Shamala Hinrichsen is the CEO of Hanai, a social enterprise that provides healthcare apps to rural women so that they can take charge of their health.
Hanai bridges healthcare information, identity and inclusion using technology. Its app products are built on the backbone of technology and medical information, changing the lives of women, one community at a time.
Shamala who now lives in Germany with her husband and two children, calls herself an Ipoh girl at heart. She had worked in three continents – North America, Asia and Europe – and trained as a scientist and in her own words, had a comfortable life and career.
So why did this Malaysian woman start her own social enterprise?
The deciding moment took place when she spent time in India. From medical communications where she worked with pharmaceutical companies to get their information out to the doctors and public, she switched gears to embrace life as a social entrepreneur after she saw how women couldn’t get access to relevant healthcare information.
After India, she decided she would start and launch a healthcare app targeting indigenous women aiding them in maternal, mental healthcare and domestic violence. Creating her mobile app wasn’t just about the programming of the app; it involved on-the-ground fieldwork, focus group discussions with all sectors, ministries and members of parliament in government discussions.
Her app, Jiwa Ibu (or “mother’s soul” in Malay), was created after a period of four-months of extensive travels across Borneo, meeting with leaders of tribal communities. From this, her team developed an app that can help a rural woman access valuable and life-saving information from her own mobile phone.
Women, especially in rural and marginalised settings lack access to basic healthcare – be it information, access or motivation. Hanai’s extensive field work, user surveys and focus group discussions have uncovered that rural women often do not know what to do in an emergency and place healthcare low in the priority.
Shamala says, “A large part of the world is actually still rural and women never know what to do in an emergency, never know that it is an emergency and that they need to do something right there.”
She adds, “We want to be in that position to give every woman the ability to make decisions on her own and get help.”
On a lighter note, Shamala is a laughter yoga instructor, loves her Ipoh chee cheong fun as well as music by Queen, Elton John, The Beatles and Lady Gaga. She also admits to reading voraciously, like a book a week with children’s books being her favourite! She is also deeply inspired by her grandmother, seeing how hard her grandmother worked to bring up the family.
She has also published a collection of short stories and had her work appear in anthologies, besides a series of illustrated children’s books. Shamala also founded and advises on a ‘Safe Space’ project in Malaysia for women to empower each other and she also co-hosts a podcast to inspire women with other successful women’s stories www.shesabosspodcast.com
In this episode, Shamala talks about:
- Her time crossing north and south India, opening up her eyes to the issues plaguing rural women
- How she was moved by a death of a woman which pushed her to start with Malaysia/Borneo
- Why mothering helped her become a better entrepreneur
- Starting a health tech company (when she’s not even a coder or programmer)
- Why her biggest challenges had nothing to do with the tech
- Why it’s good and fine to look for mentors but she offers a piece of uncommon advice
- The importance of having a network of people you can tap into for specific issues because you don’t know everything when you’re starting
- How she shared a tiny plane with some chickens when she went into the heartland of Borneo for her initial information-gathering sessions
- Her perspective on competition and other apps in the space where she is in
- Her craziest adventure of getting on a plane to Panama
Find out more at www.hanai.eu