I recently had the privilege to attend a conversation titled “Innovation Around the World,” part of Chicago Ideas Week. The speakers of the conference were described as some of the “most talented young innovators from around the world,” who were gathered “to share their exciting emerging technologies. From health to education, climate change to policy reform, these entrepreneurs, leaders and ideas makers are reshaping the technologies we use every day and re-inventing our world.”
The conversation was led by Benjamin F. Jones, the Gordon & Llura Gund Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management and featured 7 additional speakers. The first three were young entrepreneurs who were making advances in various fields followed by four of this year’s Bluhm/Hefland Social Innovation Fellowship (BHSI) winners. The BHSI fellowship recognizes several young and socially conscious leaders who have developed ventures addressing civic needs. The goal of the fellowship is to provide them with exposure to large businesses and community leaders in hope to find funding to support and grow their causes.
This year one of the winners is Zubaida Bai from Chennai, India, who is the founder and CEO of AYZH, a for-profit social venture which provides clean birth kits to impoverished women worldwide and aims to reduce the nearly 300,000 preventable deaths during childbirth that occur each year.
Zubaida is a mechanical engineer-turned- social entrepreneur who saw the need to improve the lives of underprivileged women. Growing up in India, she witnessed firsthand many women’s struggles with minimal financial means and poor health. According to the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, India has the highest number of maternal and child deaths per year – many of which are due to preventable unsanitary conditions. Says Zubaida on the TED blog, “At a young age, I often dreamed of solutions to end this silent suffering of women.”
After her own misfortune of contracting an infection due to giving birth in unsanitary conditions, Zubaida refocused on her childhood dream of making births safer. In 2012, she launched AYZH, which specializes in clean birthing kits that contain all the components recommended by the World Health Organization for a safe and hygienic birth, using environmentally and culturally appealing materials.
Zubaida spoke about why the culturally appealing products and basic technology are so important. Often, communities and individuals have a hard time integrating more complex medical technology or things that seem foreign to them into their everyday practices. By paying attention to cultural differences and looking into what the community wants, AYZH makes sure its products will be beneficial and actually used. Additionally, all products are assembled and packaged by local women, creating economic opportunities in the communities AYZH serves and further assuring the packages will be acceptable to the women. By selling the kits to for-profit health institutions, like hospitals, clinics, and non-profit aid organizations, the kits are available at the point of use and more readily accessible.
“We exist as a commitment to save lives and change lives, one product at a time, making one happy woman at a time.” Hearing Zubaida talk about AYZH, one could hear her determination and see her passion. Her product and company have the potential to create a lot of positive change and I look forward to following her successes.