Victor Ugo is Senior Campaign Officer at United for Global Mental Health and Founder of the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI). He studied MSc Global Mental Health at LSHTM. We asked him about his experience of the School and how he uses innovation in his work.
Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?
For its international reputation, but more significantly, it is the leading institution in global mental health and one of few places that offer a Master’s in this field.
How has your degree at LSHTM complemented your career?
Prior to this MSc, I had the lived experience of a mental health issue, but this degree added a learned experience which has helped to shape the direction of my career and my goals.
Apart from the expertise, I am able to speak much more confidently in professional settings. I am equipped with the knowledge of understanding my condition as well as understanding the evidence surrounding the work I’ve done, that I’m doing and that I intend to do. I now have knowledge of mental health research which can help me in the design and implementation of new innovations.
And what does innovation mean to you?
For me, innovation means taking a problem that you are extremely passionate about, and one in your most immediate environment, learning what you can about it and doing everything you can to make it better. It’s a simple concept that, if applied by everyone, would rid the world of its many issues.
How can innovation solve challenges in global health?
Innovation in global health means applying contextually-relevant solutions to existing problems. It is a simple case of addressing challenges or problems where you find them, to ensure the solution is effective, appropriate and sustainable.
How do you use innovation in your work?
When I started my organisation, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), I acknowledged how under-resourced the mental health space was in Nigeria, but I also understood that I had to do things differently if we were to make sustainable impact. So, I decided to make use of a model that allowed people to take ownership of the growth of the organisation and one that didn’t require a lot of financial resources.
It was also important to identify our target group and one that assured us of a faster and more impactful route towards sustained growth. I did some initial research to understand how influencers in Nigeria worked and learnt how they would all get on the same WhatsApp or Facebook group and on these groups, everyone is mandated to re-post a message or hashtag until it starts trending, regardless of who was paid to promote it. So, I used this influencer-based model to create an advocacy program that had people volunteering their social media pages, where they volunteered to share and retweet any post from our social media pages to reach a wider audience.
Over time, this became an organic process where people started to share our posts naturally. This helped us grow our presence on social media and kickstart our campaigns. Of course, the posts had to be quality but simple posts that could maintain the attention of readers.
Another example, of using innovation in my work is when we coordinated a one-month virtual summit in October 2018 for World Mental Health Day. This virtual summit was the biggest in Africa and had a reach on Twitter of more than 4.2 million, with 50 topics discussed every day for 5 days and more than 6,000 people in conversation over those five days. The budget for this, including promotion and flyers was 350 US Dollars, but the impact was resonating, with our volunteer base tripling.
What advice do you have for current students?
My advice for students is to work on developing transferable skills. I would encourage them to make efforts to build their network, to take risks and to expand their skillets. While academic skills are of utmost importance, it is also important to remember that these other skills will serve them well as they progress in their career.