The AXA.COM team editor

The one who fought for access to quality medication

What Vivian Nwakah accomplished in a little less than four years is no mean feat. Prior to the founding of her company, Medsaf, access to medication in Nigeria was a dangerous gambit: hospitals, pharmacies and private citizens would get most of their medication from open-drugs markets, where prices were often low, but safety was a distant concern. Four years later, 100 hospitals and 500 pharmacies get quality-controlled drugs from their manufacturers through Medsaf’s platform, providing care and efficiency to their patients. ALL ARTICLES  |  Commitment
Nov 22, 2019

But you won’t catch Vivian gloating about her success: “We’re just starting out. I want this to be a worldwide platform, a one-stop shop to purchase, manage and track medication worldwide”.

How exactly did a young girl from the North Chicago suburbs end up shaping the healthcare industry of one of Africa’s most booming economies? If you ask her, she gives credit to her curiosity, and a good dose of being able to turn almost everything into a learning opportunity.

Her first career out of college starts in the financial sector working for Wells Fargo Financial. She spends a couple of years refinancing mortgages and doing consumer lending before the market crashes in 2008. Still, in the midst of this global shakedown, she manages to push herself to be one of the best salespersons in the Illinois region and the only women to run a Wells Fargo Financial branch at that time. But the crisis doesn’t leave her indifferent, far from it: “I began to rethink the American Dream and the narrative everybody buys into in the US”, she states. “I wanted to do better, to make an impact.

Around the end of the decade she starts to backpack and write a blog about her cultural experiences going through Europe, South America and Asia. Confronting herself to new realities both abroad and back home, she takes on the role of campaign manager for an aldermanic election in Chicago. This is a completely new territory for the young woman: “I knew nothing about what I was doing,” she recalls. “But running that political campaign in the South Side of Chicago, one of its toughest districts, was a great testing ground for me. I learned how important it was to ask for help, to get the support of people who’ve been there before and who have the means to help you achieve your goals.” Fundraising, writing speeches, getting endorsements from the biggest players in the country becomes her day job and opens her eyes: she can do so much more than what she gives herself credit for.

But the most important lesson is the one that will put her on the trajectory she’s still on today: “If you have an idea, a strong clear belief that can make life better for a lot of people, then you can get people behind anything you do,” she says intently. She will indeed lead hundreds of volunteers to work tirelessly for the campaign. “We believed everybody deserves access to resources and information to have a chance at a better life”, she explains. “We approached the founding of Medsaf in the same way “quality medication as a fundamental human right”, a powerful idea people can get behind and support.” And get support she will.

The first investor to really put a big check into Medsaf is a woman named Yvonne Wassenaar, a Silicon Valley juggernaut and prominent figure in the tech scene. “Her trust meant everything,” confides Vivian. “She believed in Medsaf and saw something in me at a time when I didn’t have any proof this would work. She wanted to inspire me and empower me. She put me in front of all the major VCs in Silicon Valley at a very early stage and I learned from these meetings what these people were looking for when they invest in start-ups.”

It is no coincidence then, that Vivian has now turned herself into a champion for women: “I do believe that representation and visibility is key for women, “she explains. “Women just need a seat at the table, so they can in turn pull other women up. I try to be vocal about what we are doing at Medsaf, and to share my story as much as I can. I think the best I can do is try to inspire other people, talk about my story so they can build theirs, make sure I’m hiring and empowering women. And when I get bigger and get more resources, I’d like to invest in female-led businesses, be on board at decision-making places to bring a female perspective. There is no one path to breaking the glass ceiling, it’s an effort that will take time and everyone should use their own strength to do the best they can.

Women’s health and entrepreneurship: two key commitments for AXA

“Women are key to developing our overall vision of being an ever closer partner for all our customers, since women engage us and push us to answer their specific needs in innovative ways.” Thomas Buberl, CEO of AXA.

Published in 2015, the “She for Shield” report was the first to comprehensively explain women’s lack of financial protection, especially in emerging economies. Since then, we have stepped up our efforts to stop discrimination against women, in the area of business financing as well as access to healthcare.

For the fourth year in a row, AXA is an official partner of the Women’s Forum, an international event devoted to ideas and solutions for unleashing women’s leadership in the economy and society. Read more about AXA's participation in the 2019 Women's Forum.

Tags: Commitment