Liya Kebede is the founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation (LKF) which was established in 2005 for the sole purpose of attending to the needs of mothers who face death risks due to inadequate healthcare. An Ethiopian by birth, she is a supermodel who has been featured in major magazines, runway shows and print campaigns for leading designers and brands and has acted in several feature films.
LKF is a non-profit organization which raises funds through donations and product partnerships and issues grants to leading development organizations working in Africa to improve health services.
Alongside The Liya Kebede Foundation, she launched the hand-crafted clothing brand, lemlem, which is produced by artisans in Africa.
According to Liya, nearly 300,000 mothers die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth every year and 1 million newborns die on their birth day.
Her appointment as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, prompted her to set up her foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world.
The organization funds advocacy and awareness-raising projects as well as providing direct support for low-cost technologies, community-based education, and training and medical programs. In one health center that the foundation works with, hospital deliveries rose by over 50% in 12 months.
“Africa is one of the dangerous continents to give birth in largely because of a severe shortage of skilled health workers who can provide essential medical care to moms and newborns. In fact half of all women in Africa lack the recommended care during pregnancy and childbirth”, says Kebede.
She points that most deaths happen in the 24 hour period around childbirth – so one of the most targeted and cost-effective ways to save mothers and their babies is to invest in quality education and training for midwives, nurses and community health workers serving in health facilities and directly in communities across Africa.
LKF partners with Amref Health Africa, the continent’s leading health development organization, in support of their Stand Up for African Mothers campaign which aims to address the severe shortage of skilled health workers who can care for mothers and their newborns across Africa.
With a robust mission to improve the lives of women in Africa by addressing one of their top health concerns – better access to life-saving maternity care, Kebede has traveled to Ethiopia to support maternal health projects, as well as we invest in health worker training and maternal health advocacy activities.
In 2009, she worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Living Proof Project. Kebede served as a High-Level adviser for the Center for Global Development’s 2009 report “Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health”.
Between the years 2011-2015, LKF funding helped to train staff and equip the maternity centers at two district hospitals in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region in south central Ethiopia in partnership with the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association (ENAHPA) and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. At the Hawassa Safe Mothering Center over 10,000 women gave birth safely and the number of women seeking pre and postnatal care increased by 25%. The maternal mortality rate at this hospital is now less than 1%.
According to Kebede, in the coming years, the foundations goal is to train 15,000 midwives to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality across seven countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It is projected that these midwives would provide care and health education to 7.5 million mothers.
The foundation has also noted the need of access to information. Many young women have little access to information and knowledge about reproductive and maternal health. Young advocates are helping to change this. LKF works with the International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia on a peer-to-peer maternal health awareness campaign that engages girls from high schools across Ethiopia in sharing information about safe maternity care. The goal is to help young leaders make a difference for moms in their communities. There are also plans to upgrade Maternity Clinics in Ethiopia.
Asides modeling and other routine activities, Kebede writes for The Huffington Post about maternal and child health, and has been featured in Vogue and on The Daily Beast. She is also part of the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, an organization of African leaders led by former President of Botswana Festus Mogae.