Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and President, Merck More Than a Mother
1. Dr. Rasha Kelej has been listed as one of the 100 Most Influential African of 2019. How does it make you feel?
I am very proud to be listed among the 100 most Influential Africans of 2019. This recognition is very important for me and for Merck foundation as it acknowledges my efforts, my team’ s efforts through our Merck More Than a Mother and acknowledges it as a huge Movemen. It is a historic campaign. We succeeded to mobilize and work closely with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health, Gender, Information and Education, media, Art, fashion, community leaders and scientists to empower infertile women through information, health and change of mindset.
We also worked with local singers, film-makers, media partners and fashion designers to be able to raise awareness to break the stigma of infertility. Through these initiatives we wish to sensitize our communities that Women are more than Just Mothers and Men are more than Just Fathers. Also, it takes both a man and a woman to have a child.
We have produced and launched more than 20 songs with famous singers from Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Gambia to raise awareness about male infertility and to break the Stigma around Infertility in Africa. Moreover, it is also an honour for us to have the First Lady of Burundi, H.E. DENISE NKURUNZIZA and The President of Liberia, H.E. GEORGE WEAH do their own songs for our campaign. This shows their commitment towards our campaign.
We also launched children story in African countries. The story has been localized and launched in the elementary level school of many African Countries with message from their respective First Lady, as ambassadors of Merck more than a Mother and special message from me in English, French and Portuguese. And local names and narratives have be adapted for each country.
Merck Foundation’s children storybook emphasizes on strong family values of love and respect from young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future.
Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and President, Merck More Than a Motherwith infertile women during her trip to Uganda
2. Did it come as a surprise to you?
It came to me as a pleasant surprise. Being an African woman, I am committed to working for our beautiful continent Africa. When you are committed to something, you just keep working for it without expecting for awards or recognition. And when your efforts start to bring change in the lives of people, it starts to make impact and then the recognitions come your way. But believe me, touching people’s lives every day is the highlight of my career and it is the biggest recognition that I cannot describe.
3. Will the recognition influence your works, if yes How?
This recognition is not only an honour but also a great responsibility for me, to do more for our people. This recognition has only encouraged and motivated me to continue my efforts to empower infertile women and break the stigma of infertility in African countries. And to empower women in Africa in general the same way I have been empowered. It is my turn.
Dr. Rasha Kelej during Merck More Than a Mother launch in The Gambia
4. What new initiatives should we expect from Merck Foundation this year?
This year, we are going to focus on Merck More Than a Mother’s twin campaign – Merck More Than a Father. We need to reach out to the society to stop putting pressure on men to become fathers. As, this pressure and stress leads to violence towards their women. The theme of all our initiatives in 2020 will emphasis on Merck More Than a Father.
Also, this year, we intend to partner with more African countries to be more inclusive in our approach.
Another important initiative that we have just launched is “The Merck Foundation sustainability Initiative”. We strongly believe that young people have numerous untapped capabilities. We wish to unleash such capabilities which would empower and enable them to lead the sustainable development and Green Environmental Agenda of their countries and to encourage others to lead a cool sustainable lifestyle in order to adapt to the impact of climate change. The aim of this Initiative is to educate, engage and empower youth and young entrepreneurs through access to information and change of mindset in order to enrich their understanding of sustainability as well as support their new innovative and creative ideas in the sustainability space.
Dr. Rasha Kelej with Ugandan Heroines of Merck More Than a Mother
5. What is your message young women you aspire to make a change is society just as you are doing?
My message to all young women out there is: Believe in yourself, work hard and never allow anyone to let you down. Put your heart, mind and soul in everything you do, this is the success recipe. And when you make it, do not forget to support other women, remember it will be your turn.
Dr. Rasha Kelej during her visit to Uganda