Millennial Focus is a blog series aimed at narrating and promoting the works and accomplishments of Nigerian millennials working in entrepreneurship, public or non-profit sectors. It is my sincere hope that the stories I narrate here will give the impetus to other millennials to forge successful career paths for themselves, amidst a difficult terrain.
In my first Millennial Focus Blog series, I caught up with Farida Kabir. She is the CEO at OTRAC-an e-learning platform for continuing education of healthcare professionals across Africa and whose passion as a developer grew from the age of 3 and nurtured by her dad, a self-taught developer too. But how did she have her eureka moment of OTRAC (Online Training and Awareness Campaign) is not a cliched entrepreneurial story of ‘I saw a market need’. Read through to find out more.
On August 7th, 2014, a young lady by name Adesewa in the dormitory of a university sent out an erroneous message to her friends on BBM (Blackberry Messenger), purposely. The true intention was meant as a prank though. But it spread like wild fire. Many Nigerians believed and acted on it in less than 24 hours after the message was first sent. What was the message?
“Please ensure that you and your family and all your neighbours bath with hot water and salt before daybreak today because of Ebola virus which is spreading through the air.” It is okay if you had a salt bath. The prank sounded too serious as other unconfirmed versions of the prank message mentioned the Federal Ministry of Health advised people to do so.
A few Nigerians who got the message didn’t believe it, including Mrs Farida Kabir. But she reacted differently than how some people did. When her grandma called to inform her about her intended steps. Farida’s advice was “do not do it.” But aged grandma believes in WhatsApp messages she receives. And Farida wanted to put an end to this quick belief people have for the false ebola cure, especially because her grandma received the message, acted on it and got hospitalized for days. Sadly and unfortunately. Some people died and many got hospitalized, as reported by some national dailies.
Needless to say, sales of salt sky-rocketed in many shops across Nigeria.
Farida developed a website to tell Nigerians the truth about how to prevent yourself from getting infected with ebola and also aimed at sensitizing people about the real truth, especially of viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF). This was the year 2014. She was only 23 years. Why would a person think about developing a website to counter a short viral BBM message?
The answer was on the wall in her office, as I stared round admiring the collection of written quotes framed and hooked to the wall. Think Big. That website reaction from Farida is an embodiment of thinking big. The quote is what summons her spirit.
OTRAC was developed not only to create awareness around VHF, but also to enhance the capacity of healthcare professionals across different fields of medicine such as paediatrics, surgery, O & G, etc. which has now become the biggest part of the company’s value proposition. This is possible because OTRAC’s Board of Directors is made up of professors in these specialized medical fields who provide direction to the work of Ms. Farida and her 7 staff team she hired.
She had started the OTRAC project as a personal CDS during her National Youth Service Corps-a mandatory one year of service Nigerian graduates of universities have to offer for their country. Apparently, corp members can decide to ditch public CDS and work on a project they initiate themselves.
With a good mentor from the Ministry of Health, he widened the horizon for Farida to see more potentials for her idea and she couldn’t stress more about the importance of getting a mentor in one’s career journey, as we discussed and her 4 year old kid ran in circles around us.
As of then, Farida didn’t have any web development skills and so she had to hire someone to build the initial website. She sat shoulder to shoulder with the first developer of OTRAC that was hired by her to learn.
The website proved to be a success as the then Minister of Health, launched her website in 2014, applauding it as a laudable innovation project by a 23-year-old.
She was tasked by the then Minister of Health to continue working on the project with the National Centre for Disease Control, the organization she served with.
Three years into the project and the Federal Government couldn’t keep up with the right funding for the website to succeed. Farida, as she has always been, thinking big, being proactive and initiative taker, went out on a limb. She registered OTRAC as a company in 2016 and started the business development that eventually launched on February 2nd 2018.
All this may seem feasible, but what was astonishing was the background of this 27 year old from Kano, married with a head-tie over her head always. She had a bachelors degree in Biological Sciences with a specialty in zoology. No not IT. In zoology.
A passion for IT, self-learning, a 3 day coding class followed by a 2 month Google supported bootcamp she applied and won a seat to participate were all she needed to change her career course after already earning her zoology degree from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, where we met as students. Soon after her bootcamp, she interned with hotels.ng and worked remotely as a front end developer for 6 months.
Mark Essien, CEO of hotels.ng had tweeted to all his followers then about Farida’s skills, recommending her to the tech community. That tweet was helpful. Farida got a job just 5 days after the internship and Mr. Essien’s recommendation tweet.
It will be wrong not to mention when she started using a laptop computer. The pentium. at the age of 3. Her dad would allow only one person amongst his kids come close to it. You guessed right. It was her. Her dad was the Lead Engineer for MTN and she did derive inspiration from his work and he did well to nurture her passion by giving her access to his computer and taking her along during his service calls to fix a problem for MTN.
After 11 months of launching, OTRAC has 7 staff, operates both a business-to-business and business-to-customer, and a turnover of 12 million Nigerian Naira. This year, they expect to do 4 times of what they did last year.
As we discussed through, the rest of her team is occupied preparing for a product launch at the end of the month. It is a training program for foreign-trained graduates of Medicine and Surgery who have to take a mandatory exam to receive a license from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. They had already run a pilot last year and the success of their participants was at 70%.
The issue has always been the high failure rate of these foreign trained graduates and OTRAC is determined to up that statistic through an online content they are developing with consultant professionals from the University Teaching Hospitals.
Farida focuses on running the affairs of the company as the CEO and COO. The technical aspect is left for 2 staff she employed led by a partner she invited as a shareholder and Chief Technical Officer.
In her capacity, she consults for donor agencies like DFID on their health projects and has recently been appointed as the Team Lead for Google Women Tech Makers Community for Abuja, saddled with the responsibility for empowering more women with skills to join the tech world.
Farida (@reedahkh) is an exemplary lady in tech and entrepreneurially endearing for running a tech company founded in a spirt of passion and skills learnt outside the university walls.
Sadiq Gulma writes about Nigerian startup environment and the millennials behind the startups. He is as an engineer, promotes environmental sustainability, runs a clothing line and loves to get lost in nature.