MORIES ATOKI’s prowess in business and organisational strategy is sterling

Mories Atoki is the Chief Executive Officer for the African Business Coalition for Health (ABCHealth), a social equity organisation focused on mobilising private sector resources to improve health outcomes across Africa.

Mories’ career spans various industries and fields in both the private and public sectors, where she has established herself as a skilled business strategist and an expert in organisational strategy.

With degrees in Law and Business Administration, Mories has led initiatives associated with project management in various institutions including PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young. She currently seats on the boards of Partners for Review (P4R), A UN supported initiative for sustainable development reporting and on the board of Association of Sustainability Professionals in Nigeria (ASPN).

She seats on other boards such as the board of the Sustainability Professionals Institute of Nigeria (SPIN) and the UN-German Partners for Review (P4R) on the SDGs. She is a fellowship member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN), a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), American Society of International Lawyers (ASIL) as well as informal sustainability groups.

Mories is also an alumnus of Harvard Business School (HBS), as well as London School of Business & Finance (LSBF).

She is passionate about youth empowerment, career talk, sustainable development and service delivery. She is also an avid reader and a leadership coach.

How has your early years of grooming as a child helped inspire who you are today?

Now that’s an interesting question, I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to reflect on this and share. My growing up was interesting. I grew up with three brothers, two junior ones and one older one, but we were all like peers so about 1-2 years age difference across, and then a sister who came along a bit farther than the boys. My parents were a tact team and quite disciplinarians. My day was that all the way, but my mother was a bit softer. My mother was the more determined and driven one though, she was clear about what she wanted for her children. It had to be the best (education, values, grades professionalism, and so on) so she influenced me more. Her drive for excellence and her muse and celebration for it coupled with my dad’s strictness would largely be responsible for where I thankfully am today.

Tell us about ABCHealth and being CEO

ABCHealth – The African Business Coalition for Health, was founded by Alhaji Aliko Dangote through the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede through GBCHealth (the Global Business Coalition for Health) headquartered in New York, to coalesce private sector resources and to focus these resources in tackling Africa’s healthcare challenges towards achieving improved health outcomes. In short order, ABCHealth is a coalition of African businesses, corporates and philanthropists working together to change Africa’s health outcomes.

Both Aliko Dangote and Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede share the school of thought that Africa should not have the heaviest disease burden globally – about 25% – neither should the continent be importing over 70% of the drugs it consumes. Africans, regardless of their age, gender, status or religion should have equitable access to affordable and quality healthcare, and Africa’s economy should be a major beneficiary of its healthcare spend. ABCHealth was established to deal with these issues through collaborations and partnerships between the public and private sectors but largely driven by businesses.

I was appointed as the CEO in March 2020, just before the pandemic lock-down. I think the interest in me was the combination of skills and experience I had gathered, engaging the business community/private sector. Being the CEO of this organisation, my key responsibilities revolve around running an organisation and dealing with people, building partnerships across sectors, growing the membership of the coalition and primarily driving the vision of our founders in achieving improved healthcare and saving lives in the African continent.

Share on initiatives associated with project management you have had with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and GE

Interesting initiatives, I would say, some were private sector led and others public sector across tax secondment support, sustainability strategy, sustainability reporting, sustainability assurance, SDG digital reporting for businesses, EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards – Project managing West Africa, state governments, government parastatals, UN, PSAG and so on.

Tell us about being on the boards of ASPN and SPIN. What they do and your role as board member

Okay, I think someone sneaked on my career background and let the BoT know that I had a background in Law when they were looking for a board member with that level of skills and experience. That was it for me, I was approached and I accepted to take the seat. I head the legal directorate – a four man team of lawyers who are skilled in legal matters, company secretariat, regulatory matters and so on. I softly oversee the secretariat as well.

In what ways are you a skilled business strategist, a development expert and an experienced organisational strategist?

I’ve had to lead teams on strategic planning in new areas to the market as the most senior person in my team in PwC for a few years. It made me develop strategies, explore innovative ideas, and deploy the same. Being a private sector key player in the SDG space, I’ve had to pay closer attention to the SDGs on many levels – I’ve led on some work relating to goals 3, 4, 17 and so on. As the CEO of ABCHealth, my work involves a lot of strategic thinking in the development of the health space. I’ve had to work with and engage technical experts in the health economics, finance, and funding space. All of these help me to be better skilled in the areas alluded to.

Why the passion to be involved in the healthcare sector? What can be done to improve it?

While everyone should be interested in health even if only on the individual level, it is important that more and more people become aware of the roles they can play in ensuring improved healthcare. There would be only a few Nigerians who have not had a negative healthcare experience whether directly or indirectly.

In my case, my passion for healthcare is founded on a personal experience – I lost a pregnancy through poor healthcare services and the aftermath of this was the realisation that the number of pre-maternal and post-maternal incidents in Africa is high and that a majority of them are very preventable. I am not a medical practitioner, but I was able to engage this passion in the various organisations I have worked, especially in the context of supporting private sector involvement in attaining the SDGs.

As an avid reader, a leadership coach and an ardent multi stakeholder engagement expert, what are your professional challenges in the sectors mentioned?

One that jumps to mind is the ‘suspicious’ challenge of bringing together resources, businesses, or even ideas. It appears the competitive nature in us overshadows the desire for growth. That for me is a big challenge, and without casting aspersions or pointing fingers, I must say, nevertheless, we must get UBUNTU to work for us as Africans at a regional level.

In championing the voice and competencies of the private sector in driving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria, what challenges have you observed with the private sector and how can it be resolved?

The ‘suspicious mindset’, we can do more if we combine resources… Africa is too far behind for us to not reconsider our egoistic and competitive approach. Unfortunately, I think as the globe evolves, Africa’s problems become more and more peculiar to it, therefore leading conclusively to our fate in our hands. Africa must rise up to the peculiarity of its challenges and solve more problems than it has ever been. The template-driven approach from the advanced environment needs to be overhauled for realities, freshness, and real solutions to Africa’s issues and challenges.

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In the last three years of your career, and in your current role as the CEO of African Business Coalition for Health (ABCHealth), how have you driven investors, finance experts, investment bankers, and challenged the status quo of how global health is being administered at an institutional level?

When I was offered the role of CEO in ABCHealth, I realized I had been given an opportunity of a platform with real and tangible actions, which would drive improvements in healthcare. Coincidentally, I resumed just as the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm exposing the deep chasms within Africa’s healthcare space.

COVID-19, in demonstrating the link between health and economic stability, showed the results of governments and businesses working together to tackle challenges; this underlines a core message from the coalition – with the right partnership and collaborations, achieving great impact is possible.

Understanding the realities is key – governments alone cannot solve this problem and must partner with the private sector, businesses must look at health as a sector with real RoI opportunities, and healthcare professionals must develop capacity to engage the business of health in an efficient manner.

Since resuming as CEO of ABCHealth, we have engaged multiple stakeholders across critical industries in both the public and private sectors fostering partnerships. We have formed partnerships with multilateral and bilateral institutions as well as with development agencies and corporate organisations to drive various publications, initiatives and forums including the West African AfCFTA-anchored pharma initiative, a second edition of the Healthcare and Economic Growth in Africa Report, the Africa Investment Summit on Health, the Adopt a Primary Healthcare Facility, the establishment of Private Sector Health Alliances across Africa and more recently, the Academy for Health Entrepreneurs (Africa).

All these actions are designed to bring together governments at the highest levels, business leaders, health professionals and other critical stakeholders to go beyond talk and engender actions that will deliver real, tangible healthcare dividends to all Africans as well as bringing economic benefits to the continent.

How important is it to do health differently in Nigeria specifically?

The state of health in Nigeria, in the context of Africa, while improved, still falls far short of targets bearing in mind that while Nigeria’s population of over two hundred million people is the highest in Africa, possesses the largest economy worth as estimated USD445billion (as at the end of 2022) and is an undisputed regional hub, the country’s health outcome indicators are unacceptably high – in spite of modest improvements, maternal mortality ratio is 814 per 100 000. Mortality rate for infants and children under five years is 70 and 104 per 1000 live births respectively with significant disparity in health status existing across states and geopolitical zones, as well as across rural/urban divide, education & social status. Communicable diseases still constitute a major public health problem: malaria accounts for 27% of global burden, tuberculosis prevalence is at 323 per 100 000, HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated at 3.2% and malnutrition is common with stunting rate at 43.6%.

The impact of these indices are far reaching a decline in overall health outcomes, a decline in economic development due to lost man-hours, a decline in quality of life amongst so many others leading to the no-brainer conclusion that we must start doing health differently in Nigeria.

In your advocacy for governments’ buy-in and involvement in supporting strategic partnerships, what have you observed? what can/should be done differently?

It is not enough for governments to treat healthcare provision as its exclusive responsibility to the people, it must expand this scope to include active private sector participation and this must be driven from the highest levels across all tiers of government.

Attractive environments for healthcare investments is key and must be prioritised especially as governments’ financial capacity to fund health through individual Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) and dedicated budgets is limited, therefore, attracting private sector funding is key.

In Rwanda, Ghana and a handful of other African countries, Africa has solid examples of successful public-private sector partnerships that can be leveraged as case studies that other African governments can copy.

There must be cohesion in the value chain – this is key especially if the continent seeks to halt its dependence on drugs import. The local production of medicines, healthcare equipment and health commodities must be encouraged. More importantly, financing for health interventions must be sustainable – the everyday approach to raising funds in no longer feasible in cognizance of the reality that after two years or so, the funding dries up and the intervention is halted. This is an area where private sector collaboration and partnerships can help.

In seeking governments’ audience across Africa to consider health entrepreneurship as well as health economics as a major course in the curriculum of African medical schools, do you believe this will come to fruition soon? What are you doing to ensure this happens?

It is vital to create an ecosystem that would facilitate collaboration and partnerships in order to foster the development of the health entrepreneurs, as well as building the capacity of health professionals in both the public and private sectors, in the context of health economics and healthcare financing.

At ABCHealth, this understanding is strengthened through our engagements with colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, who believe that the introduction of conventional and non-conventional curriculum in medical institutions will go a long way in changing the continent’s healthcare service provision and delivery significantly.

Tell us about your German/UNDESA involvement and results

This was one of the opportunities that jumped out when I was delegated to speak at the High-level Political Forum of Voluntary SDG Reviews (HLPF VNR) at the UN in 2017. It was an assembly of Presidents, Ministers, and Office holders of the SDGs from countries across the world. It was a big stage and some very important audience. I am immensely thankful for it. The German government approached me immediately after it to be on the advisory group representing the private sector. It was actually set up to be a safe space to share, learn and prepare for the VNRs at country levels. It was a great opportunity to understand and navigate the critical stakeholder groups that the UN prescribes for the achievement of the SDGs – civil society, academia, private sector, international community, and Government, each bringing their own perspectives, issues and comparing their structures and approaches with that of other countries. It was quite engaging and horizon-broadening.

How do you view mentorship and what can you share with us on how mentorship has helped you?

I had a mentor earlier in my career by default. I say default because we never sat to agree that he would be a mentor and I would be a protegee. It happened because I took interest in his career trajectory and would always ask him if he had one or two things he wanted to be done, and I would help. He is a Professor of Law and also a tax guru here in Nigeria, and used to be my dean when I was in school. His name is Professor Muhammed Abdulrazaq. My ex-student relationship with him matured into a mentorship one, and further escalated to him, having my career choice interest at heart so he would keenly charge me to go and put in for ICAN exams after Bar exams – and I would go because I didn’t want Prof’s wahala ….Well, I passed a level and I was celebrated for it. I remember him dashing me $100 for those results. He was also instrumental to my first career in Consulting in EY. I owe a lot to his mentorship. The rest is history. A few things jump out though, we had no religious alignment or similar social alliances – he was just a great man who didn’t mind a protegee succeeding. I am thankfully the product of a selfless mentor in him.

Tell us a bit about how you got to where you are and share snippets on how aspiring youths can attain such heights

I would start with two of the same phrase that I heard from a great woman and man on different platforms in years far apart – 10 years to be precise. Be well behaved. Now it might read a little lame, but I’ve had the opportunity to engage and listen to these great minds earlier in my career and I think it helped shape me to a considerable extent. I also for some reason learned early that comments and perspectives from people about decisions should not override your willpower to do something positive for yourself, realizing that sometimes, people don’t mean harm by discouraging you, they are just passing by. In my language, it is called ‘Ariwo Oja’ (Noise of the market), and if you give a passerby the attention of a closely knitted kinsman, you might make wrong decisions. So, I would say, be responsible for yourself to be curious enough to know what is good, knowledgeable, applicable, and realistic. Listen to ideas and perspectives but be wary in holding them to heart. I think in leadership it is called ‘self-leading’.

In conclusion

I am thankful to you all and especially you, Kemi Ajumobi, the anchor of this great initiative for inviting me to share this space with you.

Paraphrasing our Chairman and co-founder – Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede – investing in healthcare in Africa is increasingly attractive for business and will promote economic development, enhance productivity, create new markets and improve the overall climate in which all businesses operate. This is a core point of ABCHealth – bringing these investment opportunities to the forefront of governments and businesses, so that practical partnerships can be established to drive innovation in healthcare across the continent.

I will use this opportunity to reach out to all critical stakeholders – let’s all come together and find that common ground so that we can improve Africa’s healthcare outcomes.

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