When he first imagined SonoCare, Dr. Moses Owoicho Enokela didn’t have many of the tools he needed. Starting a business can be complex and difficult, and he’d never done it before. He didn’t have a cofounder or investors. He’d never worked in finance or accounting. He didn’t know how to use Excel to balance his books. And he didn’t own the equipment he needed most: a portable sonogram machine or an EKG.
But the memory of a young woman named Hope kept him going.
Years earlier, when Enokela was just starting out as a doctor, Hope Ofori died on the delivery bed of his clinic in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He and the birth attendants fought desperately, but they could not save her. Ofori’s infant daughter died with her. They died because Enokela didn’t know Ofori’s placenta obstructed her birth passage. They died because Ofori had never had an ultrasound.
Her story is not uncommon. One in 13 expectant Nigerian women die in pregnancy or childbirth, according to UNICEF, and 58,000 die every year — 159 each day — from preventable complications. But it’s the memory of Ofori that drives Enokela forward, seeking to give other pregnant women the information and diagnoses they need to deliver their babies safely.
SonoCare, a social enterprise that benefits the community as a business rather than a nonprofit, uses portable equipment and vehicles, and partners with other healthcare providers to ensure safer pregnancies and childbearing experiences for the women in their care.
In the early days of SonoCare, Enokela learned of the Insiders4Good Fellowship. He recognized himself in its clarion call to people in his community: “We are looking for people like you: passionate entrepreneurs seeking to solve a local problem and improve the lives of your fellow Nigerians.”
“I saw an opportunity to edge closer to my goal,” he says. “To tackle maternal mortality, I fought hard just to convince people to listen to my story. The fellowship with Microsoft offered credibility and positive association, both of which I needed.”
Enokela won one of the 45 six-month fellowships Microsoft has offered since 2016. The fellowship offered him the strategic and technical mentorship he needed, plus hardware and software to help build his business. It also connected him to two valuable networks: the thousands of people with strong technical and business experience working at Microsoft, and the millions of Insiders worldwide giving feedback to help make Windows the best operating system in the world for its billions of users.
“To me, Dr. Moses stands out for his passion and for the importance of what he’s doing,” says Jeremiah Marble, a co-founder of the Windows Insider Program who understands the need even more deeply after becoming a father six months ago. “He realized that by leveraging his story, his skills, experiences and network, he could actually prevent people from dying.”
Marble’s partner in organizing the fellowships, Dona Sarkar, is the leader of the Windows Insider Program. She says they created the fellowships as a way to broaden the reach of the program. Windows Insiders seek to influence the direction of Windows while using their technical skills to solve decades-old problems in their communities. Even though Sarkar and her team knew there were many Windows users in Africa, they noticed relatively less product input from Insiders on the continent.
“We were very curious about why we weren’t able to get that feedback, or why those Insiders were relatively less active,” Sarkar says. “We did some research and realized that the most common profession in East Africa and Nigeria is that of an entrepreneur. Many people living there, even if they work at a company, also have a business of some sort on the side.”
To increase the amount and quality of feedback from proportionately less-represented regions, Sarkar and Marble assembled a passionate team of Microsoft employees who worked on the problem alongside their day jobs. By focusing on entrepreneurs and helping them figure out their tech needs, the team realized, Microsoft could continue to hone its products for people worldwide trying to build companies and create jobs. The fellowships were born from this effort to support people using technology to make their communities better.
Sarkar, Marble and their team announced the first fellowship for applicants living in Nigeria. Then they launched a second cohort of fellows living in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. To be successful, applicants would need to meet three main criteria: They had to have a potentially world-changing idea that could work on a large scale, a viable business model that would not need to rely on donations (a social business), and a team strong enough to sustain the project.
Anyone who met those criteria could enter. “As we talked to folks, we told them: if you’re building a business that strives to help your community, come apply,” Marble says. From the more than 5,000 applications they received in Nigeria, the Microsoft team chose 25 people to be Insiders4Good fellows. In East Africa, the team selected 20 people from thousands.
Each of the fellowships lasted six months. In Nigeria, Microsoft partnered with an incubator and accelerator called CC Hub. The fellowships included two weeklong boot camps for each group.
“We worked with them to give them a ‘mini MBA,’ the information every entrepreneur needs even if they don’t go to Wharton,” Marble says.
Enokela’s story captivated the Microsoft team — especially his explanation for why he became a physician. He was only a young boy when he witnessed the premature death of his brother, who had been kicked in the chest while playing and didn’t receive life-saving care in time.
“I decided to pursue medicine to prevent this kind of senseless death,” he says. “When I witnessed another death that could have been prevented, I realized I needed to do more.”
The deaths of Ofori and her infant on his delivery bed propelled him onto the path he’s on now. Over the years, he says he found that many pregnant women in low-resource areas don’t know they have high-risk pregnancies. In fact, 90 percent of these deaths occur in impoverished places. Nigeria constitutes 2 percent of the world’s population but has 10 percent of the world’s maternal mortality.
“Expectant women just wait for labor, so that’s when they find out they’re at risk. At that stage, it’s often too late to save them,” he says. “I asked myself, why allow this to continue if something could be done? I realized I couldn’t just have a comfortable doctor’s job and do nothing about this solvable problem. I needed to solve it — or no one was going to. I had to quit my paid job to commit wholly to this cause.”
Through the Insiders4Good fellowship, Microsoft employees provided Enokela mentorship to help improve the SonoCare business model. They helped him create its first website. The fellowship provided him a Microsoft Surface Book, which he says has been “indispensable, offering access to a lot of very useful tools.”
Thanks to publicity beyond what he anticipated through an Indiegogo campaign, Enokela was also able to raise more than $16,000 to acquire equipment. With this new equipment, he spent two days in Diobu Waterfront, a low-income, rural community in Nigeria, performing ultrasounds for women who had never had one. Out of the 116 ultrasounds he performed, he identified 72 high-risk pregnancies and 22 women who didn’t even know they were pregnant.
“There is still so much work to be done,” he says.
Ange Uwambajimana, 25, lives in Kigali, Rwanda. A student at the Adventist University of Central Africa, she specializes in software engineering. She applied to the Insiders4Good fellowship, motivated by a program that could help young East African entrepreneurs like her get access to software, hardware and other support.
Her business idea came to her in 2011, when her brother was admitted to the hospital for epilepsy. He was 15, and she was his caretaker.
“One day I left the room to buy some juice. When I returned, he was screaming loudly. He cried that his arm felt like it was on fire. I was lucky to find a nurse who realized my brother’s IV drip was out of fluid. There was blood backflow in the IV,” she recalls. “There were simply not enough nursing staff to keep an eye on him. The nurses told me that it could have been much worse, that this could lead to severe complications such as air embolism, infection and even death.”
At that moment, she started to think about how technology could help. She saw the need for a device that could deliver the IV fluid in controlled amounts, give an alert when the fluid was nearly empty and detect air in the IV to stop the flow when something goes wrong. That’s how she imagined the idea for IV Drip Alert. Even though she wasn’t a hardware expert, she was able to come up with a workable design, and she convinced a group of friends to join her team.
Through the fellowship, Uwambajimana acquired a laptop, which she says she really needed, as well as Office products that are proving useful for running the business and Azure, which she uses to host her website and will use to store data on the backend of her Internet of Things device.
“This has helped me tremendously, because today I know how to network and build relationships with the right people who have skills that I don’t, and vice versa,” Uwambajimana says. “It’s been wonderful to see everyone in the fellowship helping each other and making sure we all have successful businesses.”
But as much as the fellows learned, Sarkar, Marble and the team also picked up lessons from the fellows.
“Our role was not only to teach but just as critically to listen and to learn,” Marble says. “We learned as much from them as they learned from us. Our team now has a stronger understanding of some of the kinds of improvements we need to make to our technology to truly see it flourish in Nigeria and East Africa. We’re inspired by our fellows’ hard work and incredible zeal to improve their communities.”
Sarkar and Marble built the fellowship program on the vision of the Windows Insider Program, which includes the idea of building something for one person and expanding from there.
“Once you identify that person, you can actually co-create your solution with them,” Sarkar says. “This way you’re building a product from the ground up with a human being. You know this thing is going to work for that human from day one rather than building for some imaginary customer.”
They observed that the most successful fellows pay rapt attention to that one person they envision helping, listening to what works and what doesn’t work, and then evolving the product to make it better for that person.
For Sarkar and Marble, one of the best aspects of the fellowship was how the fellows built a community.
“These 20 people starting and running successful businesses alongside each other is much more powerful than one person succeeding. They truly have become a cohort,” Sarkar says. “It’s really cool to see because that is the vision of the entire Insider program, to build a global community.”
Lead photo: Dr. Moses Owoicho Enokela conducts an ultrasound for an expectant mother in Nigeria.