Social innovator to deliver a positive impact in Africa despite pandemic

Social innovator to deliver a positive impact in Africa despite pandemic
August 2020
Business Circular Economy Sustainability
Italian social entrepreneur on a mission to save infants lives' in Sub-Saharan Africa
Tia Clarke

Tia Clarke Author

Journalist and columnist, Business Spirit Platform

Lucia Dal Negro, the founder of the Italian benefit corporation De-LAB, is on a mission to reduce the rate of infant mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa using an incredibly simple yet innovative solution - the KOKONO protective cradle. Lucia is a researcher focusing on Frugal Innovation in her studies and a social entrepreneur who is passionate about creating meaningful change in collaboration with locals in African regions.

According to plans, the protective cradle will be distributed in rural villages in Uganda first, as a solution for working parents to ensure that they can carry their babies to work and keep them safe - for example on the fields, or markets.

Lucia Dal Negro, researcher and social entrepreneur

It also protects babies against infections from mosquitos and suffocation whilst sleeping at night.

This product is not only bringing positive changes to people but made sustainably too using 70% locally sourced natural fibres and produced by local people.

Lucia and her team had to adjust to the new situation and challenges both in manufacturing and sales, presented by the COVID pandemic.

They are currently focusing on raising funds for a simplified version of the KOKONO cradle made of recycled plastic to make it more accessible for the vulnerable people who need it most.

KOKONO protective cradle

The transition from academia to business to create the KOKONO Cradle

" I started this project in the first place because I was extremely tired of listening to academics describing wonderful possibilities to do business by doing good in low-income communities without having ever tested any of their assumptions and hypotheses. So I decided to walk the talk of the ‘social business hype’ and do something practical, in order to learn from the field what was the real challenge of using business as a force for good.

Co-creating the KOKONO cradle with locals in Uganda

KOKONO’s mission is to protect babies below one year of age from the leading health and security threats to which they are exposed due to poor living conditions in South-Saharan Africa, more precisely in Uganda.

We decided to investigate this area of needs after spending many years studying and operating in the Global South, with De-LAB, realizing that childcare is mainly managed at a hospital level, wherever possible, but more rarely at a household level.

Based on our learnings, we started to design an object that could protect babies’ health from accidental hits and animal attacks, insects - including those transmitting malaria - rodents, reptiles.

We invented and patented a unique cradle, named KOKONO, which means empty pumpkin in Ugandan dialect.

It provides a safe space for taking care of infants during the day and night-time. We are offering a solution to parents, mainly women who are working far from home. One of the possible scenarios is when a mother is working on plantations or cultivating the cassava plant that after a couple of hours carrying her baby, she puts him/her down to the ground. That's where the babies are more exposed to sanitary and safety risks.

Designing for impact and usability

We needed to consider various factors in the design process. Like the shell had to be rigid enough so a snake cannot crack it, covered with a mosquito net with a self-sustaining handle which is made of rope and can be replaced very easily if needed.

We wanted mothers to be able to bring their baby with them wherever they are going and if necessary, leave the baby on the ground with a piece of mind that its safe.

Typically only one mosquito net is available for each family, so parents and all of their children usually sleep in one big bed protected by the single net in their household. Due to this situation, there are many cases of accidental baby suffocations at night-time.

Parents with a KOKONO can put the baby sleeping next to them in the cradle up until the child is one year old, giving better chances to survival in the most critical first 12 months. After that, the mothers can sell it, rent it, or pass it on to a friend.

One of the most rewarding highlights of the journey so far happened when we were co-creating the object with local communities in Hoima villages. A pregnant woman came to me saying that she was so happy to know that a new solution was about to be available in her village, but I had to be very fast as her baby was about to be born.

I think this was one of the best endorsements I could have ever received that we are creating something meaningful!

Adapting the business model to address Coronavirus pandemic related challenges

When the Covid crisis started, our venture was impacted greatly. 67% of Ugandan people lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis. The international airport has been closed, and foreign investments are radically decreased.

The country is almost completely isolated with people being out of work which means that they are only getting poorer and poorer over time.

 To get the first handcrafted version of KOKONO out is still our top priority and we will definitely want to keep it, but the production became too expensive in a post-Covid market.

Collaborating with local authorities to bring KOKONO to the market

We are determined not to give up on our original mission in helping locals keep their family safe, so we came up with a more cost-effective design which would still function well.

One thing I wanted to avoid is to let down these extremely poor people who were hit by this pandemic badly.

The new version of the cradle is made of recycled plastic with a simple design that is quick and easy to produce.

Although we need a plastic moulder to assemble it which requires investments, therefore we are setting up an online crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to start production.

Also, we have a zero-waste distribution model that means if the cradle becomes broken, it can be collected by our team and use it again.

Join our mission by becoming a supporter of KOKONO

I see KOKONO as a project, not just a product.

I believe that it has the power not just to help solve a specific social problem but to create a bridge between different cultures.

Image credit: Pexels

Taking care of babies is a universal experience for people regardless of where or how they live.

As part of our crowdfunding campaign, we want to encourage people to connect through sharing their traditional lullabies which we hope will serve as a reminder that children are our common future.

Contributors can choose a short refrain from a lullaby which we will engrave onto the side of the cradle. We aim to create a sort of cross cultural global embrace.

The crowdfunding campaign starts in November 2020, and people can donate any amounts to support the KOKONO project.

In the meantime, we are more than grateful to receive any support that could help to make KOKONO a reality for parents in Sub-Sharan Africa to protect their babies.

Tia Clarke

Tia Clarke Author

Journalist and columnist, Business Spirit Platform