By Prince Kurupati
Egyptian born Rasha Kelej was recently honoured by New
African Magazine for her poignant More Than a Mother Movement, which has
touched many hearts.
New African Magazine at the end of each year releases a list
of the 100 most influential Africans who would have done remarkable work in
their field of work. New African Magazine’s 100 most influential Africans
project has been running for several years now and in the 2019 edition, it
rightly recognized Rasha Kelej, the Egyptian who took it upon herself to break
the stigma around infertility and empower infertile women.
Rasha’s story dates
back to 1972 when she was born. Growing up in a world in which she saw many
people being stigmatized and discriminated at due to what the society termed
‘undesirable’, a passion to break some stigmas began to develop in her at such
a young age. After completing her basic education, Rasha proceeded to
Alexandria University where she pursued a degree in Pharmacy. Afterwards, she
proceeded to study for an MBA from Robert Gordon University, Scotland on Corporate
Social Responsibility (CSR) Integration with Business Strategy.
Having completed her education, Rasha in 1994 joined the
International Pharmaceutical industry where to date; she has over 25 years of
experience. Rasha has spent the majority of her time in the pharmaceutical
industry working for the German nonprofit organization Merck which she joined
in 1996 serving in different roles.
Adding to her pharmaceutical work, Rasha has also undertaken
many leading commercial roles at Merck including serving as the Chief Social
Officer and Head of Global Social Responsibility & Market Development. Currently,
Rasha is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Merck Foundation, a division of
Merck Germany tasked with combining many of Merck’s corporate responsibility
activities under one roof. Merck’s corporate responsibility activities
primarily aim to support and further interests in healthcare, education,
citizens’ initiatives, development cooperation and intercultural understanding.
Combining her two roles, that is, pharmaceutical and
commercial, Rasha has managed to successfully use her job to establish many
uplifting women programs. The numerous programs that Rasha spearheaded since
2013 centering on healthcare capacity, raising community awareness, breaking
the stigma of infertility, and empowering women and youth through education and
STEM led to the development and formation of Merck Foundation, the
philanthropic arm of Merck Germany.
Some of the programs spearheaded by Rasha include Merck STEM
for women and youth, Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiative (MFFLI), Merck
Cancer Access Program, Merck Capacity Advancement Program and Merck More Than a
Mother. Out of all these programs, it is the historic campaign ‘More Than a
Mother’ which has enjoyed much success.
The success of More Than a Mother movement stems from the
very nature of the movement itself, that is, its objective, goal and vision.
The main aims which led to the formation of Merck More Than a Mother campaign
were to empower the childless and infertile women through access to
information, health, change of mindset and economic empowerment. The campaign
also aims at raising awareness about male infertility.
To ensure the success of More Than a Mother campaign, Rasha
successfully established strong partnerships with 18 African First Ladies including
those from the Central African Republic, the Gambia, Chad, Niger, and Guinea as
Ambassadors of More Than a Mother campaign in their countries. In addition to
‘recruiting’ First Ladies as ambassadors of the campaign, More Than a Mother
also works with Ministries of Health, not for profit organizations, media,
local societies, academia, and gender departments of various African countries.
Together with its partners, More Than a Mother undertakes
different initiatives in African societies with the sole aim of breaking the
stigma around infertility in the same vein empowering infertile women. Some of
the initiatives include hosting Film Awards, Fashion Awards, Media Recognition
Awards, Health Media Training as well as collaborating with musicians in
developing African songs that aim at breaking the stigma of infertility in
The success of the More Than a Mother campaign has led women
like Grace Kambini, a Kenyan infertile woman to share her story of stigmatization
with the world with the intention of changing the narrative that infertility is
something to be shunned upon. In an interview, Kambini said that “If I have
half of the knowledge back then I would have sorted a lot of issues that were
there back then and today things would be different. I encourage all girls who
are experiencing issues bearing children to go to hospital together with their
spouses to seek for treatment.” Kambini was rejected by her husband and in-laws
after nine years of being childless.
Rasha’s More Than a Mother campaign has not only received
recognition from the New African Magazine; she has also been recognized by
Spain which awarded her a Women Empowerment Award, International Federation of
Business and Professional Women as well as various accolades from African
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that
more than 180 million couples in developing countries (equating to one in every
four couples) suffer from primary or secondary infertility. In the case of sub-Saharan
Africa, infections account for infertility of 85 percent of women compared to
only 33 percent worldwide. This, therefore, shows the importance of infertility
prevention programs in Africa hence the extreme importance of Rasha’s More Than
a Mother campaign.