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Ashesi Breaks Ground on New Campus in Berkuso, Ghana

August 30, 2009

On August 29, 2009 Ashesi Broke ground on its new campus.  Hundreds of local and international supporters gathered to celebrate the new campus for Ashesi University in Ghana.  On this campus, Ashesi University will expand its work of educating the ethical and entrepreneurial leaders that Africa urgently needs.  The traditional Ghanaian Durbar ceremony brought together a wide range of Africans from entrepreneurs to village elders, to celebrate a locally founded university designed to launch a new era of locally led progress.  Honorable guests included the Ghanaian Minster of Education, the United States Ambassador to Ghana, a senior investment officer from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the local village chief, and the local representative to Parliament.  

Read all about it by clicking the Groundbreaking link at the top of the page or by clicking here


The groundbreaking at Berkuso

August 30, 2009

On August 29th, we broke ground for our new campus in Berkuso.   It was a terrific event, well attended, full of joy and appreciation for the change Ashesi has made to date in Africa and the anticipation of what it can do in the future.   We had great attendance, and for Ghana it was a cool, breezy day.  The campus is sited beautifully on the top of a hill that overlooks Accra, the ocean, and the surrounding hills.  A road has now been cut up the road, and bulldozers and crews have been working hard the last several days to prepare the site for the event.

Breaking Ground for Ashesi

The ceremony opened with the village Chief’s arrival and a ceremonial greeting between the visitors and invited dignitaries.   We had on hand, in addition to the Berkuso chief and his entourage, the minister of education, the local MP, the local director of the international finance corporation, and the US ambassador to Ghana.   The Chief started things off.  He went through the history of the land acquisition, and indicated the community had turned down other offers because they felt a college would have a more positive impact on the community.   The MP even indicated he was looking forward to coming to guest lecture on the new campus in the future.   Kyle Kelhofer, of the IFC, gave a terrific talk about the impact of liberal arts colleges.  He even drew analogy to his own experience going to a liberal arts college on a hill (in his case Dartmouth).   Yaw Asare-Aboagy, who also serves with me on the board of trustees, discussed the various people who helped to support the school to this point.  Patrick talked about how Ashesi got to this point—from idea to business plan to classes in rented buildings to impactful graduates.  He talked about his wife Rebecca’s support for his “crazy idea”.    Then we broke some sod in a big group, and a plaque was unveiled commemorating the event.

Here are a few of the good photos captured (thanks also to Joanne Bargeson and David Cornfield some of the photos are theirs)

Closeup of shovels Patrick Awuah at Groundbreaking Caspar contemplates the groundbreaking  Patick and Students Ken Ofori-Atta, Patrick, US Ambassador Donald Tetelbaum

Ashesi’s Future Curriculum

August 28, 2009

On Friday August 28th, as part of our tour for the groundbreaking, we had a discussion with faculty, some students and the Ashesi leadership team on the future of the curriculum.   Patrick Awuah led the discussion, and he set the context by showing two presentations at TED from this year.  The first was a speech by Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore on the development of virtue, which he defined as practical wisdom.   The main thrust is that learning needs to engage people in the creation of of moral skill to insure kindness, care and empathy in order to better bind together our experience and make society more positive.   The second presentation from TED was by Liz Coleman, the current president of Bennington college.    Dr. Coleman has been involved in transforming Bennington’s approach (including things like wiping out tenure) and by rethinking their curriculum by re-inventing the liberal arts.

We then discussed how this should impact the expansion and evolution of the curriculum as it exists at Ashesi.   Recently Ashesi has also begun a partnership with Babson college, which focuses on entrepreneurship.   Patrick shared his admiration for an approach they have freshman year; where the cohort takes a combined course in which Babson students live the lifecycle of a company—in the process learning about finance, marketing, operations, and the legal aspects of business formation. The students have real money on the line on which they need to break even or pay back the balance.  

In many ways, Ashesi already encompasses aspects defined in these three concepts.   Students take a leadership seminar course the culminates in a fourth year community service project—a very specific set of “practical wisdom.”   Ashesi basically introduced the concept of liberal arts to Ghana, and has used it to significantly change perceptions in both education and in industry.   Senior projects done by Ashesi grads result in real businesses, DreamOval, which I talked about earlier is just one example.

Ashesi is contemplating adding another major, again with a liberal arts foundation; and with more of a concentration in the ethical and communication oriented aspects of business and government life.   We talked a lot about striking a balance and being true to our mission, educating the next generation of African leaders.   One thing that is clear to the major stake holders of the university is that it needs to enable first steps for the new graduates, and that means leaving with an immediately marketable skill.   We also discussed the need to created a good integrated experience across the disciplines early in the first year—you can think of it as the core curricula, or the Babson one year entrepreneurship course (or as David Cornfield talked about the pan-engineering curricula he experienced at the University of Waterloo in systems engineering).

While we didn’t reach a conclusion, the conversation was heartening.   Ashesi is living its mission and thinking about how to evolve and make itself better.   It has a grand long term approach, coupled with a clear practical focus on next best steps.

Visit to Village of Hope: Another Ashesi Graduate leading change

August 27, 2009

On Tuesday, the Ashesi donors from the US headed out to Elmina, both to see the beach community and to visit Cape Coast castle.   On the way, we stopped to meet one of our outstanding graduates, the valedictorian in the class of ‘07, Araba Amusai.  Araba was a computer science major at Ashesi.  She had a number of lucrative private sector offers to become the chief of operations of the Village of Hope orphanage.

How did a computer science major who attended on financial aid decide to forsake the traditional job market in favor of the Orphonage?  She was impacted by a class (which we got to sit in on monday) called leadership seminar 4.  In the class, which students take in their senior year, they undertake a tangible community service project.   For Araba, that was working at the Orphanage.    She realized that through the Village of Hope she had the potential to transform lives.  

Village of hope is not just home and family (the kids are grouped with a house mother and house father)for about 250 kids; but also provides education through middle school for its students and the surrounding community, and a local health center.   The education is more rigorous than the public system, as evidenced by all 35 students (9 of which were from the orphanage) who took the high school entrance exam who all passed with distinction (putting them in the top 5% of all students who took the exam in Ghana).  

Patrick and

Araba’s vision is to transform primary school education in Ghana, starting at the Village of Hope.   She looks both at improving the pedagogy as well as working to make the whole operation more efficient.   Patrick Awuah was with us, and she and Patrick were exchanging information on how to get the best price on internet access for an institution, and Patrick was asking Araba about how the operations work to run an integrated health center that serves the community outside the compound—similar to what we envision on Ashesi’s permanent campus.

  All in all, a well run place being enhanced by an Ashesi student with a passion for leading change in the systems of West Africa.

A few pictures from the village of hope:

Outside the Village houses


Ruth is shown the closets where the boys keep their things in the dormitory.

Development in West Africa: a conversation with Ashesi Alums

August 25, 2009

The Ashesi vision has been about growing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.   Based on the breakfast this morning that we had with a set of Ashesi alums, I can say the we are wildly exceeding the expectations that I had when I first became involved.   Ashesi alums are involved across a wide set of activities.   As we have talked about in the Ashesi literature all (100%) of our alums have found good positions or gone on to graduate school within a year of graduation.  The people we talked to this morning are having an impact, not just in Ghana, but across the continent of Africa.

I talked with 3 Ashesi graduates at breakfast this morning, Angela, who works for SAS in corporate finance helping businesses with private placement.   She indicated that despite the economic slowdown, demand for loans to start businesses remained strong.  All of the graduates indicated that the US slowdown was affecting Africa, due to two factors: first US business scaling back developing world investment to consolidate and focus; as well as the reduction of remittances by African diasporas back to locals.   Angela said recently she had been doing lots of work on new hotel financing.  She thinks many of the recent pan-African conferences, entrepreneurs are feeling optimistic about convention and tourism business.  

Patrick, who I talked with works at Price Waterhouse Coopers.   His major was in MIS systems at Ashesi, and he is the first person at PWC to focus on security audits in west Africa.   He really enjoys what he is doing and is looking to do broader systems analysis work.   He also gets good exposure to other business and government leaders in West Africa.   He talked about how he was particularly impressed with the president of Gabon and his attention to detail.  The president always looks at the rest rooms first to gauge whether his people are on top of it. Patrick Awuah was with us, and he said he uses quality of the rest rooms and the upkeep of the garden as an indicator of whether things are being run with operational efficiency.

Charles who was with us works as a policy analyst for a number of African countries, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda.  All at the table are particularly impressed with the progress being made in Rwanda.   They talked about the leadership having both vision and a drive for operational results.  They agreed one of the big issues leadership in Africa have in making development happen is tying the vision to first steps to get things done.   One thing they all felt was that Africa was moving beyond its strongman past of leaders more in it for themselves than the country.  They felt optimistic that generally the leaders want the best for the countries they lead; but many are missing the skills and operational infrastructure to make change happen.   In this way, its why what we are doing at Ashesi is so important.  Its enabling that human capital to drive change.   I know these alumni from this morning will make it happen.


August 24, 2009

On our first day we had the opportunity to meet with Derry Dadzie from DreamOval.  DreamOval is an IT business created by 3 ashesi alums.  It actually has its origins in a software engineering club that existed on the Ashesi campus.   The founders worked together on a senior project that involved creating a smart traffic light that would better manage data.   This harkened me back to another pair of software entrepreneurs who got their start building traffic related software that evolved into something else.

Kristi Yaw and Derry of DreamOval talk

Derry Dadzie (with the tie) with Ashesi Board member Yaw Asare-Aboagye, and Volunteer Kristi Helgeson

DreamOval is building an ecommerce platform for payments and banking on sms sand with mobile phones.   They also have helped sms enable banking and other IT systems within Ghana.   They currently have 7 total employees and are cash flow positive.   They are doing projects for many of the large companies within Ghana, and are working on a special project to enable nurses with mobile phones for the Grameen foundation.  Their dream is to build out their platform and make a broader difference with software for people in Africa.  


Derry is one of the highest initiative young people I have met in a long time.  He showed initiative at a very young age.  He organized a local group when he was about 11 to do good in his neighborhood.   He wrote articles on business and economics as a teenager—he knew he wanted to start something and grow it big.   Someone suggested he look at Ashesi, as it was a place focused on growing entrepreneurial leaders.  He was afraid to apply; because as a private institution, he wasn’t sure he could afford it.  He’s glad he did.  He received a combination of scholarships, aid, and loans that enabled him to attend–as do about half of our students.    He was very active as a student; and loved the opportunity Ashesi afforded—and he took advantage of what it had to offer.   He and his colleagues have already given back to Ashesi both in kind and directly.  Very inspiring.

The Tour of Ashesi

August 24, 2009

Ashesi University Sign Matt talks to the donar group

My family (Ruth, Rachel, Sam and myself, Todd Warren) arrived in Ghana yesterday.   Today we spent the day on a tour of Ashesi.  You can see the entrance to the university and the tour group meeting with Matt Taggert of Ashesi above.  I’ve been on the board since 2001—before we started classes, and visited about 3 years ago to see the campus.   It’s amazing to see how it has matured as a university.   Today was also the first day of classes, and we have the new class of 150.   Like all campuses on the first day, Ashesi’s first day was filled with returning students reconnecting and reuniting.   The energy on campus was overwhelmingly positive. 

One thing that’s changed from 3 years ago is that campus has added a third rented building.   You can see that in the map here

Ashesi building signage As  you can probably discern from the map, the

campus is relatively spread out.  It’s located in the Labone section of Accra, and there are a mix for residences and small businesses that surround it.   We had a great

Q&A with Patrick and Lunch with the senior staff.   The two highlights for me were the meeting with Derry Dadzie from DreamOval, a company founded by Ashesi, and then dicussions with Ashesi students and some of their projects.  I will make seperate posts about those two things.