WOMEN OF INFLUENCE
This year Lisou wants to celebrate the power of women. We would like to introduce a monthly feature that supports and brings together an outstanding group of notable women who are leveraging their influence and careers to initiate impact and create change.
CEO and Co-founder
Could you tell us what you do and how you got into the world of epidemiology?
I am the CEO and Co-founder of Baobab Circle. We developed an award-winning platform called Afya Pap that delivers localised and personalised health advice to users via mobile phones. We are operating in several countries across Africa. We are using the data to support people living with chronic health conditions. I am now an entrepreneur, but I actually started out as a neuroscientist. When I finished my PHD at Cambridge, I felt the need to experience life outside of academia and to reconnect with my African roots. I ended up doing field research exploring HIV prevention methods for women. I remember landing in Entebbe, Uganda and hopping onto a boda-boda (a motorbike taxi) to my first community meeting. I learned so much due to the generosity and openness of the women we worked with and the staff on the projects. I also realised something about myself – I enjoy innovating and using my scientific skills in real-life problem solving to address those difficult health and social issues.
Have you encountered difficulties as a woman working in the world of science? I’m assuming it’s more heavily populated by men than women, is that the case?
I was fortunate to find some very good women and men scientists who mentored me. Entering the tech industry I was shocked at how tech lags behind when it comes to the inclusion of women. It is still heavily male dominated in terms of access to funding and opportunities. Women led tech companies are very few and those run by black women even fewer. I think that role models are so important - whilst the number of women succeeding in science is growing and inspiring more young women, we still have a lot of work to do in tech. Melinda Gates, a computer scientist herself discussed this in her recent book. Technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. Diversity and inclusion in tech is good for society as a whole. I am optimistic that things will improve as more men and women advocate about these issues.
Tell us a little about the charitable projects you’re involved in?
I am on the UK board of Grassroots Soccer, a charity that uses the power of football to teach young people about HIV and life skills. The charity started in the township that I grew up in Zimbabwe and it’s run by an awesome team. I am also on the board of the Malaria Consortium which is doing brilliant work preventing malaria deaths. I am also heavily involved with my alma mater, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which is one of the top institutions in the world doing research in the most pressing global health issues.
What three words best describe you?
Smart, tenacious, warmhearted
Are there any women that inspire you?
There are many. My late mother continues to inspire me. The women who have shared their health stories with me to help develop better product. Their resilience inspires me. The women in my company are amazing and it is privilege to work with them.
You travel a lot between Africa and Europe. What impact does this have on the way that you dress?
I mix African and western styles quite a lot. For example most of my jewellery is African.
Do you have a work uniform?
I love natural fine textured fabrics - linens, cottons, cashmere, silks. The key theme is comfort and style!
What is your favourite Lisou piece?
That’s a difficult one – the Mila dress is absolutely gorgeous on. It flows around my body and it feels
so comfortable it feels part of me.
What would you say your life mantra is?
Think a positive thought, do a positive action, be thankful.
Finally, what’s next?
Baobab Circle is launching a new initiative on women’s health soon which is very exciting. I’m also going to do a bit of work on my roof garden. It’s full of flowering plants at the moment and the bees love it.