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Celebrating Working Mothers: The Kellogg MBA Changing African Women’s Lives

Sahar Jamal, left, at work in Nairobi. Courtesy photo

Sahar Jamal’s mission is to empower mothers so they don’t have to choose between a career and their family.

Jamal’s Kenya-based company, Maziwa, offers the first ever custom-made breast pump in East Africa, designed to help women balance working and breastfeeding. Maziwa caters to women in developing markets.

Since Poets&Quants spoke with Jamal last year, the 2019 Northwestern Kellogg MBA’s company has made significant steps forward: The company’s hired six part-time employees in Kenya and two technical contractors in Chicago, launched the Wema breast pump in August 2021, and expanded the product to South Africa in January 2022, with plans to grow across the continent.

Perhaps the biggest thing that’s grown: Jamal’s passion for supporting working mothers. “Working moms are some of the most important – but often most marginalized – members of society,” she says. “My vision is that we transform our societies and systems to celebrate and appreciate moms for raising the next generation of a world.”

BIGGEST IMPACT ON MOTHERS

The Maziwa breast pump was specifically designed for marketing in developing parts of East Africa. The company was launched by Sahar Jamal, who graduated in the MBA Class of 2019 at Northwestern Kellogg, where she worked on the business. Courtesy photo

Since launching the company’s first breast pump last summer, Jamal says that almost every mom who has used the product has been able to balance breastfeeding and working. In fact, 88% of moms who use the pump have been able to continue exclusively breastfeeding for six months, and 87% prefer the Wema pump compared to other pumps on the market due to its long-lasting battery, convenience, and portability.

Plus, many mothers have been able to increase the frequency in which they express breast milk at the workplace. This has also led to a reduction in using breastmilk substitutes. “We’ve been getting great feedback from moms,” she says. “We actually ran out of stock much faster than we expected. We have another 1,000 units coming in, and It’s exciting that we’ve sold out so quickly.”

So far, they’ve been selling directly to consumers on their website, and they’ve also done B2B sales through several baby shops, e-commerce stores, and clinics. Thanks to the positive feedback from mothers, the pump has grown largely via word of mouth. Plus, the introduction of a referral code program – where moms can direct their friends and family members to the product – has added to Maziwa’s success thus far. “There’s been tons of great testimonials, and moms often post about their experience online without any incentive,” says Jamal.

“It’s really fulfilling as a CEO to be so close to the customer,” she continues. “We’ve been really lucky to get messages directly from moms about their experiences.”

EMPLOYERS SUPPORTING BREASTFEEDING

Last year, Jamal voiced that she hoped Maziwa would encourage employers to support breastfeeding employees more easily. While there’s public policy in place mandating support for lactating mothers in the workplace, Jamal says that few companies actually adhere.

Maziwa has helped get companies on board to support breastfeeding mothers by giving them the option to purchase a communal pump to be shared amongst their employees. “The pump motor is separate from the collection cup,” she explains. “An employer might purchase three pump motors and ten collection cups, and each woman can have their own set of cups and share the motor throughout the day.”

THE PRODUCTIVITY ANGLE

While the Maziwa team also encourages employers to give mothers adequate time to pump and take care of themselves, unfortunately, Jamal says that many employers are not well-known for their commitment to employee satisfaction.“In these vulnerable employment environments, many women don’t feel like they have the right to stand up for what they need,” she explains.

“For the companies that are more focused on productivity rather than health and well-being, we have to take a different angle,” continues Jamal.

In this case, she emphasizes to employers how the Wema pump can increase efficiency. “If there’s a mother working at a tea farm, she might not want to take breaks often because she may be compensated based on her output,” she says. “With the Wema pump, she can step away to pump for a few minutes and then start working again.”