Academy for Academics + Indextra: making dreams come true in The Gambia
In some nations education is a given – a right every student has. In others, it’s an expensive dream accessible only to a lucky few.
The Academy for Academics works to expand those opportunities, supporting poor students in The Gambia with the financial means to continue studying and build a brighter future. Indextra, of course, is a proud partner, offering free library access to medical students for the entire duration of their studies.
Margareta Danelius, board member of Academy for Academics, tells us more.
Margareta Danelius was lucky enough to be born in Sweden. It’s not something she takes for granted.
“In Sweden we are given this incredible opportunity from the government, from society: the gift of education.”
Taxpayer money provides for higher education for each and every person, helping contribute to an equal society where students of any background can succeed.
“But in Gambia, that’s not the case.”
Danelius is one of the founders of the Academy for Academics foundation. The idea came to her while she was working with another group in The Gambia, Kololi Gambia Sponsorship, which sponsors younger children’s education, from nursery level to high school. It was an incredibly rewarding programme, but Danelius came to realise that it had its limits.
“Many of them graduated from high school but had no possibility of going further, to higher education.”
Coming from a privileged Swedish background where higher education was a given part of life, she wondered if other academic Swedes might be interested in assisting the Gambian students, paying the gift of education forward. And that’s how Academy for Academics was born in 2016.
“The university in Gambia helped us find students who needed our help, who maybe started attending school for only one or two semesters and could not afford to continue. Other students come directly from Kololi Gambia Sponsorship, and now that we have been working for a while, word of mouth spreads and we also get spontaneous applications.”
For the students on the receiving end, the programme is life-changing.
“The students have amazing drive, and want to do something for themselves but also for their family and country,” says Danelius. “And when we tell them that this is possible, it’s really such a dream come true for them. It’s touching…and this is what inspires us.”
In addition to the funds to put the students through school, Academy for Academics also provides them with all the medical literature they need – thanks to Indextra.
“We asked our students what other obstacles they had, apart from the financial obstacles, and one of the main issues was access to literature,” Danelius explains.
“Most of the students have smartphones, but the libraries are very poor and internet access is often very limited.”
When she learned that Indextra had an extensive medical library that worked offline, she knew it was a perfect match.
“The students think it’s fantastic. Indextra gives them access to literature they couldn’t get otherwise, or that they could only access during the limited hours of the university library,” she says. “Now they can use it in their own homes. It makes a huge difference.”
Zeshan Qureshi: “Medical education will change dramatically”
Zeshan Qureshi is an award-winning paediatrician who has been distinguished both for his work and as a public speaker. He also happens to be an entrepreneur who started his own publishing agency, and is trying to flip standard learning methods on their heads.
Now Zeshan shares his story: how he ended up making a book in the first place, why he decided to partner with Indextra, and his vision for the future of medical education.
When Zeshan Qureshi began working in medicine, he didn’t expect to become passionate about textbooks.
“I actually started off doing medicine as my only pursuit and passion,” he recalls. He looked forward to looking after his patients and helping them improve.
But working in a hospital as a newly qualified doctor in 2009 presented him with a different routine than he expected.
“The reality of working in a hospital, especially as a newly qualified doctor, means not getting to spend much time with patients, and doing a lot of admin work and reports,” he says. “I wasn’t getting to know my patients the way I thought I would, and I wasn’t getting as much satisfaction from my work as I had envisioned.”
It’s a harsh reality: hospitals throughout the UK are understaffed, and doctors are hard-pressed to fit in all their patients. Quality-time suffers, and doctors can’t build the relationships they would like to. The work, in turn, often doesn’t feel as fulfilling.
But then Zeshan started teaching.
“It felt very different. I had the time to spend with my students, explaining complex topics and seeing them improve and learn,” he says. “I felt a very positive relationship with them grow over time – and teaching became something I was very passionate about.”
At first Zeshan was teaching small groups of students – but the groups grew larger and larger. He set up a program using the flipped publishing model – which reverses traditional teacher-student dynamics and empowers students to take a more active role in the classroom – and watched it expand.
“Within a few years we were teaching over 1,000 students, and now there are over 100 meetings being organized each year under this model.”
The next step?
Produce a book.
“I saw that people really valued this method of learning, and I saw the potential to reach a lot more people,” Zeshan explains. “So even though it took a lot more time to put this together, I decided it was worth it.”
So Zeshan applied the flipped model to the publishing process as well.
“This model essentially turns the students into the teachers; the readers into the writers. It really then allows those studying medicine to be in control of their own learning. We use students as authors, reviewers, and designers for the books.”
He added a professional element to it by having experts fact-check the content, and of course used a professional publishing process. But the content, the format, the soul of the book, was by and for the students.
It was a hit.
“The first book we made sold 17,000 copies, and was the best-selling medical book on Amazon for six months,” Zeshan remarks. “And that’s how I went from editing one book to managing my own publishing company.”
Today the company has sold over 70,000 books, and Zeshan gets to work with over 500 authors around the world and a social media community of over 40,000 people. The company’s books are all available in e-book and app format, translated into several languages, and accessible all around the world.
In fact, the books were so popular that they were among the first brought up when medical library app Indextra held focus groups in the UK to find out what literature students preferred.
“Indextra contacted me about working together – and it was very humbling, because a lot of the publishers Indextra works with are big medical giants,” Zeshan says. “But they really liked the model, the approach, and the quality of the books – so there was our chance to stand alongside the giants.”
Today Zeshan’s publishing agency has 10 books available via the Indextra service, where users can access the books online or offline, on mobile or desktop, anywhere in the world for a low monthly subscription fee.
It’s a great match, Zeshan say – in more ways than one.
“Indextra is a great fit for us as a publisher, because our books are not just about content. We want them to be user-friendly. And Indextra is the same way: it’s very easy to search for content that you like, everything is made very digestible in how it is formatted, you can quickly go to any part of the book you are interested, jump from one section to another, enlarge images…it’s just consumer friendly.”
But the two companies also share similar values and perspectives.
“What I really like about Indextra is that they take the time to speak to doctors, speak to students, speak to developers, and come up with the most-user friendly, searchable platform, so that people can quickly find whatever they need to advance their own professional development and passions.”
The medical literature industry has been relatively slow to catch up on the digital wave seen in many areas, and Zeshan notes that his publishing company still sells many physical books as well. In some places, having many textbooks on the shelf is even a status symbol viewed with pride. But he believes digital services like Indextra will become more common even in the medical industry, and that this is just the beginning of a wave of healthcare digitalization.
“Theoretically, everyone has the possibility of having their own personalized learning environment with all of the resources they require for their specific work and patients,” Zeshan explains.
“With wearable devices there is also potential to monitor patients much more closely, and get bespoke data on their physiology, blood levels, lung function, etc. And you could take all of that medical history and generate even more specific information on how to treat that patient.”
Through an intelligent learning system that effectively captures that patient data, knowledge and wisdom which usually only comes from 30 years of experience could be shared and applied to create a whole new standard of healthcare, he says.
“The potential is huge. We could have a type of medicine that has never existed on earth before, and deliver the most individualized care with the best possible standard.”
For now, that might be far off – but with services like Indextra, we’re at least headed in the right direction.
“I have huge hopes for the impact this will have worldwide,” Zeshan says. “There is no doubt that medical education will change dramatically over the next few decades. And Indextra is a key leader in that transformation.”