Ali Khatau strongly believes in the power of a good education and how it can transform the life of an individual. The 23 year old is a fifth year medical student at Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Tanzania and a Social & Tech entrepreneur.
Ali founded the EdTech company ElimuTanzania, an online platform that helps increase Tanzanian students’ pass rates, as well as improve their IT literacy. The platform currently has over 50,000 users and has donated hundreds of books that have gone on to help thousands of people read and learn.
In the following interview with Africa.com, Ali delves into his journey from growing up in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania to becoming a serial entrepreneur.
What was your life like growing up?
Coming from a middle-class family, life was quite decent and I can thankfully say I had a really good childhood with a really good education.
I grew up in an area called Kariakoo in the centre of the city of Dar-es-salaam. I completed my primary level education at Al-Muntazir Boys Primary from 2001 to ‘07 and went to high school at Shaaban Robert Secondary. The schools I went to were some of the best in the country and apart from academic excellence, they taught me the value of hard work, perseverance and team work. I was part of various clubs including the local scouts club & made sure I participated in academic competitions like the annual science exhibitions, essay competitions as well as religious quizzes and sports days. Religion, English language and Science were subjects I loved and was really good at and I remember achieving 1st position in science subject in 7th grade.
Who were your major influences?
My major influences are definitely my parents. My dad was everywhere and working on everything from dropping me and my sister to school early morning and working throughout the day to making sure all of our needs were being met. Dad was quite the all rounder. He taught me resilience and perseverance. My mom was a teacher at an international school and was equally as hard-working. I learnt from her how to multi-task and balance a full-time job with managing a home.
Mohammed Dewji was and is one of the people who inspire me the most. I love how he started very small and hustled his way to the very top. I also appreciate how he maintains his humble and modest lifestyle and engages in philanthropy, using his wealth to help others. I’m also inspired by how extremely hard he works; from going to the gym at 5 am to working till late nights and weekends and how he turned a modest family business into a multi-billion dollar empire across Africa!
I’m also really inspired by Dr. Reginald Mengi who started from literally nothing and made it to the very top. Mr. Mengi grew up in poverty and used to sleep in the same room with cows, walked around barefoot and could barely make ends meet. He now owns IPP Media and has more than 1000 people working under him with an estimated net worth of $550 million. I always tell myself if Dr. Mengi could go from such poverty to the very top and impact all those people, then life is limitless; then I could also go from what I was to the very top with hardwork, ambition and a huge amount of persistence.
What informed the choice of your course of study at university and how would you describe your experience?
I have always been interested in the sciences and would regularly take part in science quizzes and contests. High school is when I decided to go for a career in the sciences. I pursued my Advanced levels for which I chose Physics, Chemistry & Biology as the core subjects after which I gained entry into the Doctor of Medicine (MD) Degree program at Hubert Kairuki Memorial University (HKMU).
Studying at Kairuki has been extremely exciting and fulfilling. The best part is that you get an all round experience. I try my best to be involved in every activity from sports to academic competitions, and community clubs. We have the Kairuki Scientific Conference which discusses local health issues and advancements and challenges in the health sector to local health screening camps organized by different organizations including Rotaract, Lions club, and Tanzania Cardiac Society.
In my 2nd year at HKMU, I founded ElimuTanzania.com which attained widespread media attention from local and international media entities and made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of students. I also started DarEquip which sells medical equipment like stethoscopes, dissection kits, thermometers, fetoscopes and blood pressure machines to medical professionals.
In all, my 5 years at HKMU has been an amazing experience and one I’ll treasure for a long time.
How did you come up with the idea to start ElimuTanzania?
The idea came from spotting many problems in the education system in Tanzania over my 13 years as a student.
- Lack of enough revision materials. Students don’t get enough revision questions to solve in order to assess their competence and know their strengths and weaknesses. I came up with simple online tests that students could do free of charge in order to assess their performances.
- Difficulty in accessing past exam papers. Past papers are a very essential resource in preparing for final exams especially in Tanzania but obtaining them is difficult. I wanted to make it easier to obtain these essential resources and with the rapid growth of the internet, an online platform seemed the best and cheapest way to do so.
- Low computer literacy levels. Most students use the traditional method where they study with books & pens. On graduating, they’re not familiar with how computers work leading to a low computer literacy level in the country. Computers and the internet is regarded to be a basic skill all employees must possess and lack of these skills may even cost an applicant a job. Using an online platform to access these resources would also improve computer literacy skills among students.
I started building the platform in mid-2015. It was extremely difficult as I faced a lot of resistance and lacked financial resources. I ignored all the negativity and kept focusing on my project. After a few months, I approached a local company and managed to secure support from them. After almost 8 months of hard work, I managed to launch the platform in February 2016. We secured support from a large East African company in October 2016.
I wanted learners to access technology in preparation for their exams so that they could build confidence and excel. The platform now offers a large range of resources, such as over 140 past papers and more than 450 revision questions. There are also online tests, notes and syllabi available for many different subjects and levels.
What other projects are you involved in?
Volunteering for health screening initiatives in the community, like medical screening camps where we screen thousands of locals for common illnesses. Writing health-related articles on topics like heart disease, HIV, dengue fever and more. Attending health and medical conferences to stay updated and learn more about the healthcare industry and new innovations. I believe this is extremely important for any smart medical professional.
For 2018/19, I’ve been elected for the Tanzania Medical Students Association (TAMSA) to serve as the National Coordinator for the Standing Committee for Medical Education (SCOME). Under SCOME, we regularly hold events to improve the knowledge and understanding of locals as well as medical students on how to identify and deal with common illnesses.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
I plan to work on quite a few different projects simultaneously over the next few years. I hope to keep working on ElimuTanzania and reach more than 500,000 student users within the next 4-5 years. I also plan to expand DarEquip to supply medical equipment to more medical schools including those in other regions in Tanzania. Currently, I am working on a start-up in the food and processing industry and plan to grow it into one of the biggest food industries in the country over a period of the next 10-20 years.
I will continue volunteering for & organizing health screening camps to improve healths of tens of thousands of locals. And finally, a dream come true and something I’m working very hard towards would be making it to the Forbes Africa Magazine.
What would you say to young Africans who are hungry to make a difference but have no idea how to go about it?
Follow your passion. Do what you enjoy doing and what you’re interested in. That way, you will be much more dedicated than if you worked at something just for the money. I was extremely interested in medicine and gave 110% when I started pursuing it. I’d also advise university and college students to actively participate in events, conferences and volunteer for organizations. These things help build your resume but also teach you teamwork and you’d be making a difference in the lives of people. And, get a side hustle to start saving up for businesses early on.
Work very hard but smart! Pray often and sincerely! Be Ambitious and hustle to fulfill those ambitions! Set big but realistic goals! Write down your goals! Find an idea that will make money but also help people!
Final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m a really strong supporter of entrepreneurship especially social entrepreneurship since apart from generating wealth, SE also makes a positive impact in the lives of the people living around you and that’s what I think matters most. I actually would encourage entrepreneurship to be taught in schools from primary level as a subject or at least as a topic under another subject. Instilling entrepreneurial values and knowledge among children will definitely increase the number of entrepreneurs in Africa and that will bring about massive change altogether.
I’d also like to see a mindset change among young African university and college graduates where you think about entrepreneurship and starting your own enterprise rather than about being employed by others.
Ali has won the Tujenge Tanzania Innovation Challenge, which was funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and Unleashed Africa. The British Royal Commonwealth Society also recognised his work with ElimuTanzania, giving him the title of Associate Fellow.
Ali Khatau is a remarkable young man, and a great example of ambition, success and philanthropy.