Published on : 25/09/2020 – 08:13
A specialist in immunology and cancerology, Kenyan Yvonne Mburu has created Nexakili, a network of African doctors and scientists. She also took advantage of her period of confinement to study the evolution of the coronavirus on the continent.
A researcher above all, she became an entrepreneur « by necessity ». Yvonne Mburu is 38 years old, she was born and raised in Kenya before pursuing her graduate studies in Canada and then in the United States. His specialties: immunology and cancerology. She then worked in Paris, at the Institut Curie, a prestigious cancer research and treatment center: it was there that she learned French. And it was there too, eight years ago, that she learned that an aunt, in Kenya, had cancer. « It was a very significant moment, she recalls. She had lung cancer and the question was: what should we do ? » Sadness is then coupled with a case of conscience: « EShe had to leave the country and I found that really sad. There are a lot of people like me: if we all leave the continent and the solution is always to leave our country to seek treatment elsewhere, then nothing will ever change ! »
A Linkedin for African scientists
A reflection then began which would end five years later, in 2017, when she decided to found Medinafrica, soon to be renamed Nexakili. The researcher turns into an entrepreneur, to put herself at the service of Africa. « There are plenty of African experts all over the world, except these experts are not in Africa. I’m part of ! » Yvonne Mburu then had the idea of create “ a Linkedin for African doctors and scientists », but not only. « The key, explains the director generalis that they are people who are interested in Africa. And the interest is first of all to connect Africans who have the same professional interests. When I’m looking for people to collaborate with on a research topic, it’s very easy to collaborate with Americans, Chinese or Australians, but it’s not easy to collaborate with Africans because you don’t know them. not ! »
Networking which should also make it possible to raise awareness of African scientific work, which only represents 2% of world scientific production, with often too little sharing. At this stage, Nexakili is not a profitable company and, for the moment, Yvonne Mburu makes a living from her research activity… but she intends to reverse the trend.
With Nexakili, Yvonne Mburu therefore intends to strengthen collaboration between African scientists. An ambition that she has, like a mise en abyme, herself put into practice during the period of confinement. Winner in 2018 of the Next Einstein Forum, which rewards the best African scientists, Yvonne Mburu goes to Nairobi to attend the 2020 edition. The event is finally canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the researcher decides to stay at Nairobi to take care of his parents and in particular his father, who is particularly exposed. She is also taking advantage of the confinement period to set up a working group dedicated to modeling the evolution of the coronavirus on the continent.
« It really took me to find the best African mathematicians, scientists or epidemiologists interested in the African context. We exchanged a lot of information from one country to another, because at the beginning, all we saw in Africa was: there you have it, there were 15 000 dead in Italy so far, so if we do a projection there will be 200 000 dead in Africa … but finally, that has nothing to do ! » His indignation is expressed by a great burst of laughter, and his resolution by hard work: « THESo very quickly a group of researchers who were interested in the subject was formed, and we started to work. »
Some focus on diagnostics, others on the economic impact of the virus; Yvonne Mburu is therefore interested in the prospects for the evolution of the coronavirus. She is now teaming up with a mathematician, with whom she will accompany several African countries on the subject. At this point, Yvonne Mburu does not yet reveal which ones.
Her work as a researcher and entrepreneur are not the only facets of her commitment to the continent. In France, Yvonne Mburu is a member of the Presidential Council for Africa. An organization founded three years ago by Emmanuel Macron, which brought together various African and diaspora personalities – for the most part but not only – in order to advise him on relations between France and Africa.
Yvonne Mburu, a Kenyan living in France, was contacted in the simplest way possible, by email. She was surprised at first. Then she decided to go. « Frankly, it’s a very interesting adventure, she assures, not neglecting to reiterate her desire to remain independent. We were told from the start that we were free to speak up and continue our activities. Either way, we are not paid. I don’t see this as political support, explains Yvonne Mburu again. There are real development issues: education, health… There are also issues of memory, agriculture… The commitment of Western countries in Africa must meet the needs of Africans. My interest is to make sure that Mr. Macron is aware of what Africans want. »
Yvonne Mburu thus participated, for French cooperation, in the identification of innovative projects in Africa in the field of health. Hyperactive, she who already speaks five languages has again taken up Spanish and Japanese, « for the challenge, she says, to learn a new alphabe » ! Her current bedside book: A Biography of Nike Founder Phil Knight, whom she describes as « a Bible for entrepreneurs. »