Collins Oghor: “African solutions to African problems”

"There has to be a revolution where you have hard-working, passionate and talented Africans deciding that we want to change things in our countries and across the continent"

McGill MBA alumnus, doctor, international medical researcher, global health consultant, company owner, fitness buff, world traveler, fashion maven. And 27 years old.

There’s no pigeon-holing Collins Oghor.

The McGill grad who arrived in Canada from Nigeria at 17 to attend McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and then McGill, has come full circle. He will soon return to Nigeria, from where he will fan out across the African continent as a consultant on global health initiatives.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology from McMaster, Oghor was on the well-trodden track toward medical school.

Collins Oghor completed the joint MD-MBA program in the Spring of 2018

But career choice has always been a tug-o-war between business and medicine, both of which have always held a fascination for him. In Nigeria, where his father is a retired oil executive and mother a fashion designer, he devoured two books – and exposed the two competing interests in his life: the autobiography of Dr. Ben Carson, who rose from Detroit’s inner city to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital; and Rich Dad Poor Dad, a get-rich-quick book by financial literacy guru Robert Kiyosaki.

After his Bachelor’s degree, Oghor was uncertain, looking around for a direction.

Unique MD-MBA program

“I was looking online at the programs that accept international students in Canada – and there weren’t many, maybe four or so. McGill came up, something called an MD-MBA [a combined degree in both medicine and business]. I said ‘This has got to be written in the stars.’ I’d never heard of an MD-MBA [which is no longer offered]. I applied and got in.”

One day, Oghor attended an introductory class on global health by Dr. Madhukar Pai of McGill’s Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, at which, Pai said, “I asked a question: Is there any scope for these greedy Wall St. types to make a difference in the area of global health? I then answered that there is – they are contributing to global health,” citing Bill Gates.

“After the lecture, this guy came running behind me. I’d never met him before. He said ‘Dr. Pai, I’m Collins, I’m an MD-MBA student, one of the MBAs-Wall St. types you talked about. I’m upset that you think we can’t contribute.’ I said ‘Of course you can contribute. Would you like to do something?’”

Travel awards around the world

Pai got a donor to sponsor Oghor for the Osler Medical Aid Foundation (OMAF) scholarship, which sent the student to India in 2015 to work with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) on tuberculosis. Later, Oghor earned an internship in Geneva to work on a United Nations campaign called Stop TB Partnership; and then won the Ashworth Student Travel Award in 2016 to work for a month in a rural clinic in his native Nigeria.

Oghor said the travel awards allowed him to gauge the vast – even daunting – amount of work, dedication, investments, policy changes and infrastructure work, among other things, needed to effect meaningful change.

“There is only so much a superbly trained physician can do if there is no electricity when a motor vehicle accident victim is wheeled into the emergency room at midnight, for example,” he added.

Later this month, Oghor is returning to Nigeria indefinitely – but this time after being hired as a senior analyst by global consultancy McKinsey & Co. for its Africa Delivery Hub, a unit that works on public and social sector projects on behalf of governments and NGOs. The projects focus mainly on health care, but also on education, agriculture and power infrastructure.

McGill mentorship pays off

Oghor praises and his two mentors, Pai and Dr. Arvind Joshi of McGill’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who was previously CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital for 16 years.

“Having a mentor like Dr. Pai has been absolutely vital,” said Oghor. “It’s one thing having a mentor willing give you good advice, good clear guidance, but another thing when that mentor is able to help you gain access to sponsorships or to jobs and internships like the one in India and at the UN. That was through his network, it was just amazing.”

He also credited Fiona Macfarlane, the Desautels Faculty of Management MBA mentoring program manager, for connecting him to Dr. Joshi, with whom Oghor feels a kinship.

“He’s Kenyan-born, of Indian origins, leaves Kenya at 16, goes to Ireland to study medicine, and then ends up here, where he did an MBA later in his career.”

The power of mentors is so important,” said Oghor. “Whenever I had to do something a bit off the regular path, Dr. Joshi would always encourage me. He’d say ‘You know what? Seeing this from where I am in my 60s, do it. Don’t be scared.’ We’ve known each other for almost six years and still today, I see Dr. Joshi every other month.”

“So, having Dr. Pai and Dr. Joshi as mentors has been really incredible. If I were to take one thing from my McGill experience that is most valuable, it’s been the mentorship. You need multiple mentors. Surround yourself with mentors.”

The praise goes both ways, however.

“I feel absolutely privileged to be Collins’s mentor,” said Joshi. “He’s exceptionally intelligent, multi-talented and a real futurist who sees with the eyes of the new generation.”

Good for Collins to land such an important job, good for McKinsey for hiring him and good for McGill, he’ll do the University proud,” said Joshi. “I’ll always keep in touch with him. He holds a very special place in my heart.”

Pai said he was “very excited because I think he can make a big impact in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is enormous and he has unique skill sets – an MD-MBA, which I think puts him in a different league altogether.”

Joshi added: “He’ll break new ground in a non-traditional fashion.”

Combining passions

As excited as he is for the newest phase of his life, Oghor understands the reality of the situation. He is one man, and Africa is a large continent with entrenched interests, customs and practices.

“I’m not going to do it alone. I’m starting from the base of being within an organization that has a lot of influence and a lot of smart, hard-working and passionate people who care about the problems they face,” said Oghor. “But ultimately, there’s a new mantra going around: African solutions to African problems. There has to be a revolution where you have hard-working, passionate and talented Africans from all over the world deciding that we want to change things in our countries and across the continent. And that revolution has to start somewhere. Maybe it’s already started and I’m just a part of it. But me going back sends a message … that Africa is not just a charity case. There’s a lot of good work to be done, but it could also be very rewarding emotionally, career-wise and even financially.”

Financial soundness is not incidental to Oghor. He is majority owner of Maison Leporem on Sherbrooke St., definitely not your average men’s clothing shop. The high-end store caters to the upwardly mobile and is more of a lifestyle brand than a store – it’s open solely by appointment and offers its clients whiskey, advice and wine-and-cheese get-togethers with featured speakers. Oghor himself can be seen in many photos, looking strikingly like a men’s model in high-fashion magazines (as well as on his Instagram page)

“There’s a point at which business – I mean management in general – intersects with medicine,” said Oghor. “That sweet spot is what I’m interested in.”

Both have similar foundational principles, said Oghor: risk-taking, dealing with people, raising funds.

“You can apply those to other fields, like I did for fashion.”