Luis Ruuska | March 18, 2017
Before the summer of 2016, Dr. Rania Ibrahim, a Notre Dame Mandela Washington Fellow from Ethiopia, and Dr. Olubunmi Okanlami ’08 EMBA, then a critical care pediatrician with Memorial Hospital of South Bend, were strangers separated by an ocean. Neither one could have anticipated the high-impact professional relationship that would blossom during the six-week business and entrepreneurship-based program hosted by the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD).
Dr. Ibrahim came to Notre Dame with an impressive background focused on bettering health care in her home country. “I applied to the Mandela Fellowship hoping to strengthen my skills in business development,” she explains. “I wanted to learn to expand access to medical technology and to learn ways to fully develop different possibilities of public-private partnerships.”
While at Notre Dame, Dr. Ibrahim was mentored by David Murphy, director of the Engineering, Science, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s (ESTEEM) program. After learning about Ibrahim’s desire to fuse medicine with business, Murphy introduced her to Dr. Okanlami.
“I was born and raised in Nigeria before I came here as a physician,” Dr. Okanlami said. “My son, Feranmi, is an alumnus of ESTEEM, and over the years we’ve talked about our interest in giving back to the University in some way. When I heard about these young African leaders, it was a perfect opportunity to learn about the needs in their countries and how we could help.”
From the beginning, Dr. Ibrahim and Dr. Okanlami clicked over their shared interests in health care and business. Ibrahim was particularly intrigued by Dr. Okanlami’s MBA, and how it has changed her approach to medicine.
“I think my MD and MBA have been a wonderful union of the two sides that are required to provide good health care,” says Dr. Okanlami. “As a physician in business you have a different set of priorities than the business person who’s not medically trained. But the MBA helps you sympathize with the person who says: ‘I can’t pay for all of that.’ It helps you go back to the drawing board and use evidence-based information to determine which elements are going to go the furthest or impact the most people.”