Back in the spring of 2016, Emmanuel Abebrese had just completed his M.S. in Commerce at McIntire and was preparing to start medical school the following fall. At that time, we spoke to him about his mission to use business to create the most good. We discussed his childhood in Ghana, his undergraduate work (a biochemistry degree with a minor in poverty and human capability studies from Washington & Lee), and the launch and early development of his nonprofit organization, Citadel Foundation for Kids (CFK).
Since that time, when Abebrese also served as a Teaching Assistant with McIntire’s Galant Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, helping build an online resource to connect entrepreneurial UVA students with alumni and University resources, he branched out in his drive to help others by serving on the board of two other organizations that dovetail with his wide-ranging interests in healthcare, ventures, and children.
As he heads into his final semester at the UVA School of Medicine, we caught up with him to find out more about his charity work, his entrepreneurial organization, his plans, and what from McIntire continues to inform him in his lifelong passion to improve the situations of others across the world.
What are your long-term plans for CFK, and what are you looking forward to achieving with it?
I started CFK to help children develop leadership, networking, collaboration, and entrepreneurial skills through project-based learning so that they could succeed beyond their current limitations. CFK aims to create leadership cohorts in countries around the world that have a similar passion and skill set, in order to improve their communities. We expected that they would also collaborate with each other in the process so that their individual ideas and experiences could benefit each other. In addition, the skill set and experience they gather through working with us and on their projects will be invaluable in their future endeavors. We collaborated with WagiLabs to create the curriculum for these children.
You’re also a board member with PROSAMI and WagiLabs. What can you tell us about those organizations?
WagiLabs stands for What a Great Idea Labs. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered in Virginia that inspires children to be change makers, provides a curriculum playbook to teach them how, gives them seed funding for their ideas, and connects them to other groups of children just like them around the world—other WagiLabs. It was started by Chic Thompson (M.Ed. Biomedical Communications ’75), a creativity consultant who teaches at Darden and consults for government agencies and organizations. I connected with him when he spoke to my class at McIntire about the idea in fall 2015 and have been working with him since.
PROSAMI is an acronym derived from the French “PROmotion de la Sante Maternelle et Infantile” [Promotion of Maternal and Infant Health]. It was registered as a 501(c)(3) in Virginia in 2009 to improve child and maternity health in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The infant mortality rate in the DRC is among the highest in the world, at 68 per 1,000 live births in 2018; for comparison, it is 6 per 1,000 live births in the United States as of 2018. PROSAMI trains midwives and nurses using telemedicine and teleconferencing. Lecturers from the United States and other countries teach perinatal care to nursing and midwifery students in the DRC virtually. Students also visit the United States, while lecturers visit the DRC for the hands-on clinical aspects of the curriculum.
WagiLabs appealed to my passion for serving and empowering children. It provided CFK with a framework for achieving our vision. PROSAMI appealed doubly to my calling to medicine and interest in telemedicine. I am interested in the latter as a means of reducing healthcare costs. Moreover, it could provide better access to care by virtually connecting healthcare providers and patients using videoconferencing and other technology.
Turning back to your education, what from the Comm School program still stays with you?
The first lesson I learned is to always be connecting. It is great meeting incredible people and learning what they are spending their time on to improve the world around them. In addition, they help open doors for future career goals.
Second, I always focus on my assets, areas for improvement, and how to chart a path to my goals that is tailored to my unique traits. Third, I learned to focus on a few things that are all related and do them well, rather than spread myself out over several things, especially when they are outside of my expertise and/or skill set.
I have stayed in touch with Professors Ira Harris and Jeff Boichuck, as well as Associate Dean Cyndy Huddleston and Assistant Dean Emma Candelier. I was very glad that Dean Huddleston and [former McIntire Professor] David Touve came to my White Coat Ceremony when I started med school and that they and other members of the McIntire community continue to check in on me to see how I am doing and if there is any way they can be of assistance to me. It feels like I never left.
The Comm School also left me with important teamwork experiences. There were few things as satisfying as submitting a team project deliverable at McIntire after spending weeks working on it. Most of our projects were team-based, and I was impressed by how much we each contributed to making a project so much better than it would have been if we had worked on it alone. My team and I spent so much time together working on several projects, so we got to know each other very well. At the end of several revisions, we were all happy to hit “send” and go do something fun before our next project.
What are your ultimate plans for putting such a wide-ranging and impressive list of educational programs to use when you finish? What’s most important to you as you look towards your future?
I love surgery and am currently interviewing at general surgery residency programs around the country. My first goal is to become the best surgeon I can possibly be. Next, I hope to use my business, leadership training, and experience to leverage technology as an avenue for expanding healthcare access to those living in remote communities. I plan to focus on providing surgical consults and recommendations on postoperative care to patients and primary care providers in remote communities. Given the declining cost of technology, I expect that this approach would also make care more affordable in the long run, after the initial investment in technology infrastructure. The broad term for such initiatives is telehealth.
What is most important to me is to know that I am giving my best and always working on making sure that what I am capable of giving tomorrow is better than what I can give today. I love connecting with people, learning their stories, and learning what makes them tick. People are pretty incredible when you take the time to know them.