Beyond ensuring the well-being of individuals, it’s an undeniable fact that the health sector is a highly important part of any nation, contributing to the national and economic growth of every continent.
Studies have shown that just a 10% increase in life expectancy ensures an economic growth of around 0.4% per year.
Noel Abotti and his team are revolutionising the industry, leveraging innovations to contribute to the continuous growth of the sector, but this time, focused on ensuring the well-being of pregnant and nursing mothers.
Combining technology and creativity, Noel Abotti functions best in operations, which has to do with strategy, planning, and making sure everything is put in place for things to go well. “I got into tech about four years ago and trust me, it’s been an interesting space. My first point started with Mumspring and then Agnes,” he pointed out.
“…what I do is create that well thought out functional system for the company to run on. You could always have the product but besides the product aspect, there’s the part where things need to function and do so efficiently.”
Being the unique tool that it is, Abotti acknowledges technology to be an eye-opener, particularly in the sector Agnes operates in; the health industry.
Expantiating on Mumspring and Agnes
Broadening our understanding about Mumspring and Agnes, Abotti explained:
“Agnes and Mumspring are two different companies. However, one came to be as a result of challenges we faced and it basically birthed Agnes. One of the challenges is that we see lots of Nigerians online but there are also lots of people offline; those without access to the internet.”
Although Mumspring serves a number of people online, there are millions of people offline who need the same products and services being provided to the online users. “That’s one of the reasons Agnes came to be,” said Abotti.
The difference between both companies is that Agnes provides health support to underserved mothers regardless of internet access, while Mumspring serves the social wellbeing of women online.
Laying emphasis on the offline aspect, one would wonder the extent of the company’s reach. Are the underserved equally serviced?
Responding to this, Abotti said:
“Offline is a lot of things. One of the things we need to do is physical meetings with them, outreaches, we need to onboard them manually and we’ve done that in over 57 communities so far, which we are working on increasing. We also have ways in which they can basically sign up. We place agents at locations where the people can easily go to sign up. It’s more of a reach out to get them onboarded.”
Why the health industry?
Tech skills will enable anyone who acquires them to choose any sector they desire. But then, no sector is chosen without a drive.
Abotti’s choice in the health sector revolves around contributing to the welfare of humanity, especially women.
“When we were younger, we always got the saying; health is wealth. As humans you can not do things when you’re unwell, you can’t think or focus, once you’re down you’re down.”
“Looking at the world generally in the past 18 or 24 months, it makes sense to be concerned about health. With the pandemic and other things, there’s so much focus on health and wellness. So, considering the state of the Nigerian health sector, it’s important and critical for our future.”
“Today, we attend to mothers. We know in so many families, if the mother isn’t okay, the entire family isn’t okay. That’s part of why we are trying to attend to the health of women.”
The innovative mind of Noel Abotti – the journey
“To be honest, I can’t really place a finger on when it all started. It’s been a long time coming,” Abotti stated.
“Going back to when I was way younger, I used to fancy physical tech such as machines and now tech has evolved as we know it today. I got that push because I came to realise that when a problem comes up, the first thing I was thinking about is an easy way to fix it and the first thing that comes to mind is tech. Tech is always an easier way to attend to things.”
For startups and even established companies, challenges are inevitable and financial challenges are never far-fetched.
“Finances are a challenge for every company, no matter how big you are. Some big companies are still looking for grants.”
Speaking on other challenges, Abotti explained the ease of having a particular product that people can feel, touch and weigh their options compared to tech which can’t be seen. “That’s one of the challenges we faced,” he said.
Another challenge was the issue of offline and online reach which the company solved with Agnes. Even with that, there’s still the issue of people wanting to see an application, but Agnes 1.0 is not a typical application you can download, it’s a totally different ball game.
“There’s this thing of having to explain this to people and for them to actually accept it. This is a challenge we always face. So it’s just knowing how to go about it; what are the things you should put in place? What are the things people need to see? What’s the best way to sell your ideas? And yes, we are tending to them.”
How have people come to accept Agnes?
“Today, Agnes is very interesting. There’s no one I speak to about Agnes that doesn’t just love what we do.”
Interestingly, Agnes functions without the need for internet connectivity, it costs no form of data and doesn’t need storage space. “It’s one of a kind and very unique. It’s not something they’ve really engaged with before.”
Talking about the challenge of explaining the functionality of Agnes, Abotti sees this as an interesting situation because the product amazes the people who hear about it.
“The first instance of every human being is to be a bit laid back or push back wondering; ‘what’s this again?’ The whole narrative changes when they get the first go. We all know the situation we find ourselves in Nigeria, people don’t always believe things till they see and feel them.”
How does Agnes work?
Agnes addresses neonatal and maternal health. Via the platform, essential advice is provided to pregnant women, specifically needed information on a weekly basis and in their preferred language including Pidgin, Yoruba, English, Hausa, among other languages.
In some certain states, the languages are even more specific such as Ijaw. “It’s more relatable to women as listening to their own person speak to them about what should be expected during the weeks of pregnancy.”
Also, the company provides 24 hours access to teleconsultation for free. Users call at any time to speak to midwives about however they are feeling.
“We’ve come to realise that women mostly call at night because that’s the time where there’s nobody, they are trying to rest but there’s a movement somewhere and they need to speak to someone.”
Vaccination reminders after childbirth are also sent to patients so they can take their children for vaccination at appropriate intervals. Text messages are not excluded, the company reminds them about their medications on a daily basis.
“All these have nothing to do with the internet or storage space. Even people without smartphones can leverage the product.”
One could consider getting all the languages on the platform to be a challenge but this is not the case for Abotti and his team. “I wouldn’t call it a challenge, though we don’t have them yet, we are already attending to this,” Abotti pointed out.
“I look at challenges or problems before they happen. You bring up a problem, I look at the problem and don’t try to wallow in what the problem is, I start to look for solutions immediately. Sometimes, it’s so interesting that even before the problem comes, I try to see all things that could possibly go wrong and try to look for solutions before they happen. That’s what helps me.”
Regarding the languages, Noel Abotti says it is being rolled out on the basis of what people demand for more. “We started with Pidgin, then Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and other languages.”
“In some other cases where we have individuals or entities wanting to sponsor a certain number of people and they want a particular language, we could always set that up. It’s just interesting.”
In Abotti’s words, Agnes is just over a year old and is an achievement of its own. One of the ideas that birthed Agnes was the offline challenges.
Agnes has attended to over 50 communities in Nigeria with a total of about 2000 women supported. The company targets growing its user base by at least 50% by the end of 2021.
On the other hand, “Mumspring’s public MVP has received and continues to receive user feedback and testimonials from people,” Abotti highlighted. It went way beyond what the team anticipated, having been accepted and utilised with feedback on what could be done or changed received by the company.
“What I also advise people is that if you really want to get to a particular point in life, you need to be able and ready to accept feedback from the people you serve. This is one thing that we have learned to get comfortable with.”
Sustainability and resilience
On the sustainable and resilient measures put in place to overcome current and future challenges, Abotti said:
“We have challenges with things being done erratically or randomly. Some of the things we’ve done is create processes for such situations so whenever there’s a need to carry out a particular task, you go with the processes.”
But then, it’s one thing to have processes and it’s another thing for them to be followed. Hence, you need to put policies and measures or “de-incentives” and incentives in place, so people know what they get when they go with or against the processes. “If you don’t put these in place, you’d have a process but it will never be followed.”
Noel Abotti clearly stated that documentations and ensuring culture in the people you work with are highly essential. “I’ve come to understand that people have lots of conversations on things related to work without documentation and in future, something doesn’t work.”
“You need to ensure you always send mail or something that documents your conversation, no matter how short it is.”
Future goals for Noel Abotti
Noel Abotti is working towards becoming that juggernaut in the space when it comes to operations and strategy, things that have to do with creating resilient structures in companies.
“I want to be that force you need to reckon with in that space where anyone needs to reach out when searching for solutions to problems.” The ultimate goal is to become the go-to person for operations in the tech sector.
Future goals for the company
Abotti has a goal to create a top of the mind company which is everyone’s first choice. “It’s just that space you want to go to, there are no other options for you as far as you’re concerned. A company that doesn’t just work but makes a difference.”
Conclusively, Noel Abotti advised entrepreneurs never to have the mindset of a rosey journey all the way. Rather, stand ready for anything that comes. “One thing I can tell people is there’s growth when you push continuously.”
“Someone once said, the only time you’ve failed is when you stop. For a person like me, I see problems as challenges and challenges as a means of growth. The truth is; the minute you solve that problem, you have a solution to that problem no matter where it comes from next time.”