Dr. Benjamin Olowojebutu
Founder, Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation (BOF)
Alumnus, Healthcare Executives Leadership Programme
Over 1700 free successful surgeries and counting…
In 2018, Benjamin Olowojebutu founded the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation (BOF), a non-profit that provides free surgical services to individuals and communities who would otherwise struggle to access affordable and good quality healthcare. By collaborating with local health facilities, the Foundation has since inception gone on to carry out over 1700 free operations - often in remote and impoverished communities across Nigeria. Common procedures include the surgical excisions of lipomas, breast lumps, and fibroids, and hernia repairs. For the most part, these conditions require relatively low-risk surgeries which his team have the expertise to perform and the local facilities, the capabilities to manage post-operatively.
We met with Benjamin recently to discuss his journey since completion of the HLA’s Healthcare Executives Leadership Programme in 2018. Why did he found this organisation? What is his vision for it? What sustains him even when he encounters challenges? And, what can we and others learn from his own unique story?
So why is he doing this?
We first met Benjamin in 2016 when he enrolled on the Healthcare Executives Leadership Programme, a year-long programme designed to equip clinician managers with the skills and abilities to effectively lead and manage people and processes to deliver quality services and the ensure financial viability of their healthcare businesses. At the time, he had applied for the programme with the aim of using the competencies gained to grow the Lagos-based private hospital, Liberty Life Hospital where he was a partner.
However, the year took an unprecedented turn for him. A near fatal road traffic accident at the end of the year forced him to reflect on where his passion really lay and the legacy he would like to create. He had only just started the Healthcare Executives Leadership Programme a few weeks prior, and unsurprisingly given his outgoing and charismatic personality, he had already been nominated the “class captain” and become dear to his peers. These connections proved vital, as they, his fellow medical directors and healthcare executives in both the public and private sector, as well as his family and friends, all rallied around him during this difficult time, and to the best of their abilities, sought to ensure he received the best inpatient care. Yet, in spite of this, the experience proved deeply harrowing and laid bare the vulnerabilities of the Nigerian health system. He describes his experience as a patient within the healthcare system as the driving force behind his desire to create equity in access to quality health services.
“I felt the crunch and challenges in healthcare personally, me as a person, as a doctor I felt it. I was in that quagmire for three and a half hours bleeding to death and nobody attended to me in one of the hospitals in Lagos. I do not want anybody to lack access to healthcare; I want to touch more lives with my negative pain.The thing this accident has denied me of fuels me to do more for others... My vision is to have everyone in Africa have access to healthcare; till that happens I will not stop.”
On August 1st, 2018, only a few months after recovering from this ordeal, he launched the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation. By its first anniversary, the Foundation had reached communities in Abia, Imo, Benue, Rivers, Lagos, Edo, Cross River, Ondo, and Akwa Ibom and performed well over 1,000 operations.
What does it take to achieve this much impact in such a short amount of time?
The successes of the Foundation are not attributable to Benjamin alone but also to the small but effective team of hand-picked full-time employees and volunteers that work with him to achieve the Foundation’s vision.
“HELP improved my service quality, improved my leadership abilities and empowered me to lead my team, pass on leadership lessons to them, inspire and manage my volunteers… get people to own the vision, and get people to be a part of the process and not just the product. I also learned what makes the right team. When I started giving out free surgeries I did not have the right team for what I was doing, but after my time in HELP I realized the importance of the right team and since then I have been intentional about building this.”
Given the circumstances at the time, Benjamin’s place on the Healthcare Executives Leadership Programme (HELP) was deferred for a year to ensure he had ample time to recuperate. He subsequently joined the 2017/18 cohort and successfully completed the programme in September 2018. During the programme, he began to create the blueprint for the Foundation and today, he credits the programme with shaping much of his approach to leading and managing his organisation.
I learned about quality and how to prioritize quality in resource-limited areas, for example, instead of using washable scrubs, I use disposable scrubs for all surgeries using one per patient. This decision is expensive but helps us not compromise the safety of any of our patients. To curb the expense of my quality decisions, I employ the negotiations skills I learned at HELP to get good discounts from pharmaceuticals.
“Community mobilization and participation is an important lesson I learned at HELP under Population Health, the people in the community are a crucial part of the process of entering communities and having an easy time delivering care.
Among his Foundation’s volunteers are the doctors and healthcare administrators he met while on the Healthcare Executive Leadership Programme, one of whom he recently partnered with in Lagos State to provide free medical services to a hundred people.
What’s next and how does he intend to sustain these gains?
Benjamin’s vision is to set up clinics across all the six geo-political zones in Nigeria where quality surgical services can be provided to people who would otherwise be denied this due to their inability to pay for it or sometimes simply access it. To achieve this, he has set incremental SMART goals and in 2019, set a target to perform 1000 free operations before the end of the year. By August 2019, he had performed over 800 such operations and was already well on his way to surpassing his goal for the year.
However, surgery requires the availability of basic infrastructure, strict hygiene conditions, talent, and the availability of medicines and surgical materials to name a few. These basic requirements do not come cheap. So naturally, we wonder how he has been and intends to fund the work of the Foundation and also how he is designing his approach for sustainability.
The Foundation is a social impact driven non-profit which to date has largely subsisted on financial contributions from individuals, with Benjamin himself contributing significantly to this pool, and in-kind donations, of surgical supplies for example, from individuals and organisations. To sustain operations and scale, they continue to actively seek partnerships, donations, and grants.
Benjamin is driven by a desire to make a tangible difference in people’s lives and is heavily influenced by his faith, the legacy and teachings of his father, and his personal belief and motivation that love is the greatest currency in the world and we should all relate with our fellow human beings with love. He is intentional about mentoring, coaching and training young doctors on the importance of giving back to society and he remains a strong advocate for universal health coverage.
Dr. Benjamin Olowojebutu obtained his medical degree from the University of Lagos where he specialized in Family Medicine. He honed his craft working in both the private and public sectors of healthcare delivery in Nigeria, and in 2016 he partnered to set up Liberty Life Hospital. Dr Olowojebutu left Liberty Life Hospital in February 2019; In June 2019 he joined Twinex Medical Center where he serves as CEO/Medical Director. In 2018, he founded the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation where he holds the position of Executive Director.
For more information about the Foundation and/or to support Benjamin’s transformative and impactful work, please contact his team here.