It was while Dr. Ola Brown (Orekunrin) was studying to become a doctor that a family tragedy in Nigeria highlighted the urgent need for emergency-response healthcare in the populous West African country. Ola went on to graduate and worked in acute medicine for several years before returning to Nigeria with an answer to the problem she’d witnessed first-hand, a few years before.
“I was looking for a way to make the largest impact I could on the Nigerian healthcare sector,” she explains. And that way was founding Flying Doctors Nigeria, the country’s first air ambulance service. Based in Lagos, Flying Doctors Nigeria provides the doctors and air transport needed to provide urgent medical assistance in trauma situations and emergencies, where every second counts. Flying Doctors Nigeria has been in business for almost a decade and has saved countless lives.
“After the death of my sister, the importance of getting critically ill patients to the right facility in good time spurred me on to get started,” Ola tells us. “I saw that people in Africa were dying because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
A flying start
Having built the business from the ground up while in her twenties, Ola admits that it was a daunting task ahead of her at the start. “At the beginning, my biggest challenge was believing in myself.” But she persisted with her vision, drawing on the wisdom and expertise of others to help her build her business and overcome every hurdle. “I asked people who’d already started businesses or worked for air ambulance companies,” Ola explains. “The best piece of advice anyone gave me? Never spend money that hasn’t hit your bank account yet.”
But did this young doctor with limited business experience have any fears about taking on such an ambitious project? “Not particularly… I think the people around me were more afraid than I was!” laughs Ola. Her can-do attitude and determination to save lives has proven to be a major driving force behind Flying Doctors Nigeria—and it’s an attribute that’s been recognised more widely in the business world, too. In 2013, Ola was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader under 40 and she has gone on to give numerous keynote addresses on the world stage, as well as receiving prestigious awards for her achievements.
Good for girls
Today, Flying Doctors Nigeria focuses not just on saving lives, but on improving lives, too. Corporate social responsibility initiatives include providing free nursing training to a number of Nigerian women and providing grants and cash prizes to promising medical students. The business also engages in female advocacy projects that provide sanitary products to schoolgirls and run personal development sessions on issues ranging from productivity to communication skills.
Ola’s work takes her all over the world as not only the founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria but also as an author, investor, member of the American College of Emergency Physicians and, of course, doctor. Despite all of her accomplishments, Ola still has an appetite for learning and development. “I’ve learned to be selfish about my self development,” she explains. “I have a mastermind group of ladies like Tara Fela Durotoye, who owns a make up business; we meet up to talk business, work things out and thrive together.” Now, having successfully paired medicine with entrepreneurship, Ola is training to become a helicopter pilot.
Next, Ola hopes to expand her team and provide air ambulance services even more widely in the region. “I want to build a pan-African service,” she says of her ultimate ambition. Having made the seemingly impossible possible, what has been Ola’s greatest achievement to date? Her answer is unequivocal: “Above all, I’m so proud of the great team I’ve built.”
Learn more about Ola and Flying Doctors Nigeria: