goal.
Emergency Response Africa is a social enterprise. Can you explain why it was important for you to use this model?
We believe that access to timely and effective emergency medical services is a basic human right, and we wanted to create a sustainable solution to improve the health-care outcomes of African communities.
As a social enterprise, we can pursue our social mission while also generating revenue to sustain our operations. We believe this model allows us to achieve a balance between making a positive social impact and ensuring the financial sustainability of our operations. By generating revenue from our services, we can reinvest in our operations to improve the quality of our services and expand our reach to more communities in need.
The social enterprise model allows us to engage with a wider range of stakeholders, including government, donors, investors and local communities. By demonstrating our social impact alongside our financial sustainability, we can attract support from a variety of sources and create partnerships that further our mission.
“We believe that by working together, we can create a future where health care is no longer a luxury but a basic human right that is accessible to all.”
Folake Owodunni (MBET ’21)
What is your vision for the future of health care across Africa?
Our vision is for a future where everyone on the African continent has access to affordable, reliable, quality health care. We believe technology can help bridge the gap in access to emergency care, improve the quality of care and reduce costs for patients.
Our long-term goal is to create a sustainable health-care ecosystem that is accessible to all Africans, regardless of their location or financial situation. We are collaborating with governments, health-care providers and other stakeholders to develop solutions that address the unique challenges facing the African health-care system.
We believe that by working together, we can create a future where health care is no longer a luxury but a basic human right that is accessible to all.