Funmi Abari is a medical student who founded The Mad Science Institute (TMSI), the first science co-curricular project in Haringey (UK), at the age of 19. Funmi talks to us about contributing to progress and development across the globe.
Could you tell us about yourself?
From a young age, I have been mesmerised by the art of caring for others. I have also been intrinsically drawn towards people who have an infectious work ethic; people who strive for success and who are committed to supporting others. Through my interests and passions, I have worked tirelessly to emulate these attributes and ultimately place myself in positions where I can best utilise my skills to serve people, communities and all those around me.
I now hold a First Class Honours degree in Chemistry from Queen Mary University London and I am in my second year at Leeds, studying medicine as a second degree. In my second year at Queen Mary, so when I had just turned 19, I founded The Institute of Mad Science and through this I have taught over 300 young people and children, led a number of community events, received numerous awards and have led an international community development project in Gambia, nurturing the educational and personal development of children and young people.
As you can tell, I love working with people and always have done. I am a lover of words also and both write and perform spoken word. I am committed to my beautiful faith, that is Islam, a proud British Nigerian and absolutely in love with my dual identity.
What was the inspiration behind The Institute of Mad Science (TIMS)?
The inequalities in the teaching of primary science education in the poorest parts of London, Haringey (i.e. the majority of primary schools in Haringey from 2012 onwards have not been selected to sit the science SAT examination, which robs young children the opportunity to even explore one of the most fascinating subjects the curriculum offers). This infuriated me. It upset me so much so that one of the most vulnerable groups of young people in our society, were not being given a fair start in their education. At the time, not one co/extra-curricular facility existed in the London borough of Haringey for young people or children to explore science beyond the curriculum.
This was my motivation to set up TIMS as the first science co-curricular project in Haringey and to inspire a group of ambassadors to uphold the vision with me.
Mad Science event
Mad Science trip to Queen Mary University of London
Did you face any challenges during its development and if so how did you overcome them?
Key challenges I faced were around managing my studies and personal life. It was difficult, but with most things: prevention is better than cure.
Being aware of my priorities helped me a lot. I also appreciated that my priorities were fluid and would change depending on my workload from uni or whether TIMS was hosting an event for example. I made sure to give myself time to sit back and enjoy and fall in love with all that I was doing and creating – ‘work hard, play hard, love harder’ is my motto.
Also, having a supportive network, family, friends, colleagues, really makes the journey a lot smoother.
Where would you like to see The Institute of Mad Science (TIMS) in 5 years?
I’m currently back to the drawing board and thinking about how to move forward as I pursue my career as a doctor. There are huge benefits and also many drawbacks that I may face – namely my availability! But I am constantly learning and exploring. Ultimately, I’d like to see TIMS as the principal network for children and young people to explore the intricacies and beauty of science.
Science is greatly encouraged in UK schools, but do you think more needs to be done and how is TIMS planning to be a part of this?
I do believe more needs to be done, this is one of my key motivations for starting the project. I think that our focus needs to be on children and young people who have the most inhibited access to science, due to their socio-economic background, their race or their gender. It is also important to note that traditionally the sciences have always been dominated by predominantly white middle class men. This is changing, the degree to which more diverse groups are entering and contributing to science varies.
TIMS is dismantling the notion that only white men in coats are worthy scientists. TIMS is advocating for all young people who have even the smallest interest in science to have the chance to explore their curiosity.
Would you ever think of taking TIMS beyond the UK?
Of course. In fact, in 2014 I led a volunteer programme in Gambia where I delivered Mad Science Classes in a local school in Birkama. I definitely have hopes to explore ways of teaching outside the UK.
Volunteer project in Gambia
Funmi teaching in Gambia
You have taken many positions of leadership in the past, (including Health and Science Ambassador for Community Action Group ‘I Know I Can – Dream, Believe, Achieve’ and Youth MP for the borough of Haringey), how have they shaped you and what essential qualities have you learnt that a leader must have?
I have been so fortunate in having so many opportunities come my way, many of which I have actively sought. I have dreams of being great in everything I do. Ultimately, I want to be an excellent contributor to progress and development across the globe
A leader needs to be self-aware; they need to be fully aware of their strengths and areas that require development. They need to be clear on who they want to be, and how they want to operate in the world.
I have these abilities and always seek ways to both stretch and challenge my outlook and my skills set. I appreciate that leadership is about growth and it is a process. I’m fully invested to this process and recognise that I have to commit to lifelong learning, I have to constantly challenge my perceptions and refine my motivations.
Beyond the self, I recognise that a leader creates new leaders and serves the people. They utilise their skills to ensure they are the most effective helper they can be. This is something I hold true as a value of mine and am constantly trying to manifest.
Funmi pitching to healthcare company in Sweden
There is a rising surge of young Nigerians in diaspora who have started to become more connected with the country. What are your thoughts on this?
I love this; it’s about time we reconnected with our roots. It almost is an act of defiance – to become more rooted to your home country. It’s a political statement, like a lifelong campaign that seeks to dismantle attitudes and ideas about Nigeria. Reconnecting, either through learning about the history or engaging in Nigerian politics, as a youth of the Nigerian diaspora is liberating and helps us to justify our dual identities – Nigerian and British for example.
What more do you think needs to be done to connect the young Nigerian Community in diaspora and to what importance do you think this will be of?
Initiatives like the NNC is a great place to start.
What is the purpose of connecting? If the young Nigerian community can appreciate the importance of connecting we will be more inclined to contribute to the movement. I think we also need to recognise that we don’t connect as much as we should. There is this thing that happens at every event, organisation or engagement where regardless of how diverse the group is the largest representation of black Africans will be Nigerian, without a doubt. But this is now seen as an expectation, as opposed to a privilege or excellent opportunities to connect!
For example, the majority of the students featured in the Powerilst Top Black Students Magazine are Nigerian or in my experience, the majority of black Africans in leading careers or esteemed positions are Nigerian. We should celebrate opportunities where we can connect and seek ways to maximise these opportunities, share ideas, discuss matters than affect us and celebrate our successes.
Future leaders awards 2016
What’s next for you?
Finishing this degree! I hope to continue to have a presence, voice and contribution in spaces that challenge inequalities and bring about effective change for the people who need it most.
I am hoping to set up a campaign that challenges the lack of representation of black faces in medicine – this is something I have been working on for some time now and I am excited to launch in the new academic year.
I have also decided to venture back into politics and contribute to initiatives that seek to educate and strive for political freeform. I believe this is essential since recent events have occurred, the rise of islamophobia, BREXIT, TRUMP.
I’m excited for my journey and hope to continue to find ways to serve.