I’m very passionate about access to quality and affordable healthcare

Farida

Farida Kabir is a public health scientist, software developer, UI/UX designer, public speaker, trainer and tech entrepreneur with a passion for infusing health with technology. Founder and CEO of OTRAC, an e-learning software for African healthcare practitioners, she’s also the team lead for Google Women TechMakers Abuja and the co-organizer for Google Developer Group, Abuja. A strong advocate for women and girls in STEM, Farida is also a passionate advocate of good governance and strong institutions. She’s currently the Federal ICT adviser for DFID-PERL program, a five-year project that focuses on strengthening government institutions and increasing citizen participation.

In 2016 she was the only Nigerian amongst five Africans that was awarded by the French President, François Hollande, in recognition of her pioneering entrepreneurial strides in Health Technology. In this interview, she talks about health technology, involving young women in all areas of STEM and why women are more vulnerable to mental illness.

You wear several hats, how do you make all work effectively?

Well, I’d like to tell you “it’s God”, the Nigerian way, but in all honesty, I do a lot of planning.

I plan my year, my quarters, my month, my week and my day. I also believe the word “effectively” has different definitions per individual.

For me, effectively means, when I evaluate myself at the end of a month, my result should at least be at 70 per cent completion.
So yes, I plan, then monitor and evaluate my progress.

As CEO of OTRAC, what does your work entail?

OTRAC is an e-learning software that we developed for healthcare practitioners to be able to take their continuing medical education courses online, on their mobile devices and at their own pace.

As the CEO, my job is to make sure my team and I are working effectively to ensure we achieve our vision.

This means I do a bit of everything. I am involved with engineering, as much as I’m involved with business development, operations, marketing, human resource and so on.

When you see me discussing design and code with my chief technology officer, you won’t believe if I’m still the same person sitting across the negotiating table and negotiating percentage with our partners, or developing creative teasers for our marketing and so on.

As one of my partners said after a long-heated deliberation and negotiation “I should be afraid of you henceforth, because I never knew a sweet face could be so firm in business.”

But, business is tough really. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

You describe yourself as an advocate for girls in STEM, what are you doing to improve the number of young girls and women in these fields?

One of the highlights of my tech career was when the Abuja Google Developer Group (GDG Abuja) announced me as their team lead for Google Women Techmakers.

Google’s Women Techmakers program provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology.

What this means is that, google will be supporting programs to encourage more women to get into the STEM field, and also lend a helping hand to those already in the field.

In this male dominated profession, having a community of like minds that support and understands your struggle is very important.

I also mentor young girls in tech, providing them with the necessary resources and network to propagate their growth.

I volunteer at a STEM clubs for secondary school girls where we teach and mentor them on programming and robotics.

The club has been allocated a time slot during school hours across government secondary schools in Abuja.

One of the groups recently participated in the Technovation challenge and won.

What more can the government as well as private individuals and bodies do to encourage more young women in STEM?

First of all, they need to really understand what STEM means. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

So STEM cuts across all the major disciplines.

We shouldn’t just be focused on doing coding bootcamps for girls.

We should also focus on teaching them using pipette and burette in the laboratory, teach them to be inquisitive and ask questions, teach them to see the beauty in using a spanner to make amazing innovations and so much more.

Government really needs to do an overhaul in how knowledge is being imparted in our schools.

We need strong policies to ensure STEM is practised across all tiers of education.

And most importantly, women that have an established career in STEM need to reach out to the younger ones to mentor and guide them to success.

This is like a chain reaction, if you mentor a young girl and she becomes successful, she’ll mentor the next person, and the next person will do same and it goes on.

Before you know it, we have an army of strong and powerful women that can stand and compete anywhere in the world.

You mentioned that you developed the first educational tech platform for public health enterprise, what does this do exactly and how does it benefit the average citizen?

OTRAC is a learning management software that provides a vary array of courses for Healthcare Practitioners across Africa.

According to WHO, Africa has about 25 per cent of world disease burden and only about 3 million health workers to service over two billion population.

This is bad in itself already. Now, the unfortunate thing is that over 50 percent of these health workers lack adequate capacity to deliver quality healthcare because of the difficulty in accessing continuous professional development training, most especially the ones in the rural areas.

The consequence of this is poor or wrong diagnosis, which in turn leads to high mortality rate.

To solve this problem, we developed OTRAC wherein healthcare practitioners can easily take continuous professional development courses at their own pace, on their mobile devices irrespective of their locations and earn a certificate capable of enhancing their career progression.

Our goal is to enhance capacity development towards excellent service delivery. We believe that when we have better informed caregivers, we get improved service delivery.

You are also the assistant team lead at Mentally Aware Nigeria, tell us some ways you are trying to end mental health stigma in Nigeria?

I am the assistant team lead for the Abuja Chapter as we have other chapters in Lagos, PH and Ibadan.

One way we aim to combat the stigma associated with mental health in Nigeria is through sensitization and awareness.

Over the last two years, we’ve attended conferences and panel discussions to address this.

We also go to schools to sensitize the students about the fact that just because their classmate was admitted in a psychiatric home doesn’t mean they are mad.

A lot of Nigerians don’t understand that the same way we worry about our physical health is the same way we need to take cognizance of our mental health.

It’s a part of the whole human health in its entirety.

Sometimes all you need to do is just reach out and ask how someone is doing.

You really might not know the suicidal thoughts you might have prevented.

Not all the time give me this, help me with that, I need money for this and that.

According to a recent research carried out by Oxford University, women are 40 percent more likely to develop mental health issues. In your opinion, why do you think this is so?

Mental disorders affect both men and women but can vary. Some disorders like depression and anxiety are more common in women than in men.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability.

They estimate that 350 million people are affected by depression globally.

But let’s go back to the root of it all, genetics. Mental illness can run in families, this means that some people are genetically predisposed already.

Then as a result of our personalities coupled with environmental factors such as continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may leave one at risk of developing a mental illness.

If you look at the statistics worldwide, women are more likely to be exposed to the environmental factors I listed above.

This means women are more vulnerable to mental illness.

What would you say has been your most important victory so far?

OTRAC. When I look back at how far we’ve come as a team and a start-up, I sometimes wonder how we did it.

I’ve had people who told me that the tech world is no place for a woman; my place is at my husband’s house.

Some would even tell me that my idea wouldn’t work outrightly.

But I kept pushing and moving because I believed in my vision. Look where we are today.

Recognised by the French President as one of the innovations changing the dynamics of health education.

But I didn’t achieve it on my own. I had the support of my husband as well as a mentor, Ahmed Tanimu.

He really did some work on building my confidence and prowess.

Both personally and in business and I’ll just say I am lucky to have a mother who knew I needed a business and life coach when she introduced me to his mentorship.

As Sir Richard Branson said, “mentorship is key to unlocking each of our entrepreneurial spirit.”

As someone involved in civil governance, what are some changes that would affect women positively would you like to see effected?

Health in particular. I am very passionate about access to quality and affordable healthcare.

Do you know that despite overall declines in maternal mortality in most developing countries, women in rural areas are still up to three times more likely to die while giving birth than women living in urban areas?

But something dynamic happened with the recently approved FGN 2018 budget, the executive and legislature unanimously agreed to include the National Health Act (NHAct) in the budget.

NHAct aims to improve access to quality healthcare in Nigeria by giving 1% consolidated FG revenue to the health sector.

So, what I would love to see right now is release of this approved fund and utilization by the respective agencies driving it.

Also, citizen engagement should be on the increase to ensure implementation.

I am aware of this, I’ve been tweeting about it, and I intend to fully follow it through to implementation stage.

Because one thing about good governance is, if the demand for it is not high, then the supply will be low.

Has there been any experience that made you want to give up?

(Laughing) There have been many, and I’m sure there would be more to come.

As an entrepreneur, everyday is another day to face a whole new and completely different challenge.

It’s just a matter of how we learn to overcome them and use them to our advantage.

For example, just last month, we did a Q3 review of our team OKR, and we found out that we performed very badly. Only engineering had 72 per cent completion rate.

We sat down to discuss the result and we realised the problem was just a little miscommunication between two strategic members of the team.

They weren’t in sync and it affected our overall productivity. That feeling of unproductivity alone is enough reason to want to give up.

What inspires and motivates you?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I will say random things. I can’t categorically tell you one particular thing motivates or inspires me all the time.

I could be watching Paw Patrol with my 5-year-old son, and a scene where the pups solve a problem will inspire me to think about a particular problem I’m having at work, and boom!

I just start having endless thoughts on the possible ways I could solve it. But greatest of it all is my burning desire to be successful.

How do you relax?

This might seem funny but watching cartoon with my son honestly relaxes me. I don’t think about anything else when I’m doing that.

We just relax and have a good time and a good laugh. But of course, having a good vacation will automatically make anyone relax.

What would you like to tell women reading this?

Dear woman, I just want you know that nothing is impossible.

The word impossible itself spells I’m possible.

Nobody wants to be associated with failure, and everyone wants to be associated with success. But success is no accident.

It is a result of persistence, hard work, dedication, failure and most importantly, learning from that failure.

You are strong, you are beautiful and you are successful.

Believe in yourself, have faith in your abilities, for without a humble but reasonable confidence in your powers, you will not be successful or happy.

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