What do three women from three different parts of the world have in common? On the surface, very little.
This was also the case for Spanish-born Clara Mapsons, Panama-born Natalia Villarreal, and Tanzanian-raised Zainab Dakik.
Yet circumstances brought them together and had a huge impact on the women’s healthcare industry.
The three met at Frerick Business School in Belgium and hit it off immediately. Each decided to pursue a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation.
But the roads that got them there couldn’t be more different.
The Mapsons were already working in Brussels and had a clear vision of what they wanted to pursue professionally.
Villarreal was passionate about understanding the market, knowing how to enter it, surviving financially, always looking to innovate and moving forward in business.
Dakik was working for his family’s business in Tanzania during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is where I started my search to pursue a master’s degree in business, more specifically family business development,” she says.
“What attracted me to Vlerick Business School was the hands-on learning experience delivered in a very short period of time compared to other programs I found.”
The three women, one of the few international students in the program, were introduced to each other on the first day of class.
They felt connected to each other because of their shared values and curious mindset.
“When you embark on a program that deals with a specific topic like this, you expect to find people who are passionate about exploring non-traditional career paths,” explains Mapons.
“Having a similar mindset was already a solid foundation and added a strong passion to pursue high social impact projects.”
Together, they used their education at the Vlerick Business School to Maternia — An initiative to tackle the global stillbirth tragedy and improve women’s health.
Creating a better environment for pregnant women, raising awareness of inequalities in women’s health, and creating a better environment for all is a powerful mission.
How Vlerick Business School united three women for a great cause
Business schools are often credited with being the birthplace of many of the world’s most successful companies. Vlerick Business School was no exception.
It was here that Mapons, Villarreal and Dakik came up with the idea for Maternia.
“The project started in an academic context, where students were able to present and develop their ideas throughout the year, especially during the Startup Accelerator,” says Mapons.
It was a project close to the hearts of Spanish graduates. She previously worked with a female political leader in Brussels for two years.
During this time, she participated in high-impact projects with the World Bank, UN Women and the IMF to address pressing issues in women’s health.
“The lack of information about women and their bodies has long blinded us to the sight of science. ‘ she says.
“This lack of data ultimately leads to misguided policy interventions and ambitious programs with unsustainable outcomes.”
One such area is the issue of stillbirths, which the Mapsons communicated to Villarreal and Dakik during the accelerator program.
With time and research, they each realized how collaborative healthcare can make a real impact in areas where resources are limited.
Together they came up with the idea of developing a medical device for pregnant women with low socioeconomic status to monitor their fetal heartbeat at home. They called it “Matania”.
But over time, three graduates of the Vlerik Business School realized that they could not ignore what they thought was just a class project.
“The more research I do, the more I realize the reality of the stillbirth problem, especially in developing countries,” says Dakik.
“We were obsessed with the cause and the potential for Matania’s device to provide more timely information to expectant mothers, thereby reducing the rate of stillbirths.”
According to Mapsons, they have ambitious plans to support prenatal care in countries with alarmingly high maternal and child mortality rates.
find strength in diversity
A shared passion to improve the women’s healthcare industry inspired the three to work together.
Ultimately, however, it was their differences that became the winning asset needed to set Matania apart.
“Not only are we from different places, but we are also aware of the world we live in and its environment,” says Dakik.
Originally Lebanese, she grew up in Tanzania and witnessed inequalities in healthcare for women.
“In rural areas, many women still rely on natural remedies and community midwives. “Western medicine is rarely accepted, except in urban areas,” says Dakic.
“This often limits the safe space for women to share trauma related to pregnancy complications and stillbirth.”
Studying politics in Lebanon exposed her to the institutions and structures that lead to these inequalities.
Villarreal’s experience, on the other hand, stems largely from her older sister, who works as a doctor, after witnessing relatives and close friends struggle to access quality pregnancy care.
Her educational background in international business in Taiwan and Germany showed her how medical services differ between continents.
“Having a multicultural team can add value only if you try to innovate in a disruptive way,” says Mapons.
Recognizing this, they took full advantage of cultural differences to deliver a robust and more inclusive project.
“We have always been surrounded by different ethnicities and backgrounds to ensure that more voices and perspectives are included in creating customized solutions,” says Mapons.