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Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust

I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work.

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Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Bulawayo Sports Personality and Philanthropist, Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube
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Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube is a sports personality who is passionate about the development of her community in the education and sports spaces. She is an opinionated individual who advocates for equal opportunities for all. Disappointed by a denied life-changing opportunity in her own life, Talent decided to dust herself up from the sad event and use her experience to make sure that other talented young girls do not have to go through what she went through. Read on to find out more.

When did you discover your love for sports?

My love for sports backdates to my primary school days. I was an all-rounder from primary up to high school. Participation in sports came naturally to me and my teachers encouraged me to take part in sports. Finally in high school, I found my niche in short distance running. I was a sprinter for 100m and 4 x 100m relay at Inyathi High School where I started and completed my high school. Currently, I solicit opportunities to partake in sporting disciplines around my community such as Netball, marathon, athletics, and Volleyball, and I am a member of FM Running Club and Bulawayo Marathon.

“Some close family members thought I was too ‘playful’ for someone who is an orphan.”

What challenges did you face in sports growing up, and how did that influence where you are in sports today?

This is a really sad story to tell, but if it had not happened, I would not have had the same drive to change and transform other people’s lives today. I excelled in sports, but there was a time when I was supposed to go and compete outside the country, and I was not able to travel because I didn’t have a passport. Support for the girl child especially in sports was extinct at the time.

I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work. Some close family members thought I was too ‘playful’ for someone who is an orphan. It’s sad that the system we grew up in was that which viewed sports as an extracurricular activity that is not really important and holds no bright future prospects.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

What inspired you to rally behind the girl child in sports?

My life story was inspiration enough to rally behind the girl child in sports. The fire in me to change the narrative that society has that girls are meant to be in the kitchen and not on the grounds pursuing their passion and talent never died. I always knew that If I had the capacity I would make sure to change the little bit that I could. I started as a volunteer at Bekezela Home-Based Care, and later on moved to Thembalethu Foundation as a volunteer, and later as a Resident Director in 2017.

Can you tell us about the ‘Hope Through Sports Trust’? When was it launched and what projects have you done so far?

The Hope Through Sports Trust, affectionately known as HoTS, was formed to cater to all sporting disciplines, since Thembalethu Foundation, a project I was working for in 2017, purely targeted girls’ soccer only. Volleyball, Netball and running clubs in Bulawayo reached out to us to look into their needs, hence I founded HoTS with my close friend Marley who is a former soccer player. We launched it in 2018, and since then we never looked back.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Boots or no boots… Street Set Captain Ayanda ‘Bazooka’ Ncube and several Ubuntu players troop back into the field of play during Ubuntu’s end of season awards ceremony. December 2019.

It is a project that is community-focused and so far, we have reached areas such as Gwanda, Tsholotsho, Filabusi and Bulawayo. To date, we have organised successful annual tournaments, training for the girls, and outreach programs in the aforementioned areas. We nurture, educate and empower the girl child on health, security, education, governance and citizenry through sports. We have donated sports kits, balls, school uniforms and sanitary towels to more than 10 teams from different disciplines.

What has been the major highlight of the trust since its launch?

The biggest highlight of the trust has been us managing to forge a strong partnership with the Zimbabwe Football Association, which is the southern region women’s football league main sponsor, servicing an approximate number of 300 girls who participate in the league.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Ubuntu 0 – 0 Street Set: The two sides pose for a photo during Ubuntu’s end of season awards ceremony. December 2019.

The girl child rarely receives recognition in sports, how do you plan on improving that?

This is a sad fact, and as HoTS we believe that young people are the custodians of the future, therefore as the Trust our primary objective guided by Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 5 is that of creating a change in the life of the girl child through sports by giving hope. We promote equality and inclusion, and we aim for our trust to contribute to a society of zero tolerance to discrimination against gender. Women and girls have been victims of inequality and abuse and we use this opportunity to develop leadership, resilience, and a network of sisterhood which will be helpful for them to break the barriers. Our Tag line is ‘Girls in sports dwell in possibility’.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

How do you plan on breaking the stigma around the girl child and sports, and preparing her for what she will face in this chosen career path?

This is a war I am willing to fight every single day through our #GetInvolved Model, where we pioneer meaningful conversation along the subject with our community of girls. Also, as mentioned above, we intend to develop leadership, resilience, and a strong network of sisterhood.

Have you dealt with any negativity surrounding you as a woman in the male-dominated field of sports, and if so, how has it challenged you to continue day-to-day?

Yes, I have, a couple of times actually, and all thanks to my tenacious spirit I am not fazed by negativity. I have been called derogatory names, and some people even go to the extent of making ‘sick’ assumptions about me and the girls under our sponsorship, but at the end of the day, it is my vision for equal opportunities that keeps me glued to the end goal. I have learnt that this field might be dominated by males, but I can claim my space in it too. The war is not against male and female, but against social injustice, poverty and inequality.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube

What advice do you have for the girl child who wants to pursue sports as a career?

Sport is a career that one can choose using the heart and not the head, so my advice will be to follow your heart. There are so many avenues available that one can explore to be successful in sports, however, we also need to be cognisant of the economic and political environment we live in in Zimbabwe – it is not for the faint-hearted. In this industry you need to grow a thick skin, let go of the negatives, embrace every opportunity that comes, be hungry to be better than yesterday, and build a powerful portfolio of your sports track record.

Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust Asante Afrika Magazine
Our team visited the Ekhaya Kip Keino Children’s Home in Gwanda to donate sanitary ware, school uniforms and sports kits. December 2019

What future plans do you have for Hope Through Sports Trust?

We are currently pursuing better opportunities for our exceptional girls outside the country. This is to encourage and motivate those in all the clubs who fall under our sponsorship. In future, we want to build strong partnerships with renowned clubs in the region and internationally; talks are already underway. Cognisant of the fact that sports are not a lifetime career, HoTS is looking at creating a sustainable mechanism to remain relevant in the industry for those who would have come of age.

If you would like to connect with Tenacious, you can send her an email on hopethroughsports1@gmail.com, or visit her Facebook page, Hope Through Sports Foundation.

Interviewed by Tholakele Dlamini

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Careers

Rumbi Munyaradzi On Career Changes & Why Mentorship Matters

I worked on deals that raised over US$30 billion for African governments and companies – and that is only a slice of total deal activity on the continent.

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Rumbi Munyaradzi On Career Changes & Why Mentorship Matters Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Rumbi Munyaradzi

Having graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Finance and Economics at Wits University in South Africa, and thanks to bank recruitment drives and in particular, graduate recruitment programmes on campus which did not need the dreaded ‘work experience’ requirement, Rumbidzayi Munyaradzi managed to secure a job in Investment Banking in Johannesburg, South Africa. For the next twelve years, Rumbi steadily progressed and flourished in her career.

However, at the beginning of 2020, the groundbreaking trailblazer who had now become an Executive Director decided to quit her job. One would be curious as to why after all her success she would leave such a high-profile job at a prestigious banking institution which afforded her all the perks such as living a very comfortable life and lifestyle travelling to over 30 countries around the world. Read on to find out why Rumbi made that decision and how she’s been using her break to inspire the youth, especially young girls.

What made you decide to quit your job, which I know many young skilled people would kill to have?

Investment banking was an exciting career for me which gave me deep exposure to the African continent’s politics and economics. At the same time, it was very intense in terms of the time commitment and workload. At the point when I left, my aim was to rest and consider what new challenges I would want to pursue outside of the professional lane I was in.

I didn’t take a gap year during my school years, and I think all of us have phases when rest is essential to our wellbeing and to regain perspective of our accomplishments and motivations. We are living longer and working longer. Taking this career break is my way of making sure I have the long-term stamina to work sustainably, and to re-connect with my interests outside of work.

Can you tell us briefly about your job? What did it entail, what did you enjoy about it, and what were your biggest achievements?

My job revolved around helping major companies and governments to raise large-scale debt financing from international investors. Each borrower has unique reasons as to why they need the money: it could be to fund the purchase of another company, to invest in projects or infrastructure that lead to growth, or even to replace existing debt they have on their balance sheet which was priced at a more expensive rate in the past than what they could achieve when borrowing in current conditions.

From when I started as an Analyst to when I left as an Executive Director, my job required me to be a PowerPoint ninja (putting together and delivering marketing presentations), conducting client research, coordinating the transactions through various processes within the bank and then with external parties, leading client presentations, and supporting the client in their decision-making processes about the transaction structure.

Rather than list achievements, I’d say what I’m most proud of is working on transactions that had the potential to uplift how whole economies work. Some of the government deals I participated in led to the creation of industrial parks which created employment for hundreds and thousands of young people who were previously jobless, and they built infrastructure such as roads and bridges which improved trade and every day living. I believe that those who have the power to do great things on behalf of the common good need to occupy that space.

Overall, I worked on deals that raised over US$30 billion for African governments and companies – and that is only a slice of total deal activity on the continent. There is a lot of capital looking for investment that young people curious about finance can tap into and lead.

Rumbi Munyaradzi On Career Changes & Why Mentorship Matters Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Rumbi Munyaradzi

How has the adjustment period been like from getting up every day to rush to work, to being at home trying to enjoy time off while planning your next move?

When you plan to take a break like I have, I see it as a privilege to be able to do so. The transition was pretty easy because work doesn’t define my sense of self-worth, so I didn’t lose a part of my identity because I’m no longer an executive somewhere.

Being a Type A personality, being on a break doesn’t mean I don’t do anything, it just means I do other things besides work. I even consciously leave room for productive boredom: where I just think and let my brain sort through all the random ideas in my head. I usually do this when I go for a walk or soak up the sun in my garden. Thinkers need time to process, and it took my previously hectic work schedule to appreciate how important thinking time is for me to feel grounded.

“I like education where I benefit personally and professionally – the whole point to me is to emerge as a better thinker and decision-maker, not a better producer of work.”

During your career break, you decided to pursue a Master’s in Digital Transformation and Innovation Leadership from IE University in Spain, which you have completed. What made you choose that programme, and as a person with a background in finance, what career options do you think best take advantage of those two worlds?

I regularly read a lot of magazines and newspapers tied to economics, business, technology and current affairs, and in 2018/2019 I noticed a particular emphasis on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Looking at the type of technologies being highlighted, I realised that while my career might have relevance now, it wasn’t preparing me for the kind of future that all these new technologies represented. The degree was my way of investigating what technology means to me as a citizen and as a knowledge worker. I like education where I benefit personally and professionally – the whole point to me is to emerge as a better thinker and decision-maker, not a better producer of work.

Going forward, I’m most excited about opportunities in financial technology that make payments easier across Africa, that increase access to financial services to those in the informal sector, as well as making it easier for tradesmen and farmers to access marketplaces with transparent pricing information. Africa has so many unmet needs that innovative business ideas don’t really need to compete with others. They could actually just focus on making money from people who are currently excluded from consuming important services and products for lack of appropriate solutions.

Taking time off also gave you the opportunity to get started on various phenomenal projects which are aimed at providing mentorship and career guidance for high school students, such as GenZim Connection. What motivated your decision to work on these projects, and can you tell us a little about them?

The Zimbabwean education system struggles to provide enough holistic support and transparent communication with teenagers, especially in the 16-19 year range. As a young adult, you are starting to deal with more intense and advanced issues that could have long-term consequences. Access to mentorship can play a major role in teenagers making better decisions and being more confident about how they are approaching life. In talking to various people who also grew up in Zimbabwe, I realised many others felt this kind of support was lacking and that not much has changed all these years later.

Rather than create a formal program, the GenZim Connection website is my personal hands-on approach to engage in digital mentorship at scale, and without limiting that kind of opportunity to top performers as so many programs do. I’m most interested in engaging with girls because they are less likely to reach out for mentorship and networking than boys. This tendency has an unfortunate way of extending into their careers – no, the workplace is not a meritocracy, you need networks – so I want to help shift this attitude early.

The name “GenZim” is a combination of Gen Z for the teenage audience I want to engage with, and Zim(babwe) because I would like this to be of most benefit specifically to our next generation of Zimbabwean society. My website is www.genzim.com and I cover a range of personal development and life skills topics through the “Gen Z Pocketbook for Teenage Girls” – a book I wrote specifically for this website – and the monthly blogs I share. I also have a video channel where various Zimbabwean professionals talk about their career and education journeys so that GenZim’ers can learn from relatable people about the many exciting career paths available to them. I also hope they see that life has no formula but with agility and experimentation, they will attract opportunities.

We grow through community: by asking questions, asking for help, sharing resources and so on. Beyond the information I will share and the professionals I will introduce GenZim’ers to, I am hoping to create a positive safe space for the students to interact and learn from each other too. Social media can be a great part of that too! I’m on Facebook and Instagram as @genzimconnection. What we can build together is far greater than what we could ever achieve alone.

Rumbi Munyaradzi On Career Changes & Why Mentorship Matters Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Gen Z Pocketbook for Teenage Girls

“Education is a vehicle – each student must decide where it takes them, not the other way around.”

How has the response been to the book, and do you think that it is achieving the goals which you set for it to achieve?

I started sharing the e-book in October 2020 and the response so far has been very good as a self-published effort. I’ve had about 300 downloads and expect it has circulated much more broadly in offline channels like WhatsApp. My teen readers appreciate having a resource they can better relate to, and which covers the other ingredients of a happy life besides the “do well at school” narrative.

The impact I’d like to have is to have more open and honest conversations about the issues teens are facing, creating positive ways of resolving problems and thinking bigger than whatever the immediate limiting circumstance might imply. That takes time. Some of the things I write about can seem so simple that one might be tempted to think they know it all already. However, the more I observe what’s going on in our culture, I see that it’s not that people don’t know what’s the right thing to do. It’s that they struggle to do it consistently enough to get the full benefits of living that way. Through this book, and the website, I’d like to contribute to that sense of community that makes it easier to level up by providing positive reinforcement.

The book has a section where there is advice on how to deal with the negative effects of social media on mental health, which in my opinion, is explained brilliantly. What made you speak up about this topic, because it is often overlooked and kids suffer in silence, which in turn affects their self-confidence and self-esteem at later stages in life, including at the workplace?

We’ve all heard the saying, “hurt people, hurt people”. School brings together people from all sorts of environments, and it’s bound to happen that some are exposed to some kind of trauma at home or elsewhere in society (where they have less power) which they vent on others at school (where they have more power). The most difficult part about growing up now is that the bullying has gone virtual, and may not be visible to anyone else except the victim. That is a very particular kind of isolation which can spiral if we don’t create a more open culture that protects our young people, and keep reinforcing that they have access to help and hope whether they are the bully or victim in a given scenario.

Depression, self-harm, suicide, and other types of mental illness are on the rise for Gen Zs, let alone the self-esteem issues you’ve mentioned. I have encountered too many situations in my social circles over the years of Zimbabweans who are struggling with mental health to the point of suicide to not take this seriously. It’s not a first-world problem, it’s our problem too.

 When you are in Zimbabwe you often take time to visit and engage with high school students at various schools as part of your mentorship programme. What key points have you noted which you would like to see transformation in?

I’d love to see the career conversation move away from narratives like “I’m studying this combination at A’ Level, what degree or profession can I apply for?”  That is indeed a good place to start to identify one’s next step, but it doesn’t end there. Education is a vehicle – each student must decide where it takes them, not the other way around.

I’d love to hear more diversity of thought about career options: there is still a huge obsession around conventional career paths like accounting, engineering, law, actuarial science and medicine. These are all great options, but when I ask a few more questions about why these students have chosen them, it’s more about what they’ve been exposed to rather than what they could do as an optimal fit of their interests, talents and in-demand skills. So we need to fix this issue of exposure: we need different skills to build a different Zimbabwe.

Do you have any words of advice for a young African girl who would one day like to follow in your footsteps and become a successful Finance Executive?

  1. Prioritise experience in the early part of your career by going to an environment where you can get exposure to a variety of transactions and sectors as well as lots of deal flow: practice breeds competence.
  2. Stay on top of current affairs so you can spot opportunities and connect theory with the practical.
  3. Build your professional network: information and relationships are a unique currency.
  4. Lots of people who don’t study finance in university go on to become successful finance executives because the technical skills can be taught on the job. Critical thinking, analysis, communication, marketing and leadership are among the soft skills you can strengthen in other disciplines that can cross over very well. Nowadays, IT skills such as coding are also considered a welcome bonus even in the banking world. Focus on what you have to offer, and lead with that.
  5. Keep an eye on your next move and be open to the idea that you might be able to achieve a lot of growth within the same company, rather than hop to a brand new environment.
Rumbi Munyaradzi On Career Changes & Why Mentorship Matters Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Rumbi Munyaradzi

How can people who want to volunteer their knowledge, their expertise, or their time get in touch with you to advance the career guidance and mentorship initiatives? 

That would be great! I’m available on email via rumbi@genzim.com or on WhatsApp via +263 78 678 0499.

Learn more about Rumbi and also check out her blog on rumbimunyaradzi.com. Also watch Rumbi’s GenZim Career Insights Channel on yakontent.com.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

admin@asanteafrika.net


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Lifestyle

Forbin Audrey Nene: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes

I was raised by a single mother who made womanhood and motherhood look effortless and stress-free.

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Forbin Audrey Nene: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Forbin Audrey Nene
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Celebrating Women’s History Month 2021

Meet Forbin Audrey Nene, a pristine example of versatility. A singer, songwriter and lover of all things artsy, who still finds the time somewhere in there to pursue a BSc. in Chemical Engineering at the Catholic University Institute of Buea. She takes the effect her music has on her listeners seriously, stating that she aims to, “provide a safe haven for her listeners”.

What is the hardest thing about being a woman?

I was raised by a single mother who made womanhood and motherhood look effortless and stress-free. Now that I am older and a bit wiser, I am starting to understand how much she must have had to deal with as she kept her head above rocky waters and raised me (Shout out to you mama, you’re amazing!).

Aside from having to survive a misogynistic and extremely sexist society where on most days total strangers, for some odd reason, feel entitled to your time and energy, I would say our own anatomy plays a big role in how uncomfortable being a woman can be. There is the effect of hormonal fluctuations due to our monthly cycles, and our bodies constantly evolving as we age and experience different things. Sometimes it feels like fighting the world while having to fight yourself as well. Women are literally superhumans just by existing.

“Women are strong, beautiful, life-giving, powerful, and inspirational beings. It is such a beautiful time to be alive as a young African woman.”

What aspect of being a woman did you think was important when you were younger, only to disregard now?

I didn’t give much thought to becoming a woman when I was younger. I just knew I would grow up eventually, have boobs and wear makeup and fancy grown women clothes like I saw my aunties do. I soon realized that there was a lot more to becoming a woman than that. There were period cramps, stereotypes, childbirth, catcalls, harassment, relationships, setting boundaries, braving odds etc.

I think womanhood caught me off guard, and in fact, still does so every other day. I actually think it catches most women off guard. It’s a rough transition for some more than others, where one minute you’re everybody’s sweet little girl, and the next minute you’re just not anymore. You are grown up, setting goals for yourself, and getting your life together while working to create a pleasant enough present and future for yourself.

Forbin Audrey Nene: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Forbin Audrey Nene

What advice do you wish was given to you earlier?

• “Say what you mean and mean what you say” There’s this misconception that a woman’s “no” really means “yes” or “ask louder” or “try harder”. I don’t agree with this narrative, and so I try to live up to my word as much as I can, and speak only when necessary. It’s a thing of self-respect and integrity for me.

• “Your life, body, and mind are yours. Don’t let anybody take them away from you” I wish I understood early enough the importance of setting boundaries and protecting my sanity jealously.

• “People come and go, and that is fine”. Over the years I have found myself holding on to situations, relationships and friendships that didn’t serve my greater good, till I learnt that it’s ok to move on.

According to Forbin, women are “strong, beautiful, life-giving, powerful, and inspirational beings. It is such a beautiful time to be alive as a young African woman.” And I couldn’t agree with her more.

Interviewed by Hazel Lifa

hazel@asanteafrika.net

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Features

Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia

The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

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Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia Asante Afrika Magazine
Dr. Ismail D. Badjie, Pharm.D
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After working in the United States for a number of years and realising the difference that technology brought to the healthcare sector, Dr. Ismail Badjie was keen to take the knowledge he had acquired back to his home country. Having seen the dire necessity for innovative approaches to the delivery of healthcare in The Gambia, it soon became a dream of his to start a company which would serve as a bridge between modern healthcare solutions and affordable access locally, enabling wide-spread access to quality and affordable care to all Gambians and subsequently, to the surrounding West African Nations.

Read on to find out how the 35 year old Gambian national was able to make his dream a reality.

After graduating high school in The Gambia, you went on to do your undergraduate degree in Chemistry in the United States in Tennessee. Why did you choose to do chemistry, and what did you major in? Did you already know that you wanted to work in pharmaceuticals? What career options did you have in mind at the time?

Funny thing is, I left for Tennessee State University to study Civil Engineering, but changed my major two weeks into university. Science and Chemistry in particular always came easy to me in High School, and I had a healthy amount of curiosity in healthcare which led me in that direction. I felt Chemistry with a minor in biology was a great foundation degree for a profession in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or science research.

“Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.”

I got exposed to the Doctor of Pharmacy program (PharmD) which immediately aligned with my desire to choose a career in a field with tremendous potential for impact, not only in the United States but also in Africa. The over-commercialization of pharmaceutical products in Africa has removed the emphasis on the clinical aspect of the field designed to be gatekeepers for the safe administration of medications to achieve positive health outcomes (which I was passionate about).

After graduating with your first degree, did you do a Master’s degree before going on to your Ph.D.?

Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.

You then went on to do a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy in Indiana, before going on to practice as a pharmacist in the US. Can you tell us briefly (in layman’s terms) what your Ph.D. work focused on?

Attending a Top ten PharmD program in the U.S at Purdue University (Indiana) truly enriched my career development and prepared me for a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of individuals. The Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) is a four-year professional degree. The classroom, lab, and experiential requirements provide students with the educational background to enter any field of pharmacy practice such as community pharmacy, academia, industry & manufacturing, nuclear pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and more specialized clinical pharmacy .

My four-year training included nuclear pharmacy training and elective specialization in organizational leadership and supervision. We leave the program with comprehensive knowledge on the origins and makeup of medication including the research on safety and efficacy that goes into the manufacturing and approval process to a more high-level clinical application and distribution of medication to elicit positive health outcomes. The full spectrum of skills gained allows PharmDs to be integral parts to a variety of industries.

Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Dr. Ismail Badjie

What is the difference between someone who does an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and goes straight to practice, and someone in your position? What professional advantages do you have over that person?

The U.S no longer offers any undergraduate degree in Pharmacy. All programs now are designed as a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree that requires a 6 to 4 year commitment. This is something that separates the profession’s integration into the health ecosystem compared to other parts of the world.

One of the major professional advantages in a PharmD program is the focus on clinical expertise across diverse fields which counters the more traditional narrative of only being labeled as “dispenser”, “chemist” or “druggist”. I spent my entire final year of the PharmD program on clinical rotations working in the field across various specialties such as Infection Disease, Ambulatory Care, Community Practice, Pharmacy Compounding, medication safety, and hospital inpatient clinical care just to name a few.

Can you tell us about the birth of Innovarx Global Health (IGH); what inspired you to start such a company, and what products and services does InnovaRx provide?

Innovarx Global Health was formed to level the playing field in access to quality healthcare services in Africa. Being a Healthcare professional practicing in the United States gave me firsthand knowledge on how technology was transforming healthcare delivery, and how huge the disparity was between the west and the African continent.

Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: InnovaRx Logo

My Grandmother died when she was 56 years old from complications of diabetes and hypertension, which robbed us (her grandkids) of so many memories and moments of joy. I truly believe her living in the Gambia with poor levels of access to quality healthcare should not have determined a lower life expectancy. That wasn’t only her reality but that of many of our loved ones on the continent who for decades, have faced significant challenges while simply seeking a better quality of life. We therefore built the company to provide basic preventative healthcare and disease stage management services while leveraging technology in point-of-care testing diagnostics, electronic health record system, and prescription medication processing to deliver customized care in the most convenient and affordable way.

Our flagship delivery service Wellness on Wheels (W.O.W) was designed as a logistics tool that removed barriers of transportation and from inception, allowed the company to deliver products and services bedside to people’s homes all over the country. I believe IGH has revolutionized the way people consume healthcare, where a patient who lives in the furthest part of the country (6 hours away) can have a loved one living abroad sponsor their care, and have the same medications in circulation in the U.S delivered at their doorstep. Our e-commerce platform has also allowed for over-the-counter medications, health and wellness products such as vitamins and supplements to be accessible to customers all over the world for purchase and delivery as early as a 60 mins turn around in most parts of Banjul.

Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: Wellness on Wheels

You mentioned that while planning on the inception of the company, besides the experience gained from your own workplace, you also travelled around the world to see how different companies carried out the services that you wanted to provide. Which countries did you travel to, and what stood out for you, which you really wanted to emulate back home in The Gambia?

I realized early that doing market research only in The Gambia was inadequate to solidify an integrated matrix of healthcare solutions, so we set out to key countries such as India, Germany and UAE. India gave us valuable insights into understanding the generic drug global supply chain market and how much revenue the country was generating through medical tourism from Africa. Over a billion dollars leaves the continent every year because of medical tourism, which stems from a pervasive lack of trust in our health systems.

The amount of Indian medical professionals trained at the best universities who returned home to provide specialty care to their citizens also inspired me. UAE was a perfect example of a country that embraced innovation and technology to propel all sectors, especially healthcare. The ingenuity and value creation in the healthcare sector is something I definitely felt the continent was also fertile grounds for. From the offset, we were intentional about creating a global company with the best ideas, and chose Africa as our first market instead of creating another “Less than” or “African Version” of a healthcare company.

You started doing research for launching the company in 2015, but only started operating in The Gambia in 2019. Besides doing research, what other facets of the business were you working on and preparing for during those years?

Unfortunately, bureaucracy can always impede any process in Africa that requires licenses and necessary registrations to get up and running. The Company was operating as a consulting company while attacking the daunting task of raising capital to start a business in Africa. The small market size of the Gambia as a pilot country made seeking investment even more challenging, especially for a business model that was the first of its kind. Human capacity is also another obstacle that adds to the process. Finding the right talent to understand and execute the mission and vision of a company in Africa requires a level of patience and constant allocation of resources to train and recruit that we still go through.

How did it feel to finally see your dream of setting up a tech-based healthcare solutions company in West Africa come to life in 2019?

It’s truly something magical anytime you see ideas that were simply sticky notes in my apartment manifest into a fully functioning entity now serving thousands of people. The magic however is ever so fleeting, as the waves of interchanging emotions instill a constant measure of cautious optimism required to always maintain faith while having the discipline to confront our current reality at any point. Africa is not short of great ideas, the greatest challenge in creating a successful business always lies in the consistent execution of said ideas.

What challenges did you face whilst preparing to launch, and how did you overcome them?

I think a lot of the challenges faced pre-launch had mainly to do with raising capital and working through the bureaucratic process of getting legally registered. The former (Fundraising) is a never-ending process we are still working on. Remaining committed to our “WHY” and exercising patience through building relationships always helps navigate the ecosystem. Establishing the right local partnerships also help in the general process of planting some roots in the ground .

“The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.”

Most of the products sold at your pharmacy division are sourced in the United States. Do you face any obstacles in getting them to the Gambia, such as maybe high import duty?

Most of the obstacles result from high logistics costs, especially when using air freight options. The wave of COVID in 2020 when the country was shut down was especially a trying time for the company, having a nation of people depending on the company to source products while facing exorbitant shipping costs. The Government of the Gambia does provide some tax holidays which ease the burden on otherwise high import duties. Most of the costs arise from the product registration process mandated by the Nation’s Medicines Control Agency.

You stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has a pandemic of counterfeit medication which is a billion-dollar industry, and in West Africa, almost 20-30% of the medication is counterfeit. As a pharmaceuticals provider, how do you avoid sourcing counterfeit medication?

Our decision to source medications only from the U.S is mainly based on the safety net of minimum quality standards required by the FDA. I think the African market is yet to make demands for only medications with safety profiles fit for sale in western markets, a non-negotiable. With our quality control infrastructures not readily available, the U.S sourcing allows for a level of assurance being infused into all our products. I think the continent is making strides in building our manufacturing capacity which will change the dynamics of our sourcing in the near future. From a pharmacist’s perspective, we just need to ensure every product dispensed to African citizens would always be safe, effective and with equal clinical potency to deliver positive health outcomes.

Your main clients are the diasporans who buy medication and healthcare supplies online from you for their family members back home in The Gambia. What marketing mediums do you use to reach your target market?

Social Media has truly been a game-changer for us in terms of reaching our target customers who live abroad but sponsor their loved ones’ health care in the Gambia. The country saw over $500 Million in remittances in 2020 alone which truly creates a new definition of market size not limited to the feeble spending power in the country. Our active engagement with Gambians in the diaspora from day one has allowed them to align with our mission of providing the peace of mind they desperately seek when it comes to the health and wellbeing of loved ones. The novelty of our services also gives us the confidence that “Word of Mouth” marketing will always be the greatest avenue to slow and organic growth, especially in our infancy as a company.

As a tech-based company, how do you overcome ‘typically African’ problems such as inconsistent power supply and bad network connections?

Well from a balance sheet standpoint it just adds to the cost of doing business. Getting back-up systems for electricity and the internet is unavoidable, but we are much closer to cheaper and more stable systems today than we were decades ago. It just creates a scenario where your product may be years ahead of the market, but also goes back to building companies despite the challenges and not attenuating your idea because of the “Typical African” problems. The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

As the Gambia is a very small country, you are actually able to service and deliver products to your clients across the whole country from just your one branch, making you a leader in that category. How have your competitors reacted?

Good ideas that enter any market simply create tension. Every player in the market will have to make a decision whether to adapt or die. We tend not to focus on the reaction of competitors because our business model differs greatly from the status quo. Nonetheless, we welcome enhancements and innovations of their own, which will also add tremendous value and the customers will always benefit. It does not have to be only one solution. The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your ability to import healthcare supplies from the United States?

I would like to believe the worst is behind us now, but absolutely. We went through a period where certain items like PPE, hand sanitizer, certain medications etc. were scarce, but we adapted accordingly. The company played a pivotal role in the country manufacturing hand sanitizers in-house, which allowed for great collaborations with the Ministry of Health and the Pharmacy Council of The Gambia. We have a great relationship with distributors free of middlemen, which always allows us to source products consistently.

You have in-house doctors that do consultations with patients, and you also do tele-medicine where patients can consult virtually with your team of specialist doctors who are abroad. How has this service been received by the locals? Are they embracing technology and jumping on board?

I think with most new technology you always have your early adopters that embrace the technology and receive it through the lens of the convenience it provides. The Telemedicine services was a timely intervention during the COVID peak which solidified its application as a healthcare solution of the future. So we still have some growth opportunities in adoption that will expand, especially with the key partnerships we have with specialty doctors all over the world.

You stated a very sad fact, that there are about 9000 Gambians to one doctor. Why do you think this is so, and is the government doing anything to curb the disparity?

A couple of factors come into play when analyzing the low physician density. Healthcare professionals struggle with some of the lowest wages in the region that provide little incentive to turn down opportunities to practice medicine in more advanced countries for more pay. The first intervention should focus on increasing doctor salaries and making a commitment to their continuous development.

I think the Government has made massive strides in sustaining a pipeline with the Nation’s Medical School, but with the number of years it takes to complete training and further specialization, only a seismic shift in reverse migration can fill the gap. This, however, necessitates technology as the only viable option short term of closing the gap. Embracing telehealth service can have an immediate and exponential impact especially in a country that does lack doctors but have an abundance of qualified nurses that are the bedrock of most health systems in the country.

You are already doing an amazing job providing easy access to affordable healthcare, but are you doing anything as Innovarx Global to give back to the community, especially the youth?

Incorporating a Corporate Social Responsibility was of great importance to the company from day one. We saw the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and hypertension, and sought out to help democratize access to preventative service in that area by launching our “What’s your number?” Health campaign. The WYN campaign leverages the company’s wellness on wheels to find communities in need and offer free health screening for the two most prevalent NCDs.

Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia Asante Afrika Magazine
Image: InnovaRx Health Specialist with a patient

To date, the company has screened close to two thousand Gambians at no cost and in some cases in remote areas of the country several kilometers away from rural health centers. I think our greatest contribution to the youth has been in the talent development and hiring of young people at all levels of the organization. This has allowed our youthful exuberance to influence advocacy on subject matters like mental health and sexual and reproductive health, which are often highly stigmatized in African Societies.

Lastly, what words of advice would you give to a young African who would one day like to be as successful as you are in the pharmaceuticals industry?

Success is subjective and a never ending journey, so I would advise them to not ascribe a final destination to the perceived notion of reaching a peak. I believe I was fortunate to have a level of exposure, education, skills, and opportunities that allowed me to will the company into existence with a group of like-minded individuals.

The profession of Pharmacy is extremely diverse and is designed to work in harmony with all other healthcare fields. Young Africans (women especially) should follow their passion in the healthcare space and take advantage of all opportunities of apprenticeship and structured goal mapping along the way. Patience is a virtue and must be applied to every aspiration of creating value in any given ecosystem. Make a commitment to courage, accountability and continuous growth because we live in a very competitive world and one’s evolution should never come to a halt. Lastly, internalize the mere fact that yes, we (Africans) deserve better, but we have to create it by being the very change we seek.

Connect with Dr. Ismail through his Instagram @drismailbadjie, or visit his website, https://www.innovarxglobal.com/.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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