I grew up in a household were neither of my foster parents went to university. We lived in a small town called Lowestoft. One of the most influential people in my life without a doubt was my foster mother Doreen, who taught me to aspire to develop myself. I was extremely inquisitive growing up and had many questions that she did not know the answers to, so she bought me an encyclopaedia so I could look up the answers to all my questions. She gave me the tools to learn on my own and helped me learn the value of first identifying the problem and then finding the tools to create a solution.
I owe my subsequent record of academic excellence to this early education and support. We were a working class family and sometimes struggled to make ends meet, but against all the odds I passed my A-Levels with flying colours and started my degree at the University of York . After supporting myself through working in retail, modelling and admin, I graduated 6 years later as one of the youngest doctors in the entire country.
I immediately set about trying to buttress my record of excellence by publishing my first book, various articles in the British medical journal, and sitting on boards that governed medical education and training. I have been privileged to receive many awards for my work in research and clinical medicine.
However, after the tragic death of my 12 year old sister, due to the problems of absence of critical care transport facilities in Nigeria I started to think more laterally.
Hotel Rwanda is a feature film about the Rwandan conflict that tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina a fictional hotelier. The most powerful point in the film is when he highlights the plight of Rwanda at that point saying;
“There will be no rescue, no intervention for us. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential people abroad, you must call these people. You must tell them what will happen to us… say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as if you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they let go of that hand, you will die. We must shame them into sending help. Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda, 2004)”
Every time I saw reports about Nigeria on the TV or read about them in magazines, I felt that same sense of compunction, knowing that I had the skills and knowledge to make a difference. I realised my skills as a doctor and a trainee pilot could perhaps be better utilised, and I knew that I could be instrumental in initiating what has already been quoted as ‘the single most influential healthcare innovation in Nigeria this decade’ .
So I spent approximately 9 months saving half of my salary every month and immersing myself in books about management, business and finance. I went on courses, spoke to various entrepreneurs and spent many a night crafting my business plan. I left my job in August and armed with my business plan, my start up capital, and my passion for change, I booked my first ticket to Nigeria. The reception has been amazing, from both the private and public sector, we have secured our aircraft and our first few sales contracts. The business is growing at an unbelievable pace.
At the centre of my plan is the concept of social enterprise. The Flying Doctors Nigeria is a profit making company, but most of our profits go into the Flying Doctors Foundation which aims to provide the finance for various projects in medical education and healthcare within our partner states.
Nigeria’s international reputation has been marred by political unrest over the past decade which has slowed its commercial development. I am therefore also setting up an angel investment group called the Flying Doctors Business Angels, which will specialise in investing in business pitched by entrepreneurs under the age of 35, who were born outside Nigeria, but are of Nigerian heritage. I think this represents a highly influential group of young people capable of effecting real change in the country.
Although I miss my friends and family in England, I haven’t regretted my decision for a moment. I hope my story inspires more young people to realise their potential, to see what is possible rather than what is not, and to take the plunge and follow their dreams.