RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
rare logo
No. 1



MSc in Social Science of the Internet and MBA
University of Oxford
Academics, Business and Charity

Ndakuna’s story starts in Bambalang, a village outside of Bameda, in the North West region of Cameroon. It is a village that still does not have some basic amenities. He spent much of his childhood fishing with his father and working on the farm with his mother. His parents did not attend school and he did not start school himself until he was ten, when one of his brothers who had been working in London started paying for his education. With Ndakuna’s older brother, Salifu, making progress in education, his parents started to see its potential value. Ndakuna was initially negative about the prospect of studying, deeming it useless.

“I remember suggesting that I build a canoe with my father and catch fish rather than starting school.

He did eventually get excited about studying. He excelled, achieving six As and five Bs in his O Levels, the first to do so in his secondary school. His brother rang him and told him that if he carried on that way, he would find a way for him to come and join him in London. His dream was to study Engineering, but when he was rejected from the engineering school in Cameroon, he went on to study Nursing.

Twelve years ago, Salifu offered Ndakuna the chance to come to London, soon after he became a certified mental health nurse in Cameroon. He jumped at the opportunity. Ndakuna clearly remembers his impression of London.

His brother said to him as he drove him back from the airport, “you were dying to come to England, this is England. Make sure you get your priorities right,” and he listened to that advice. After staying with his brother for a few months, it was time for him to move out and rent a room. He worked for the NHS with mental health patients for five years, during which time he made the choice to finally pursue his dream of becoming an engineer. He was accepted to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Brunel University. Restricted by his visa and residential status from getting a loan, he continued working full‑time as a nurse throughout university to fund his studies and keep himself on his feet. He studied in the day and worked just under 40 hours’ worth of night shifts a week, for three years. This was part of Ndakuna’s efforts to make the most of being in the UK, where he rationalised that if he worked twice as hard, he would achieve twice as much, quite literally. He looks back and does not know how he got through those years, working full time and studying full time. Despite his experience of balancing his educational and professional commitments, he achieved a first class degree with an average of 82% and was awarded the annual Institute of Engineering and Technology Award and offered a place for a funded PhD at Brunel, but did not accept because the timing was not right; “it wasn’t my dream at the time,” he says.

“I felt like I was in a place in which I could achieve whatever I wanted, if only I really wanted it.

In 2008, Ndakuna founded a healthcare clinic in Cameroon, in a small village called Bessengue in order to address the lack of access to healthcare in rural areas with £3,000 of his own money. After spending so long out of the country, he took it for granted that some of these basic amenities would have improved. They had not. He wanted to help a community that did not have money to travel to or afford hospital services. Today his clinic, Centre de Santé HARDA, employs more than 22 nurses and two visiting doctors and helps over 100 individuals a day. The most work has been in prenatal care and birthing, having to date delivered over 3,000 babies. The services at the clinic cost about one third of what public hospitals charge and the little money they make is enough to pay everyone who works there. The clinic has been acknowledged by the Cameroonian government which now uses it for vaccinations as part of a health campaign to reach rural areas. Unable to visit Cameroon frequently due to his academic and professional commitments in the UK, Ndakuna entrusts the day‑to‑day management of the clinic to one of his brothers, Mominu Fonso, who also trained as a nurse.

After graduating from Brunel, he spent time working for Motorola and Vodafone. At Motorola he was working on a UN project as System Engineer, on an EMEA project and was part of a team designing communication systems in Africa and Asia. He describes his biggest achievement at Motorola as designing an £11m panel system in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Junior Assistant Engineering Award. During his time working for Vodafone, he was awarded the Star Award for creating a process to review services which saved the company £2m in operations costs. In response to my comment, “Ndakuna, you win awards everywhere you go”, he said “yes, I take things very seriously.”

Following his professional experience, he was accepted by Oxford University to do an MBA. Once again, he was confronted by the issue of unaffordable fees and this time he had to refuse the place, unable to raise that kind of money, although he tried. The following year, however, he was offered the prestigious Oxford Pershing Square Graduate Scholarship to study a 1+1 MSc and MBA programme and became the first Cameroonian ever to be admitted to the Oxford Internet Institute. Just like that, his financial worries disappeared and he has been able to pursue this qualification which he hopes will help him expand his clinic into a network and start addressing problems surrounding inauthentic medication in Cameroon.

“The moral of the story is, don’t give up.

His brother, Salifu, is very proud of him; “if bringing people from Africa could always turn out this way, I would spend all of my money doing it,” he says.

<   >