We are standing on top of a sand dune in the Arabian desert outside Abu Dhabi. We are with Essa Alhaddad, the Chief Commercial Officer of Etisalat Group, who is using the bonnet of a jeep as a desk, putting his iPad and smartphone on the hot surface. “You probably have far fewer interruptions here than in your office,” I say.

Etisalat Mobile Baby - Essa Alhaddad - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
Etisalat Mobile Baby – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

“Talking of mobile devices,” says Essa, “people in remote regions of Nigeria now have access to financial services through our mobile Commerce platform. The platform was recently extended to Afghanistan, where 300,000 customers can pay their electricity bills via their mobile phone.”

“The ability to move money empowers people and businesses in emerging markets,” I say. “You make the mobile phone the bank in your customers’ pockets.” “Definitely, and don’t forget the safety aspect. People are not walking the streets with cash anymore,” Essa adds.

“But banking is only part of what we do,” he immediately continues. “Access to other essential services such as education and healthcare is just as important. That’s where Mobile Baby comes in. It’s an application that was launched in 2011 to bring affordable healthcare to pregnant women in rural parts of Africa.” “I know you’re not in the hospital-building business, so how does Mobile Baby achieve that?” I ask.

“You’re right that we can’t increase the number of hospitals, but we can use mobile technology to bring mothers and medical care closer together. Let me explain. “Many women in remote areas give birth at home, either out of necessity or cultural beliefs,” he tells us. “As a result, the Mobile Baby application targets both traditional birth attendants and midwives. All the medical professionals registered with the Mobile Baby programme are given a handset with the application already installed and are fully trained on how it works.

“It’s a simple, effective process,” says Essa. “Using Mobile Baby, a midwife registers a pregnant woman with the nearest medical facility and sends regular reports on her status, including any danger signs. We even developed a mobile ultrasound device that can send sonogram images to the local hospital. In other words, the health of the mother and baby can be monitored remotely throughout the pregnancy.” “What if there are complications during the delivery?” I ask.

“Midwives and traditional birth attendants attending home births update the hospital during every delivery. But if there are any complications, one of these,” he thumps the bonnet of the jeep, “can be arranged and paid for using our mobile Commerce service.”

“That’s a great way of using your reach to benefit the communities you serve,” says Maarten, “but at the end of the day you’re still a business and you have to generate revenues. Is Mobile Baby sustainable in the long term?” “We call Mobile Baby an ‘mHealth ecosystem’ because it brings together healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, NGOs and governments,” says Essa. He shows us a diagram on his iPad with arrows pointing in different directions. He follows the arrows with his finger. “We’ve developed a business model that generates revenue for all members of the ecosystem. Midwives, for example, are trained and paid by local government or NGO schemes for each successful delivery; pharmaceutical companies receive money from medical facilities for their products; and Etisalat earns income through mobile equipment leasing and data consumption.”

“It sounds like a win-win model,” I say. “Have you been tracking the results?” “We first launched Mobile Baby in Tanzania and the initial results have been impressive,” he says. “One of the Millennium Development Goals is to reduce maternal mortality in childbirth by 75% and deliver universal access to reproductive health by 2015. In Tanzania, in the clinics where Mobile Baby is used, maternal mortality has already dropped by 30%. On a business level and a human level that’s a good investment. The value of the service has also been recognised internationally. In February 2012, Mobile Baby won two awards at the prestigious GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.”

Essa looks out over the dunes “The wind is always moving the sand,” he says. “Even if you came here every day, it would never be the same desert twice. Our industry doesn’t change quite that fast, but we have to keep innovating to keep up.”

“What innovations do you have planned for Mobile Baby?” I ask. Essa turns back to me. “Like all healthy newborns, Mobile Baby is growing quickly,” he says with a grin. “As we speak, we are rolling out the service to several other countries in Africa and Asia. Running alongside that is an educational programme to train medical professionals on how the service works. We’ll use feedback from these users to continually improve and optimise the application.” He picks up his smartphone. “This is what the Mobile Baby interface looks like in Arabic,” he says, showing us the screen, “but we also support local languages.” “So is it available in Swahili in Tanzania, for example?” I ask. “Swahili, yes, as well as a number of other African languages. We’re also currently developing Urdu and Pashto for our Asian rollout. Regional adaptation really helps to boost take-up and acceptance of the service.” He walks to the back of the jeep. “We’ve been talking a lot about health in remote areas,” he says, “so let’s not forget our own. Even with Etisalat’s coverage out here,” he waves his phone, “it’s good to be prepared. 40° in the desert is a cool day.” He opens the boot and hands us some soft drinks from a cooler. “It’s customary in many countries to drink to good health. That seems very appropriate today,” he says, raising his water bottle. By the time we say goodbye to Essa, the sun is high in the sky and the sand feels warm under our feet. “I’m grateful for air conditioning,” I say when our driver turns on the engine, “but it’s not every day you get to have a business meeting in the desert.”

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands


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