Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

I want to share with you my journey as a women entrepreneur, explaining the challenges that I faced while driving the implementation of AI in healthcare.

I was born and grew up in Morocco. At the age of 17, I moved to the Netherlands to study Electrical Engineering and Informational Technology at Delft University of Technology.

My journey in artificial intelligence started 13 years ago, when I embarked on a PhD project. I was assigned to build a cockpit for surgeons in the operating room, using AI to predict surgical workflow and detect anomalies in real time.

Back then, the only surgeon I could find that was not intimidated by an AI cockpit monitoring his operating room was in Germany, Prof. Feussner. All the other surgeons I spoke to in the Netherlands, the US and Nordics, felt that their work could not be automatically interpreted definitely not by machines and perhaps nor by women, that what they did was “art” and no machine could help to make it better.

But that didn’t stop me from my goal of saving and improving human lives with artificial intelligence.

I believe AI holds huge potential across healthcare. We are facing unprecedented challenges from a population growing to 10 billion by 2050. The impact of AI to sustain a healthy population of 10 billion is enormous. As an entrepreneur I’ve always looked at how this impact can be maximised with technology.

With this goal in mind, I founded OKRA Technologies in 2015.

As CEO, I have tried to build OKRA’s reputation to become a leading AI company for life sciences, supporting the industry in bringing the right drug to the right patient at speed. OKRA now works with top Pharmaceutical clients across Europe, using AI to empower decision making and bridge the communication between stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Diversity at the heart of technology

Only 25% of European businesses are using AI at the moment, and I am trying to raise that percentage significantly, specifically in pharma.

In starting my business, I’ve experienced some negative bias for being an academic and scientist rather than a seasoned entrepreneur, and for being a woman in the male-dominated technology and corporate environment, but that has never stopped me from reaching to my ambition. I feel different in many ways to many people, and that is ok.

 

As the CEO of a rising tech company in the life science sector, I have witnessed a general tendency in the industry to value rules and traditional processes, which can of course be crucial when human lives are at stake; but sometimes traditional processes can encourage traditional ways of being. 

To cope with these adversities and build a strong, trustworthy and unbiased technology, the OKRA team has always been committed to diversity. Our team has 15 nationalities and almost 50% of our employees are female. The strength of our unity has resulted in a workplace that is open, transparent and focused on building strong, long-lasting relationships. This has been especially vital during COVID-19, while we kept steadfast to the mission and continually grew the company through innovative initiatives that could help clients respond to the crisis.

I am incredibly proud to say that at OKRA we’re accelerating the growth and value creation for life sciences, making a big shift in the healthcare industry at a large scale.

We have developed 3 successful strong AI products that support life sciences in medical affairs, market access and drug commercialisation. We help our clients with decision making, by providing an AI-driven ecosystem that empowers the healthcare workforce to scale to precision medicine.

The end result of all this effort has been amazing. But I must admit that it has not been an easy journey, not at all. And there’s still so much more that needs to be done, for healthcare, for technology and for women.

This is the reality today, this is what we have to fight against. But how did we get to this point? What happened to “The Computer Girls?”

“Computers are for boys”

There are several factors that influence this dramatic decline since the 1980s. One of these factors was that when kids started to learn how to program, stereotypes began to appear.

At school, girls got this message: “Computers are for boys.” And when computer-science education programs began to expand in the 90s, the coding culture was set. Most of the incoming students were men.

Doors were being shut for women, not only in academia but also in business. Managers began picking coders more on how well they fit a personality type: the quiet, anti-social male.

Lucky for us, that trend didn’t last long and currently software is returning to its roots, with women everywhere. In fact, now is the time for women in AI.

We’re at the inflection point

Women are losing their jobs, especially because they are overrepresented in the industries that have suffered most during COVID-19. It is estimated that 40 per cent of all employed women work in severely damaged sectors – that is 510 million women worldwide.

Women have suffered a lot during this crisis, but let’s not forget about the opportunities that change brings. During this pandemic we have learnt to embrace uncertainty, acknowledging that this is the right time for change.

Let’s take this opportunity, let’s reflect on the lessons learned to reinvent ourselves and our futures.

Failure is part of success

In these situations, I always take inspiration from Australian musician, actor and comedian Tim Minchin and his “9 life lessons” speech.

These 3 that I’m going to talk to you about, are my personal piece of advice to you:

We still have a long way to go

Because even though more and more discussions around diversity, female leaders, gender bias and other topics are certainly taking place across the globe, the progress towards addressing the visible problems of diversity is still slow.

Women and minorities are still significantly underrepresented across Tech.

We need to ensure we are more inclusive as a sector, based on a number factors such as educational background, gender and ethnicity, and encourage individuals from an early age to stand up for what they want.

Let’s use the inspiration from the fantastic women who paved the way for us, and face these challenges with strength and optimism, just like they did.

In life, we need to be fearless. We must follow our strong instincts if we believe they are right, we need to do what is right even if it is terrifying. Many of life’s greatest achievements require going outside of our comfort zone, and the key to success is learning to fail. Failure is an essential tool for building character, it makes us stronger and resilient.

Let’s overcome fear, adversity and thrive against the odds. Because, after all, life is short and we are lucky to be here, so let’s all make it a life worth living.

I will finish by quoting Rumi, one of my favourite poets: “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

Riding the wave of a new business landscape

Riding the wave of a new business landscape

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has caused immense disruption to businesses across the globe – and in some cases, irreparable damage. But for The Martin James Group, the clever use of data and digital platforms, alongside unwavering persistence, has meant we have been able to navigate the crisis and ride the bumpy wave.

From charities to leading technology brands, The Martin James Network consists of three groups of companies all with a shared vision of changing futures. Founded by Martin James Cockburn – or Jim, as he’s commonly known – the network ranges from start-ups to well-established brands that have been in business for over 15 years.

jim cockburn
Chair of the network – Jim Cockburn

Like all businesses, the Martin James Network hasn’t been able to completely avoid the impact and interruption felt by this unprecedented global pandemic. Yet, thanks to its existing innovations and the need for continued support from the markets it operates within, the network has been able to adapt and make the most of a potentially catastrophic situation.

Jim shares the network’s learnings and successes from the last four weeks of this new business landscape:

Accelerating innovation

Over the last 12 months, the Martin James Network has developed and implemented a digital communication and engagement app called JiffyJab, which allows organisations to share information within their own private network. Having already been successfully adopted by a number of businesses, we are now offering the app to the care, charity and health sectors free of charge during the coronavirus crisis.

One of our brands, FosterTalk – a not-for-profit support service for foster carers – has also been working with internal partners to implement a new communication tool. Due to launch soon, the app will allow FosterTalk members to access advice and support, as well as chat in real-time to other foster carers at what is an extremely stressful and challenging time for them.

Responding to market needs

Our brand leaders across the network have been using this crisis to shape new ways of working, whilst responding to market needs. Life sciences company, Okra, is working to offer COVID-19 insights using transformative predictive AI technology. Our workplace mental health organisation, TalkOut, is offering more webinars and online training at a time when managing employee mental health remotely is crucial. Business support and IT brand, Anster, has been busy developing a family support package to help Local Authorities across the UK support more vulnerable families. And Intellect – our foster carer tax advice service – is supporting carers to unpick and understand the massive volume of information regarding self-employment.

Offering a helping hand

Our charity, the Martin James Foundation, supports vulnerable young people around the world and has stepped up during this crisis to launch an emergency appeal. It is also working closely with partners in Birmingham to support more vulnerable families within communities that need it.

Internally, the network’s People team have launched a range of initiatives to boost morale and wellbeing, including wellbeing Wednesday, Sing-a-long Thursday, quiz nights on Friday, daily HIIT workouts on Facebook Live, and a Facebook group for employees needing to keep their kids entertained which has grown to nearly 4,000 members.

We are also hugely proud that we haven’t had to furlough too many staff and any that have been, have had 100% of their salaries covered.

Crisis builds collaboration

In what is an unsettling and stressful time, our people have really stepped up to get employees and themselves through the upheaval. Whilst information and updates were always previously shared between brands, our network leaders are now having weekly virtual meetings so we can share ideas and concerns, as well as identify new ways to collaborate and support each other.

Our staff continue to support each other through candid and authentic communications via our internal communications app, JiffyJab, as well as through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Jim comments: “It could be very easy to be knocked back by a crisis like this but through collaborative effort and the commitment of each brand within the network, we’ve managed to explore new ways of working and meet market demands.

“Our focus has become sharper during these testing times and our network’s mantra of ‘connecting minds and shaping futures to transform lives’ resonates now more than ever.

“We’ve learned that times of crisis and uncertainty can actually give us more courage and we believe that we will come out the end stronger and more resilient as a network.”

Find out more about the Martin James Network here.

OKRA launches COVID-19 Status for Field Teams

OKRA launches COVID-19 Status for Field Teams

OKRA Technologies, a leading provider of Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven analytics for global life sciences, which is part of the Martin James Network today announced they have introduced a COVID-19 status within their FieldFocus system to further support life sciences sales representatives. The status allows sales representatives to understand how the outbreak has affected access to individual Hospitals and GP practices and their preferred method of contact.

Key insights

  • HCPs are limiting their interactions with sales representatives from life sciences due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The new FieldFocus feature enables sales reps to communicate in real time the changing accessibility and preferred method of contact for Hospitals and GP practices across the country.
  • This new feature also allows sales representatives to feedback directly into the system, using a “traffic light” system providing a real-time understanding of the changing access environment caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The COVID-19 status function truly embraces the human-machine relationship. We are connecting user feedback to provide more accuracy in the predictions, suggestions and explanations for future actions.

“Our goal is to empower strategic and operational teams across life sciences to take action. The integrated COVID-19 solution will aim to support sales teams across the business to focus engagement decisions on areas where access is still available. Our primary objective is to provide AI solutions that place the user at the centre and enable individuals to execute their vision through explainable AI. This is another example of how we can evolve our FieldFocus solution at speed to meet the changing needs of the life science industry during these unprecedented times,” said Dr Loubna Bouarfa, Founder and CEO of OKRA Technologies.

Find out more about OKRA Technologies here.

Award Night in Cambridge

Award Night in Cambridge

A fantastic evening at the Science and Technology Awards hosted in Cambridge last night, bringing together and recognising the finest tech talent across #Europe if not the World.

A huge congratulations to OKRA Technologies CEO Loubna Bouarfa for winning the CEO of the year award. This is a significant award and a magnificent achievement as any one of the 6 nominees could have won.

Events like tonight allow us to reflect on the journey so far, they justify why we are fighting to transform life sciences with AI, they cement in our mind why we need to shout louder about genuine AI capabilities and cut through the noise of marketing.

From the very beginning Okra’s goal has been to empower people through this technology and today this has been recognised.