Education, competitive skills remain fastest routes to economic prosperity for Africa – Dr Imoh Okon

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By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina

*Photo: Dr Imoh Okon*
Dr Imoh Okon is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ValueChain Academy, a United States of America based development consultancy firm. With an intimidating academic profile that cut across medical, project management, financing, and leadership, Okon said he is ready to use his over 23 years of experience abroad to guide the multitude of African youths in search of greener pastures navigate the dark webs of traffickers and maximise the available education and career opportunities therefrom. Excerpts:

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Who is Dr. Imoh Okon?
Dr Imoh Okon is a well-rounded professional with a remarkable educational background and over a decade of professional experience abroad. An Assistant Professor at the Georgia State University, the Nigerian holds MSc degree in Medical Biotechnology from the University of Westminster, London, United Kingdom; M.P.H in Health Management and Policy; MBA with a concentration in Finance; and PhD in Clinical Medical Research with an ovarian cancer focus at the Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College, London. He completed a postgraduate training in tumor angiogenesis and cardiovascular dysfunction at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. An Alumnus of Cambridge University Science Summer School, Okon also bagged a graduate certificate in Regulatory Science from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA; and a globally referred leadership and career mentor. In this interview, he said his setting up of ValueChain Academy, was to harness his professional and career prowess to assist African youths seeking legitimate opportunities abroad.

The Japa syndrome has become an epidemic of sort, causing serious depletion of highly skilled and educated workforce of countries in Africa, including Nigeria. What exactly do you think is fueling this mass exodus of people abroad?
Migration is not a new phenomenon as it has existed for centuries. People migrate due to several reasons, including for example war and insecurity, famine, or to seek economic, education or career opportunities.
Africa is blessed with both human and natural resources, however in several instances, its vibrant and hardworking youthful population lacks sufficient opportunities to meet their educational and career aspirations. We know that innovation can come from anywhere and I have witnessed some amazing, innovative solutions coming out of resource-constrained African communities in recent years.
However, without an enabling environment and support system (e.g., access to capital, technology, electricity, etc.), several novel endeavors have failed to meet or reach the desired potential.
It is therefore not surprising that ambitious individuals would naturally gravitate towards opportunities that support the expression of their talents, including educational growth and professional development.

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Contrary to public perception, observation of the International labour organization data has revealed that Japa is not actually peculiar to African countries or Nigeria alone, as countries across the world are also struggling to keep their skilled workforce at home. An example is the British healthcare professionals seen moving to Australia and the United States in droves, as those there are also moving elsewhere. What are the underpinnings of this development and how can Nigeria reverse or maximise the opportunity from the trend?


In my opinion this trend again is not entirely new and relates to the quest for opportunities. People will always gravitate towards areas of “perceived” better opportunities.
With the UK, several factors have contributed to the pressure on its healthcare system, including Brexit, inability to graduate adequate number of medical professionals to meet the increasing needs of its population, inadequate healthcare investments and funding, excessive workload plus poor renumeration of doctors and nurses. Additionally, the British healthcare delivery model may become unsustainable without s ignificant policy changes.
A major benefit of a “free” healthcare system is that it guarantees access to every citizen and qualified residents; however, it may be prone to long waitlist for certain medical procedures, plus inherent abuse, and waste within the system.
In the United States, there are also challenges with optimal delivery of healthcare services. Issues such as access, health insurance, equity and costs remain significant challenges within the U.S. healthcare system.
To focus doctors’ effort on areas of pressing needs, other trained medical professionals, such as Physician Assistants and Nursing Practitioners are tasked with handling routine medical issues or providing first-line contact with patients prior to seeing a physician. Additionally, a focus towards preventive rather than reactive medicine is being promoted.
For example, some health insurance companies offer financial rewards or incentives to members that undertake yearly preventive medical screenings, while penalizing smokers or the use of tobacco products.
Additional health initiatives have banned cigarette smoking in certain public places, while physical activities and healthy diets are strongly encouraged. No doubt, countries need to adapt to ensure equitable delivery and distribution of healthcare resources.

Speaking on public healthcare emergency, Japa Syndrome has worsened the Nigeria’s disproportionate Doctor-to-patient ratio of 1-600 according to the World Health Organisation. The figure is now hovering around 1-10,000 or more. As a medical expert in the US, how can this be addressed?


Nigeria needs increased investment and funding within the health sector. Healthcare is both a business and a service and therefore, the Government cannot do it alone. In addition to increased funding, the Government (Local, State and Federal) needs to provide leadership, encourage private investments and partnerships, plus policy guidance that address root causes of current healthcare challenges.
We often equate health to the actual presence or manifestation of disease or illness, but it encompasses much more. Several factors directly impact health, including housing, transportation, education, environment, income, and much more. Together, these factors constitute “social determinants of health”. Additionally, there are commercial determinants of health.
Given the abysmally poor doctor-to-patient ratio, are there opportunities to increase the number of graduating medical professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical laboratory technicians, etc.)? Can tangible improvements be effected to enhance medical and scientific research, improve the numbers and quality of community health centers, and eradicate fake and counterfeit medicines?
Additional areas that can yield tangible benefits include support for continuing medical and professional education, targeting University Teaching Hospitals as hubs for best practice and innovation, regulation of health facilities and diagnostics labs, secure health record systems, accredited and well-staffed pharmacies as hubs for routine services such as, vaccinations, equipment purchase and maintenance, and adequate training of medical and technical personnel. These require significant investments but are a snapshot of achievable solutions. Importantly, technology can enable better coordination, accountability, and meaningful outcomes of these initiatives.

What is the role of ValueChain Academy in all of this #Japa paradox?


ValueChain Academy operates globally and addresses specific gaps that impinge on educational growth, professional development, and career opportunities.
Given the abundance of natural resources and human capital across Africa, we hope that by increasing educational and training opportunities of the vibrant youthful population, we can stem and even reverse the Japa paradox. China, Russia, and several European countries are in Africa for a reason. The natural resources, youthful population and consumer market can be found here which forms a magnet and attractive combination for businesses!
Therefore, a highly educated and skilled workforce can power the Continent into an era of sustainable development and economic prosperity.

It is written on your company website that ValueChain Academy is renowned for its exceptional academic and career development services on a global scale. How can you substantiate this claim?


First, we believe that it takes a village or community to raise a child! We believe that classrooms are not the “start-to-end” of learning. Therefore, we bring a combinatorial and coordinated blend of unique learning opportunities and resources that challenge, inspire, and maximize student’s educational growth and long-term career success. We cater to high school, undergraduate and graduate students by building tailored programs and highly competitive portfolios to support their career aspirations.
Don’t forget, I obtained my doctorate degree from Imperial College London, and with over 23 years of educational and career experiences in both the United States and the UK, I understand first-hand that knowledge transfer is greatly amplified when coupled to real-world utility and mentorship opportunities.
In addition to supporting students’ academic activities, we provide additional resources, such as STEM projects, internship opportunities and industry visits, summer camps, career fairs, and much more. The goal is to ensure that our students remain competitive relative to their peers in North America, Europe, South Korea, Japan, China, and other parts of the world.
Why is this important? We believe that strong academic grades, together with a solid and well-rounded portfolio present several benefits. For example, such students are better positioned for admission into competitive programs across top-tier universities, become attractive candidates for competitive scholarships, develop a high level of self-awareness and critical thinking skills, gain confidence, and are well-conditioned for global career opportunities.
We also enjoy strategic partnerships several stakeholders in the international and career ecosystems, including Colleges, Universities, and multi-national organizations, to expand internship opportunities for our students, company executives and professionals that provide mentorship and career advice, and much more.
In addition, remaining relevant in a dynamic and highly competitive jobs market requires a continuous learning mindset. Therefore, we provide training to obtain certifications in several on-demand job areas, such as Project/Program Management, Regulatory Science (clinical trials), Healthcare Informatics, Climate & Environmental Health, and Healthcare Finance.

Education is the best legacy.” But how does education abroad translates to smart career choices and personal successes?


Firstly, education anywhere is valuable and critical to personal development. The importance of education cannot be over-emphasized as it presents enormous opportunities of achieving professional and career success, while powering innovations, inventions, and solutions to real-world problems. From travel, technology, communication, medical breakthroughs, agriculture, including our environments as it relates to climate change, education remains the bedrock of our shared human value. Studying abroad enhances access to new opportunities, uninterrupted studies, experiential andapplication-based knowledge transfer, and a chance to pursue whatever educational or career path of interest. However, beyond studying abroad, an individual ultimately controls their destiny regarding how they intend to apply acquired education. Of course, ValueChain Academy provides resources to support professional development, career guidance, mentorship, and advice throughout every stage of a student’s educational journey.

How does the ValueChain Academy intercede for African international students on the available opportunities especially on how to protect them against fraudsters and traffickers; what is the step-by-step support like?


At the core of our mission is to increase representation of underrepresented professionals and students into competitive positions and academic programs across top-tier, global institutions, and universities. Both students and professionals need to be educational equipped at levels that are both comparative and competitive to their peers in Europe, North America, China, South Korea, etc. Global issues affect all regions, and with the world increasingly becoming a “global village” (thanks to technology), Africa needs to position itself strategically, and proactively invest in raising the next generation of leaders. As a continent, Africa needs an astronomic increase in both its educated and professional population.Africans must be prepared to have a seat at the global stage wherever and whenever current and emerging global issues are discussed. Some of these issues include, but are not limited to, global pandemics (e.g., recent COVID-19), artificial intelligence/ machine learning (AI/ML), climate change, crypto or digital currencies, food security, water shortages, sanitation, smart cities, and much more. Hence, we strive to expose our community to opportunities that shape, inspire, and support educational growth and professional development.#

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