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For Working Mothers in Africa—a Boost

A McGowan Alumna Rethinks the Breast Pump

As a breastfeeding mom returning to work, you’re likely face barriers. In the U.S., just half of employers provide lactation support programs for new mothers, and many pink-collar jobs don’t support breaks for pumping. Difficult. Now imagine that not only is there no private place to pump, but also there’s no electricity to drive the pump and no refrigerator for the pumped milk. Facing those barriers, just 7 percent of Kenya’s new mothers use breast pumps, and a large number of new mothers don’t return to work.

Sahar Jamal, a McGowan alumna, has a solution. A newly minted MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, she has spearheaded the development of a small, discreet, battery-operated breast pump that refrigerates the milk. In September, she traveled to Kenya to test the prototype.

Although she’s been immersed in maternal health for some years, she attributes her new momentum to her experience as a McGowan Fellow. The McGowan program provides a year’s tuition for 10 students attending top-tier MBA programs. As part of the program, Fellows attend a symposium focused on principled leadership and collaborate on a social impact project. In this case, the project involved sorting services for people living on the streets, a challenge that gave Jamal pause. In creating her breast pump, she used a process called “user-centered design.” In addressing homelessness, that process didn’t work: The “users” came from wildly different backgrounds, had distinctly different goals, and faced surprising barriers. “I think we Fellows all kind of had to realize how naïve we were,” she said.

Key to her experience was getting to know the nine other Fellows. Jamal discovered that she wasn’t alone in her concern about social justice. Many in her generation feel a responsibility to address the world’s most pressing issues, including income inequality, climate change, and healthcare delivery.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make these choices for my career without the support I had from McGowan,” Jamal said. “The MBA was career shifting and the McGowan was a big part of that.” It’s a career choice—a principled, inspiring choice—that could reach thousands, delivering both generational and international impact.