Does Temie Giwa-Tubosun give more than blood, does she inspire new ideas in Africa?
Okay, permit the double-barrelled question but in a minute, I’ll try to convince you why it’s okay for us to speak of Temie Giwa-Tubosun and her LifeBank in grand, superlative terms.
In the meantime, imagine this scenario. Let’s say you have a medical emergency and, to deal with it, you quickly install a new version of Tinder. (If this is the first time you’re hearing of Tinder, it’s a matchmaking and speedy hook-up mobile app).
However, right now, this Tinder you just downloaded to your phone isn’t for instantaneous coitus but to match you with an individual who is nearby and ready to donate some of their blood.
That would be cool, wouldn’t it? It might even save your life. Right. We’ll talk about this imaginary app later in this short story. Now, back to Temie.
First of all, you must understand the perennial precarity of the Nigerian healthcare system, especially as it concerns lower class pregnant mothers and their unborn children.
According to a 2017 United Nations report, out of 100,000 live births recorded in the country, 917 of the mothers die. It’s an unconscionable number and it puts Africa’s most populated country and largest economy just three points from the bottom of the rankings of 211 countries. The African giant only does better than Sierra Leone, Chad, and South Sudan.
Of course, there is a motley collection of hamstrings, inefficiencies, and cultural setbacks that make high maternal mortality rates such a permanent fixture of Nigeria’s healthcare history. Some of have actually said one of the issues, which compel presidents and other members of the elite to chase healthcare services beyond the nation’s borders, is that healthcare workers lack basic courtesy and proper bedside manners. Alright. Maybe.
But one undeniable fact is that hundreds of Nigerian mothers die every year from haemorrhages that run out hand. Aside from these ones, 152,000 anaemic children and 37,000 pregnant women lose their lives to blood shortages.
This is where Temie Giwa-Tubosun, 35, enters the conversation. In 2003, while interning with the Department of International Development (DFID) in Kano, north-western Nigeria, she saw a young woman who had been in labour for many days and was bleeding uncontrollably. Helpless for not having the financial wherewithal for a C-section and blood transfusion, the family had given up and was waiting for the poor woman to die.
Later, Temie noted how that traumatic experience became the turning point for her. “I started LifeBank,” she said in a 2017 interview, “because I wanted a world where women no longer died from preventable causes like postpartum haemorrhage.”
Before she launched LifeBank, which reports on its site that it has transported more than 25,000 medical products, saved over 10,000 lives, and served more than 600 hospitals, Ms Giwa-Tubosun began in 2012 with a charity called the One Percent Blood Donation Enlightenment Foundation aka the One Percent Project.
At the time, the central idea was to help people understand why it’s important to donate blood to anyone in need of it, to remove the taboos and common concerns about blood transfusion, and to make more efficient the distribution network of blood banks.
On the One Percent’s board of trustees were some of the names you’ve seen in this series of The New Establishment or are likely to see in future—Iyin Aboyeji, Oluwaloni Olamide Giwa, Mustapha Maruf Damilola, and Oluwaseun Odewale. There was also Kolawole Olatubosun, Akintunde Oyebode, Mary Oyefuga, and Hezekiah Olayinka Shobiye.
These advisers of hers were tech businesspeople, social entrepreneurs, and artists. So, it wasn’t such a big surprise that, four years after One Percent, Temie appeared to have learnt enough to realise that she might succeed at growing her concept faster if it was a business. So, in January 2016, she started LifeBank.
Incubated at Co-Creation Hub, the country’s famed cradle of tech entrepreneurship in Lagos, the new tech and logistics company would squarely confront the problem of blood shortages. Now a fresh mother herself, Temie said she pivoted to LifeBank because she had her own childbirth complications, though not as severe as those of that star-crossed woman from Kano.
Temie said, “Because there was already a huge gap, we were able to grow quickly in our first year. It was like we were solving a problem people didn’t even know they had.”
The first year to which she referred was the one in which Nigerian start-ups hosted Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. And Mr Zuckerberg, in his speech to the community, referenced Temie and Lifebank’s work as not just an idea with a capacity to change everything but also the ideal for next gen socially-focused businesses.
“If she actually pulls it off,” Zuckerberg said, “then she’d show a model that will impact not just Lagos, not just Nigeria, but countries all around the world.”
Which is not so far from what Temie is thinking. “For me the work is to build a scalable, fast-growing business that can expand to all these locations around the globe where these problems still exist, saving lives and saving lives at scale,” she said while speaking to journalist Katie Couric on Temie Giwa-Tubosun’s 2020 Global Citizen Prize. “That is the dream and we are willing to do the work to get there.”
Looking back now, that work began a long time ago, way before Temie’s undergraduate study at the Minnesota State University, Moorhead; her postgraduate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey; her internships with at the DFID (now known as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—FCDO) and the World Health Organisation; and fellowships with the Global Health Corps.
As a young girl in the largely lower-middle class town of Ilesha who seeing her professor father and teacher mother win the United States Diversity Visa that became the door through which the family of eight eventually accessed a first-world lifestyle, she, like many other Nigerians before and after her, could have seen the need to return to home and help change things.
Naturally, she’s caught a number of cherished honours, including some from Jack Ma’s Africa Netpreneur Prize, the Word Economic Forum, and the BBC. She added one more plaque to her shelf in December 2020: the Global Citizen Prize for Business Leader.
While Temie may not be a conventional medical practitioner, her degrees in Political Science and International Health Systems Management, plus her Nigerian heritage—for everything that might entail—is now opening her eyes to all the shapes of health-related knots she could untangle. With some creative thinking and a powerful tech platform, nothing now seems impossible.
“I have great, big, giant, audacious dreams for LifeBank,” she’s said. “The problem we are solving is not only a Nigerian problem or an African problem; it’s a problem that exists in developing countries, countries that have not figured out their infrastructure.”
Consequently, LifeBank is also the creator of AirBank, which connects oxygen suppliers to those who need it. The company also runs SmartBag, the secure data repository on national blood, powered by blockchain technology.
And, then, of course, there’s QuipbyLifeBank, a register of functional medical equipment in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Medical supplies deliveries by drone? Lifebank took off with that idea in Ethiopia in 2019.
Now, you do see the connection to Tinder, don’t you? I bet you do, because it is indeed imaginable, in LifeBank’s life-changing journey, that an app would come from them in which, should you need emergency blood anywhere in Africa, all you’d have to do is simply… swipe right.