The first Sinapis all women class came to an end this month. The class had phenomenal female entrepreneurs. Its members voted in the Toto Care Box team as the impact award winner. 5 members of the team went through the Sinapis program. Here is what they had to share about their entrepreneurial journey:
1. Please tell us a bit about Toto Care Box Africa Trust.
Toto Care Box is a concept that is new in Kenya but not new in the world. The Box was first started in Finland just after the 2nd World War. They have used the box to help reduce maternal and infant mortality rates by offering the box to every mother who gives birth.
Toto Care Box is a new-born survival kit, with 18 essential items that we give as an incentive to mothers from poor, marginalized and under-served communities aimed at reducing maternal and new-born morbidity and mortality. We distribute them through Lengo Health Facility based in Mukuru and the DREAM Centre in Langata, where our target mothers come to deliver and get health services.
The box and the items are aimed at reducing the four major causes of new-born deaths, that is, malaria, neonatal sepsis, diarrhoea and hypothermia that leads to pneumonia. Before a mother is presented with a box, she has to attend four antenatal care visits and deliver in a facility. The target mothers barely have enough resources to look after their new-borns. We believe that every African child should have an equal and dignified start to life.
The business side of the Toto Care Box Africa Trust was begun to ensure sustainability. Our focus is still on the mother and the new-born providing products and services for sale to a different segment of mothers. A percentage of all sales from our products and service support a Toto Care Box.
2. What inspired you to start this business?
The story began in 2012 in a little village called Marich in West Pokot, when Lucy Wambui Kaigutha, the founder of Toto Care Box was working as a public health researcher collecting data in integrated management of childhood illnesses. She had to conduct focus groups amongst women from this village. One mother stood out to her. She had 5 children with her fifth barely 2 weeks old. She had nothing.
This woman stayed in Lucy’s mind long after she came back from West Pokot. One day, Lucy stumbled upon an article titled “Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes” as she was browsing the internet and that was the inspiration for the Toto Care Box.
In Finland, babies have been sleeping in cardboard boxes since 1939 after the 2nd World War as a government initiative to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Currently, Finland has the lowest maternal and infant mortality in the world. Lucy then decided to create the Toto Care Box tailored to Kenyan needs aimed at having a similar outcome.
3. What is the most memorable interaction you have shared with a new mother while working at Toto Care Box?
Last year in September, we received a call from a nurse at Coptic Hospital called Shompa asking if we could give a box to a very needy mother. The baby had just been born but the mother didn’t have any supplies to look after her new-born. We quickly kitted a box and headed to Kenyatta National Hospital where they were both admitted.
When we got there, the nurse in charge informed us that the pregnancy and the birth of the baby were very traumatic for the mother. She explained that her husband died in late 2016 and that she was then raped by her brother in law. She made a promise to God that she would not abort but keep it to term and put the baby up for adoption. We found the baby wrapped in a bed pad. We were able to clothe him and swaddle him in a warm baby blanket. We trained the mother and the nurse taking care of her on the use of the box and contents. The nurses on duty named him Kimutai.
After a week we followed up on the well-being of the mother and baby through the nurse- Shompa. We were delighted to find out that Kimutai’s mother had decided to keep the baby. She stated that she felt empowered to take care of her new-born using the Toto Care Box and its contents. We felt very encouraged and happy knowing such a simple intervention influenced her positively.
4. What has been the biggest impact that the Sinapis Academy course has had on you or your business?
We are five women with backgrounds in health. Two public health specialists, two pharmacists and a nurse/midwife and none of us had actually taken any entrepreneurship course. We realised that our business was growing and we needed a course in entrepreneurship to understand this better. Sinapis has enabled us to gain a deep understanding of our business, as well as have the confidence to realise its potential.
We have been equipped for the growth of our business and now we feel we are ready to take it to where it needs to by scaling up effectively.
We have increased our production capacity, increased our distribution channels and increased our products all in the course of these 16 weeks.
For us, this growth means more babies in boxes and more lives saved, we couldn’t ask for any more!