As a doctor in Lagos, Nigeria, Idris Ola has seen the need for better cancer care in his community firsthand. “It all started during my fourth year in medical school,” he recounted. “I observed in the clinics that the age of incidence of breast and other gynecological cancers, especially cervical cancer, was coming earlier than what most researches and literatures had asserted. Women in their thirties were being diagnosed with breast cancer as opposed to the expectation of the disease showing up around their fifties. Then, shortly after my graduation, a very close family friend died from breast cancer after over a year of concealment and patronage of traditional and faith healers. She died less than three hours into her presentation in the hospital. Like many other women, she was presented too late when not much could be done to help her. That was the final stroke for me.”
According to research at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), Ola told us, breast and cervical cancers rank highest among causes of cancer deaths among Nigerian women. Studies have shown only 18.8% and 4% awareness of these cancers respectively in Nigeria, and only 36.4% of women report awareness of cervical cancer screening procedures.
This led Ola to found Women’s Cancer Prevention and Support for African Society (WOCAPSS-Africa) in 2017. Since then, WOCAPSS has conducted over 21,000 community-based breast and cervical cancer screenings, and trained over 25,000 women and girls on cancer education and breast cancer self-examinations. Ola explains that these services are necessary, as most community members are undereducated about cancer and its early detection, and steep hospital fees prevent many from accessing cancer screening and treatment services.
WOCAPSS’ community-based outreach activities have been a great first step; however Ola’s vision goes much further. He aspires to provide a full spectrum of services for Nigerians diagnosed with cancer, including expanding community-based education and screening activities, opening cancer clinics across Nigeria that provide subsidized cancer screenings and increase early detection rates, and connecting cancer patients with specialized treatment services. Additionally, Ola also hopes to expand cancer policy advocacy efforts with the Nigerian government, and to carry out epidemiological cancer research in the country. All of Ola’s goals are detailed WOCAPSS’ recently created 3-year action plan.
In the few years that WOCAPSS has operated, the organization has accelerated quickly. A major success has been the reception of four funded grants, most notably a joint grant from USAID, the USADF, and Citi Foundation to open a flagship cancer screening clinic in Ibadan. And although USAID has labelled WOCAPSS as a “startup” organization, Ola recognizes that there is already potential for WOCAPSS to take big steps towards the “expansion” phase.
Against this backdrop, we asked Ola what his biggest challenges are in working towards WOCAPSS’ mission, vision, and goals. He responded “An ineffective Board, inadequate access to human and especially financial resources, and a lack of strong organizational capacity and influence to push policy changes at topmost levels.”
Ola recognizes that developing WOCAPSS’ organizational capacity will be key to realizing its 3-year action plan. Resultingly, he is currently focusing his efforts on building out WOCAPSS’ board of directors. Ola explained how he plans to approach the project; “In the past, we tried to formulate a board. When recruiting board members we focused on their professional roles and qualifications. However we quickly realized that many board members were not committed. This time, we will focus much more on identifying committed board members.”
Ola knows that, as a busy full time doctor, he won’t be able to achieve his vision alone, and committed board members will be critical contributors in the years ahead. In his recently created WOCAPSS board charter, Ola specified how Board members will directly advance WOCAPSS’ fundraising, programming, marketing and advocacy efforts. A strong board will also play a critical role in strengthening the organization’s governance and bolstering its credibility as it continues growing.
Ola also told us that, while he has experienced success with grant applications, gaining funding is still another challenge. “I must admit that finding and applying for funding for the organization is a very challenging process,” he told us. “From conception of appropriate project idea, to putting together strong project proposals, to budgeting and justifying the budgets. It’s both tedious and mentally demanding. But the most frustrating aspect is finding a perfect donor organization.”
PEACE was privileged to conduct one of its two pilot partnerships this summer with WOCAPSS (along with Uwezo Wetu, based in the Congo DRC). Over three months, we strove to help Mr. Ola meet his needs and realize his vision; by providing much-needed manpower, and by assisting him with projects key to building WOCAPSS’ organizational capacity. The results of the partnership were:
- 3-year action plan created
- New website created (wocapssafrica.wordpress.com)
- 1 U.S.-based board member onboarded
- Training on project evaluation
- 6 potential grant funding sources identified
During a debriefing meeting on August 30, we spoke with Ola about how the partnership went, and how we can continue to work together in the future. He told us that he most appreciated the 3-year action plan. “This will be a key document,” he told us. “Our projects would be structured to fulfill each goal in the action plan and we’ll be able to better evaluate the plan along the way.”
Summarizing the partnership, Ola said that “we are definitely not where we were before we started the summer partnership. We’ve been able to set better templates for growth in areas of organizational structure and capacity, strategic planning and resource mobilization. In the next 3 years, our hope of being a stronger organization is definitely brighter than before we started the partnership.”
PEACE Executive Director Peter Mosher added that “It was a real privilege to work with Idris this summer, he is a tremendous leader and I believe his organization will be making waves in the years ahead. I was happy to hear he found our partnership useful. Most importantly, I’m really happy to collect feedback from Idris and my other partner, Gloria, about how we can help even more in the future. With the right resources, not only can we continue to provide consulting services, but we can also help our partners to fundraise, build connections, and reach broader audiences. Both Idris and I are eager to continue our partnership and see how we can further work towards the realization of his vision.”
Ola similarly remarked, “the opportunities to help my organization is limitless. From fundraising, to securing partnerships with US organizations, to linking us to opportunities for continuous skills acquisition and capacity building, to improving our organization’s image and visibility. We can also work with PEACE to gain access to grants exclusively available for US-based organizations to carry out projects in foreign locations. These are some of the numerous ways that PEACE can help.”
In the more immediate term, PEACE and Ola have agreed to collaborate on a crowdfunding campaign in December as our next project. Please follow us to stay tuned on how you can contribute!