An African woman to hold the position of the first CEO to Merck Foundation. She is also Senator at the Egyptian Senate, a strong crusader for transforming patient care in Africa and developing countries, a passionate advocate of women’s rights and girls’ education, one of the most influential African women in 2019, 2020 and 2021. A producer & director of various inspiring music videos and TV programs to raise awareness about critical social health and social topics in Africa through fashion & art…donning so many hats successfully is Senator, Dr Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation.
An inspirational woman empowering her journey…
Hailed from Egypt and based in Dubai, Dr. Rasha Kelej led the establishment of Merck Foundation to continue her efforts in building healthcare capacity, support girl education, empowering women, and youth of Africa and beyond, since 2012.
Established strong partnerships with 20 African First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education, Information & Communication, Academia, media, art which contributed significantly to the success of their programs.
Lovingly called ‘Mama Africa’, Dr. Kelej is an inspirational pioneer in the transformation of patient care in Africa. Till 2021, more than 1200 doctors from 44 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarships one- and two-year diploma and Master degree in critical specialties.
For her efforts to create ‘More Than a Mother’ Movement, which touched many hearts, Dr. Kelej was acknowledged as one of the 100 Most Influential African Women (2019, 2020, 2021).
Rasha Kelej has been appointed in October 2020 as a Member at The Egyptian Senate (2020 – 2025) where she plays an important advisory role with regards to African Health, Economic and Social Sustainable Development and collaborative opportunities between Egypt and rest of Africa.
Making History in Africa:
One of the most successful programs that Dr. Kelej has created and presided is the historic campaign “Merck Foundation More Than a Mother” and its innovative initiatives which aims to empower childless and infertile women through access to information, health, change of mind set and economic empowerment.
She works closely with 20 African First Ladies as Ambassadors of “Merck Foundation More Than a Mother” in their countries, to break the stigma around infertility and empower infertile women. More than 180 candidates are enrolled in clinical and practical training for Fertility specialists and Embryologists, while over 170 doctors have been enrolled in Sexual and Reproductive Medicines, Psychiatry and Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction and Embryology, from over 39 countries.
Under her headship, Merck Foundation is making history in many African countries where they never had Fertility specialists or specialized Fertility clinics before this program intervened, by training the first Fertility specialists and Embryologists. This will eventually aid women and couples with better access to equitable and quality fertility care.
Dr Kelej added “We are making history and legacy in Africa, first Fertility specialists, Embryology, Oncologist, Diabetes, Endocrinology, Respiratory expert and more in many countries are trained by Merck foundation. I am so proud and want to invite all doctors to apply to our scholarships on our email email@example.com to fill health gaps in their communities.”
Moreover, Merck Foundation has supported and empowered more than 1000 childless women with small businesses to be independent and stronger.
“This program is very close to my heart and will continue for the next five years. I cannot forget the happiness and pride in those women’s eyes after they experience their success and realize their purpose in life and that they are “More than Mother” heroines”, Rasha Kelej emphasizes.
Advocating Education for Empowerment:
“I strongly believe in girl education. When Girls are educated, their countries become more powerful, stronger & prosperous. I realize there’s need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Therefore, we started “Educating Linda”, pan African program which is tailored for each country to contribute to the future of these girls as part of “Merck Foundation More Than a Mother”, explained Merck Foundation CEO.
Dr. Rasha has been contributing to the future of 100’s of girls in partnership with the African First Ladies through scholarships. Moreover, providing 3,000 sets of essential school items for girls’ schools to many countries yearly.
Dr. Kelej explained “At Merck Foundation, we strongly believe in education as an important factor in promoting economic well-being in Africa and as strong strategy to stop child marriage, GBV, FGM and STDs. Girl education is the best vaccine for HIV and considered as the best investment in global economy. It is estimated by world reports that for every additional year of primary school, a girl’s future income increases by 10-20%.”
With Merck Foundation, the CEO’s target is to empower girls and women through various initiatives, including providing training for female & young researchers & medical graduates and supporting the education of best performing Girl students in Africa.
Reaching to children:
Merck Foundation in partnership with African First Ladies also publishes and distributes children’s storybooks to emphasize 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. To support girl education and stop child marriage and gender-based violence these 5 different storybooks have been localized for each country to have a better connect with the young readers. The inspiring storybooks released are:
- “Educating Linda” and “Ride into Future” to emphasize on the importance of empowering girls through education,
- “David’s Story” – emphasizes strong family values of love and respect from a young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future,
- “Jackline’s rescue” focuses on the importance of Girls Education and highlights the immoral practices of society including child marriage and the dowry system and
- “Not Who You Are” to teach boys to love and respect their future wives and eliminate domestic violence.
“I hope these stories would inspire every girl to fight for her right of education and encourage our communities to support their girls’, so that they can reach their potential and pursue their dreams and make stronger and healthier families, communities and countries”, emphasized Dr. Kelej.
Creating cultural shift through Fashion, Art and Music
This versatile lady and a style icon is a trailblazer and is influential in changing the perception of how fashion, film, music, and media can be utilized to address sensitive social and health issues such as breaking infertility stigma and support girl education in Africa. This has been exemplified with the launch of “More Than A Mother’ Fashion, Films, Songs & Media Awards as she strongly believes in the critical role art, media, and fashion play to break the silence and address sensitive social and health issues in our communities.
“I’d like to invite all African Fashion designers, musicians, film makers, singers and media personnel to apply for our awards and be our champions in your communities, firstname.lastname@example.org” she added.
Apart from the awards, training and advocacy platforms, Dr. Kelej has raised awareness about infertility and empowering women in the continent by utilizing songs, film, and media as a medium. She has launched more than 20 songs with famous African singers and has TV projects in the pipeline to create awareness around infertility, eliminating GBV and child marriage, supporting girls’ education and women empowerment.
Merck foundation CEO, Rasha Kelej’s actions have certainly made an impact; and the most meaningful is her importance as a role model for millions of women across the globe.
Dr. Rasha’s story is an example of how we must not let our circumstances define who we become. In a world where female role models are scarce, Dr. Rasha’s legacy is outstanding and inspiring.