Elsa grew up in Cameroon, a country situated in West and Central Africa, often known as ‘Africa in miniature’ because of its geographical and cultural diversity. Although she was aware that my family was well-to do, later in life, she realised that she grew up in what she calls a ‘cocoon’. Elsa grew up with a ‘knowing’ that between her parents’ financial and intellectual capabilities and her faith in God, almost anything was achievable.
Elisa’s mum, a pharmacist, owns a thriving pharmacy in the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé. Her dad, a pharmacist, and scientist, led the National AIDS program in Cameroon and then joined the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) over 20 years ago. She attended a highly esteemed all-girl boarding school in Cameroon, Our Lady of Lourdes College, Bamenda where she completed secondary school. By virtue of being better at the sciences than the arts, but also as a by-product of my home influence, studying science at A Level and eventually at university was a logical route.
She moved back to the UK (I was born in Leeds) at age 15, where she attended an all-girls boarding school in Reading, Queen Anne’s School Caversham. Clearly, her parents had a mission to ensure that she stayed in all-girl schools. At the time, her naive mind thought it was a way to ensure she stayed away from boys. Well, she learned later on that all-girls school provide an insular effect supporting girls to stay in STEM longer (usually at the graduate level) alongside developing further leadership and political skills.
Joanna Sikora, 2014, highlighted that girls in all-girls schools are more likely to take physical science subjects and are keener to pursue careers in physics, computing, engineering than their counterparts in coeducational schools. She guesses it is no surprise then that she went on to complete a B.Sc. in Molecular Biology with a year in industry followed by a Ph.D. in Infectious Disease and Global Health at the University of Liverpool.
9 months into my Ph.D., she had the realisation that while she loved science, staying in academia was not her preferred career path. Elsa sets out to ‘find’ or she now realise ‘create’ a career for herself. This led to her co-founding an organisation, the Northwest Biotech Initiative (NBI) to support student scientists seekin careers outside academia. Although no longer under her management, NBI is now in its 10th year, hosted over 50 events and supported 100+ students into employment. By virtue of her Ph.D and her supervisor’s research expertise, in 2015, during the biggest Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the opportunity to deploy to Guinea with the World health Organisation (WHO) was presented to her.
Unflinchingly, she agreed to take the opportunity and spent 6 weeks working 12-14 hours/day, 7 days a week testing 200+ samples for malaria and the Ebola virus. Upon her return to the United Kingdom, she received ‘The Ebola Medal for Service in West Africa’ from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, II (may she RIP). This experience left an indelible mark on her and so she became an advocate. She was selected out of thousands of applicants by the European Commission as a European Development Days 2016 young leader to represent Sustainable Development Goal 3: Universal Healthcare for All.
Elsa debated on high-level panel meetings along with Mark Dybul, former Executive Director of Global Fund, and many other high-level executives on the importance of health equity and equal Global North-Global South power dynamics. She now sits at the intersection of science, entrepreneurship, and policy as she quickly realised, these sectors require collaboration for efficient impact. She is a founder of SökerData Ltd, a startup increasing diversity in clinical trials, engaging underrepresented communities about participation in life science research and championing health equity. She sits on several boards: University of Salford – Manchester, Science and Industry Museum Manchester, and SmartWorks charity, supporting women into work. She is a public speaker, invited to speak about women and girls in STEM, clinical trial participation, and Africa-Europen partnerships.
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