With a background in law, Mories Atoki spent time in litigation and corporate law (Oil and gas) before starting her own law firm. Concurrently, she joined the service line of Ernst & Young (EY) as an associate in tax practice. A personal tragedy- the loss of a child- challenged her to get into business development, doing marketing, sales, communications and business development at a multi-national level.
She later joined PriceWaterhouseCoopers, PwC where she pioneered and led the firm’s Sustainability & Climate Change practice before her present position as CEO, ABC Health. She speaks with Funmi Ajumobi about navigating the various fields and the future of healthcare in Africa
You have been in the corporate world and now you are in the development environment. How do you bridge the gap?
While I was in tax, I was interfacing with top level leaders so they recommended me for a global conference and I went.
There, I saw they were talking about an area called sustainability; clmate change and sustainable development. I ran a course at Harvard Business school under strategy called Innovation for Sustainability but I just stored it because I thought Nigeria wasn’t ready for climate change.
In the development space, there is an element of the Sustainable Development Goals that goes with a lot of areas of development like health, child labour, violence on women and so on.
There is also an area of human rights that is applicable in the development space. So I think between when I did business development and my sustainability role, I started without intending to engage the private sector. So when the opportunity came, I thought to myself that I could do it and here I am.
Agenda for ABC is to improve the standard of living, quality of lives…It looks so huge. How are you driving the implementation?
Without being told, it must happen in phases. Africa Business Coalition for Health, the two principals involved are Aig Imoukhuede and Aliko Dangote Foundation; Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, in his capacity as the chairman, ABCHealth, and co-chairman, Global Business Coalition for Health (GBCHealth).
He is the pioneer and one of the very few people years ago that focused on health at the global level. It was a time they had to put an end to health issues in the United States; HIV, Tuberculosis.
The business community came together for the need to end the health issues in the area of social development and the Impact was made.
So when that worked, CAMA, Coalition Against Malaria for the purpose to end malaria was formed in Africa.
At some point before ABC health was launched, Bill Gates visited Alhaji Aliko and they had a meeting and he also hosted his business friends in Nigeria at a high level. Bill Gates told them they can’t claim to be this successful if their nation will have this enormous level of poverty. It was a kind of challenge to the private sector.
The outcome was the establishment of PSHAN, the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, where they could come together and were able to adopt a public health facility in all the 774 Local government areas at a very standard level and also ensure sustainability.
When they saw that PSHAN was successful as a model, Aig proposed to the CEO of Aliko Dangote Foundation to have the model in Africa and ECOWAS was excited about it.
We found out that the level of education and exposure of the health of any country is not just the business of the government or the health personnel of that country but also the business of everybody because at the time you need it or your relative needs it, it becomes important to you. It’s a way to identify who your stakeholders are, bring them to the table, let them be part of what you are developing so that you don’t lose out and the work is optimized.
We are an organization that thinks beyond improving health in Nigeria, to take a model of PSHAN to other African countries because we have the relationships and we are with ECOWAS. So they are using the opportunity, wealth they possess to create something really meaningful in Africa in the health space. We have come to stay.
What is your particular approach to COVID?
We were to take CACOVID to other African countries but by the time it existed and needed to be operationalized, other countries also had similar initiatives so it was almost too late to do that. In February 2019 when ABC was being launched in Africa Union Business Summit in Addis in Ethiopia, a report called, Health and Economic Growth in Africa was launched too.
That report was very important especially to the kind of movement we have been talking about; identifying what private sector can bring to the table which was about knowing the correlation between the economy and the health of its citizens so that businesses can see direct correlations between profitability and the health of its citizens. It tells you economically how much each country allocates to health compared to the other areas of development which was kind of an eye opener to a lot of businesses and also to the private sector.
When Covid happened and we had the opportunity to engage the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), we told ourselves that the narrative has changed. Six months to Covid, things were different but it came very massive, unexpected, daring, still confusing and what we decided to do, we issued another report in partnership with them which was called, “Doing Health Differently Beyond Covid-19”.
CACOVID will deal with health in Nigeria, let every country take their own responsibility because Covid is a pandemic. Stay alive first. It wasn’t then to take a model to another country, it was then to just survive and so we are launching that report of partnership at the UNGA78 in September. It will take the realities of what we are now which is an important data to share after this Covid seemingly disappears.
In 2018, the UN Health and Economic Growth in Africa launched a pilot initiative across ten countries in Eastern Africa which was about local manufacture of drugs. More than 90% of our drugs in Africa is imported and you know what that means economically. We are talking about almost 74 million dollars being taken out on drugs alone. Nobody questions it. There have been a lot of market analyses about that trend. If this money remains in Africa, it will add to economic growth, health sector, even to the livelihoods because it will crash the cost of those drugs by reducing it by over 50%.
So what UN Economic Commision for Africa proposed to us after the successful pilot project in East Africa, is to do the same thing with us in West Africa. The 3 point agenda is Local Manufacturing, Addressing Counterfeit Drugs and also Food Security. We have entered into partnership with them. Post Covid, these are the necessary steps to closing the gaps that are made more obvious because of the pandemic.
Occupying this position, what have you learnt?
I came from a senior management position in a consulting multinational in the development space. Something that is really passionate for me and is close to my heart is the fact that a few people decided to impact this space. They can decide to keep their money. They are also encouraging others to join them. They have been motivated by somebody who told them it’s shameful to exist in candour and assume grace when every other person around you is in abject poverty. The fact that they chose to move in this direction is a lot to me.
How do you make the organization gender friendly?
I think the owners took informed decisions- gender based decisions in a balanced way. For example, PSHAN, my sister company is also run by a female. I think because they are business people, it’s just a matter of security they seem to have and confidence they would get more done if a woman heads in the development space and maybe because of our passion and emotional angle to get things done.
I think they purposely take us because of their experience and they have worked with men before and they weren’t pleased. I cant say it’s an agenda or intentionally done, but I can tell by the ecosystem.
Have there been any discrepancies between the members?
None that I know of. Somebody had a lot of foresight in the health development space years before for reasons best known to him. Even before health became a problem. They leverage on his experience so when it’s health, there is this co-ordinated effort to ask him to come and lead it.
What disease are you looking at after Covid?
In our strategy, remembering we are Africans, right now just as Covid was never expected, there is no one disease that we can say is next. Covid is not an African disease anyway. We have a lot of experts to be part of our strategies for each country; we are doing an analysis of diseases. Already in Nigeria, there is CAMA from GBC Health.
With the volume of work, how do you relax?
Ours is about strategizing, doing a lot of analyses. These are the areas that are missing. It helps us to take informed decisions. Just as you have observed, I have observed and I heard that there is cancer waiting inside of everyone. It’s waiting for just a trigger. In Africa, it has been observed that 3 out of 4 men will have prostate cancer. The solution is early detection. This cancer is within the African race. Accessibility and availability is really a huge gap in health. What the likes of AIG is doing is to awaken private sector to invest in it.