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BusinessDay

Bilqis Williams, providing global solutions to local needs

...extending local solutions to global scene

Bilqis Williams MPH, DF-FIGHR is a medical doctor, global and environmental public health practitioner. Williams possesses over a decade of experience serving in clinical, research, managerial and crisis resolution roles.

She has a track record of success in feminine health, mental health, community and policy development, geospatial analysis, health equity, racial justice, inclusive leadership, human rights activism, immigrant/ refugee and displaced persons health and humanitarian service.

Williams is the creator of the 20% equity rule and has informed diversity and sensitivity policies for congress candidates in the US.

Bilqis has led different interprofessional teams to provide community support systems, sustainable energy projects between cities across the world, and is a writer of interest in environmental and global health.

She also advises independent research institutions on the varying intersections that influence health outcomes. Williams is the first ever recipient of the Peace Prize for Community Activism and is listed by the Boston University School of Public Health as one of 20 change makers of our century and listed as one of the top 1000 Women on LinkedIn.

A philanthropist in her own right, she is also an aggregate and angel investor focusing on businesses that improve socio-economic outcomes and cater to marginalised populations.

Bilqis Williams currently serves as Federation for International Gender and Human Rights (FIGHR) Mission Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Director on the Canadian Public Health Association Board.

Share with us on your formative years and influence till date

I grew up in a loving environment where no topic was off bounds. Our discussions ranged from politics, through sexuality to faith and were pivotal in developing my ability to respect differing opinions.

With over a decade experience in clinical, research, managerial and crisis resolution roles, what would you want everyone to know?

I would love for everyone to know that everything is connected. One must pay attention to fields that are seemingly unconnected to one’s interests as even those will influence your work, its outcomes, your life and your family. You cannot afford to be blase about anything. Be keen to learn new things.

Share briefly on your records on health and how you have been outstanding in all

I practiced clinical medicine for a while and invested myself in feminine and maternal health and organised outreaches in urban slums. I also created legacy feminine health initiatives within rural areas. I served as a unit manager in the largest mental health institution in North America and utilised my experiences there to inform policy and language in mental health and care delivery. As a graduate student in Boston University – my final year collaborative project was a live interactive GIS Map that was used for resource allocation by the Attorney General’s Office (Massachusetts) during COVID-19 and has recently been adapted for other uses. I am co-chair of the Health Equity Task Group of the OSSU SPOR (Ontario Support Unit For Patient Oriented Research) and was a 3-year Public Advisory Council Member for the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences (IC/ES); the largest data repository in Canada. I received the first ever Community Activism Award for my contribution to refugee/ migrant/ displaced persons’ health in Canada and Nigeria, while simultaneously facilitating solar energy systems for Primary Health Care Centres in Lagos State. Furthermore, I received the Activist Lab Award for my work with persons experiencing homelessness and for job placements on the BMC Strip. I bring my heart and faith into everything I do. I strive to let the word of God direct my decisions.

Tell us about creating the 20% equity rule and how you have informed diversity and sensitivity policies for Congress candidates in the US

I struggled to arrive at this percentage as it is rooted in equity processes. Islamic Jurisprudence says if you make a Shura (Consultation Board) it should be made of appropriate representation of the population, and for every 1 man on that board, there must be an equivalent 2 women; that’s 33 percent and then I infused the current needs of our society such as marginalised groups and youths, who require representation to arrive at 20%.

Being the first ever recipient of the Peace Prize for Community Activism, what does the award mean to you?

This award was conferred on me during my term as Mission Ambassador to Nigeria for my work in creating tools that helped to stall sexual trafficking, domestic violence, elevate the outcomes for formerly incarcerated women and persons experiencing homelessness with the Federation for International Gender and Human Rights (FIGHR), an offshoot of the UN. A by-product of my experience during this time is the location of the FIGHR embassy in Lagos, Nigeria today and the support of the GuardUp App. As soon as the embassy is fully functional, domestic violence survivors can access tangible help at the location.

Why the passion to invest in businesses that improve socio-economic outcomes and cater to marginalised populations?

As I hinted in my response to the index question in this interview, everything affects everything. While practicing clinical medicine, I realised that my patients’ issues transcended clinical issues and often stemmed from or were compounded by environmental influences, hence my conviction to pursue a career in public health. Further to my experiences, in a field of burgeoning interest is Belief Beyond Dreams. Belief Beyond Dreams is a patented entity that provides palliative care, psychosocial support, mental health-friendly calls, a prosthetic factory and the first state of the art hospice in sub-Saharan Africa as well as a Senior-Youth skills transfer initiative. I am looking forward to partnering with Jumoke Adenowo of AD Consulting to create a master environmental piece.

Also, I invest in community infrastructure as a way of contributing to progeny. So far, I have empowered 5 small businesses that allow for skill acquisition and business training, so that I can help elevate community economics, agency and sustainability.

As former Federation for International Gender and Human Rights (FIGHR) Mission Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what were your roles?

I just completed my term as Ambassador. However, during my reign, I helped create a data repository for sexual trafficking grooming events, provided tangible support for survivors of domestic violence and supported legal and medical/screening exercises for men and women in rural communities and supported another ambassador in the development of the GuardUp App – a tool that persons in abusive situations can use to document tenable evidence.

What is your take on Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate?

Nigeria does not possess an active national repository for maternal mortality data and many such determinants of health. However, I would like to state that because we live in a largely racially homogenous society, our maternal mortality rates are not as bad as purported. Instead, our maternal mortality incidences stem from rudimentary political will, poor facilities, knowledge translation and utilisation.

What can be done to improve Nigeria’s healthcare sector? What changes do you hope for?

Nigeria’s leaders and people need to change their disposition towards the country. We must believe that progress is possible and must actively contribute to it.

Policies should be made to ensure that Nigeria’s leadership supports the community in its expenditure and patronage. Each of us must ensure that we are not contributing to the problem by frustrating fellow citizens in any service interface. Remember, you can lead from anywhere and any position.

On brain drain in Nigeria, what is your view?

Brain drain is not unique to Nigeria, what makes it appear so is because the government knows that it has fallen short of its promises. These actions make us believe that the drain will be permanent. The solution to the problem requires introspection at every level of leadership even amongst entrepreneurs, but this is a hill most Nigerians are not willing to climb.

Tell us about being one of 8 directors on the policy governance board that steward the Canadian Public Health Association’s policy and advocacy work

My responsibilities hinge on governance and conceptual analysis with a long-term perspective. As a director, I am charged to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control CPHA management’s job without meddling, and to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organisation in order to ensure accountability.

Concluding words

Be the change you want to see in the world.