Ghanaians best known pan-africanist today is Kwame Nkrumah, who led his country to independence, served as its first President, and popularly known as the co-founder of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union.
Fred Swaniker and Patrick Awuah are two Ghanaians that currently are having a positive impact on education across the African continent. The two men are the founders of excellent educational institutions that are training the continent’s best and brightest, that will serve as leaders of tomorrow. These are their stories of two Ghanaians transforming education across Africa:
FRED SWANIKER was born in Ghana, but left the country at the age of four. By the time he was 18 Mr. Swaniker had lived in four African countries, including Botswana, which proved life changing. As a youth, Swaniker was given the opportunity to serve as the headmaster of a school in Botswana. His early leadership experience gave Mr. Swaniker the confidence to take on similar roles, including the founding in 2004, of a summer program called Global Leadership Adventures (GLA). Mr. Swaniker started GLA after graduating from the Stanford School of Business in California in the USA.
Another very successful undertaking in which Mr. Swaniker has engaged is the founding of the African Leadership Academy (ALA), an exceptional residential secondary institution on the outskirts of Johannesburg that enrolls students from cross the African continent and well beyond it. ALA opened in 2008 and offers a first class education in the form of a two year program of study to 15 to 18 year olds. ALA students have witnessed outstanding success and have placed into leading universities around the world from Harvard and Yale to Oxford and the London School of Economics.
ALA students collectively have earned over $35 million in scholarships and have launched more than 40 non-profit and for-profit enterprises. At least five ALA entrepreneurs have been recognized by the World Economic Forum for their innovative organizations. Mr. Swaniker also had been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In addition, he has been featured as one of the 10 Youngest Power Men in Africa by Forbes, profiled on CNN’s African Voices, named a TED Fellow, and praised by US President Obama.
Mr. Swaniker’s not only plans to graduate 6,000 leaders from ALA over the next 50 years but also has launched African Leadership Unleashed, an initiative to create “Africa’s Ivy League” or what will include 25 excellent new universities across Africa. The aim is enable ALA graduates and others to attend world-class universities in Africa. The first campus opened in Mauritius in September 2015.
PATRICK AWUAH, like Fred Swaniker left Ghana for the USA to obtain his education. Similar to Mr. Swaniker, Mr. Awuah wondered what it would be like if Africans didn’t feel that they had to leave the continent to get an excellent education. After working for Microsoft and completing an MBA at UC-Berkeley Mr. Awuah returned to Ghana in 1997 intent on establishing an outstanding institute of higher education. A few years later he founded a liberal arts undergraduate institution with a focus on ethical leadership called Ashesi University.
Due to his fine work with Ashesi, Mr. Awuah has been named the fourth most respected CEO in Ghana and Ashesi has been ranked as one of the top 10 Most Respected Companies in Ghana. Mr. Awuah was invited to give a TED Global talk in June 2007 and his dream for higher education in Ghana was featured on BBC news Africa in October 2011. He was the subject of a feature on CNN’s African Voices in May 2013 and was recognized at WISE the Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar in November 2014. I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Awuah in February 2014 when he was awarded a Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elon University, where I teach about Africa and international development.
Mr. Awuah is also an Integral Fellow finalist and an Aspen Global Fellow. In 2015, Mr. Awuah won the extremely prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, also known as the ‘genius award,’ for his work with Ashesi. Ashesi is thriving. In late 2015, it received a $700,000 grant from USAID American Schools and Hospitals Abroad for equipment for its engineering classrooms and laboratories. The university is currently fundraising to build a new student dormitory.
In reflecting on the successes described in this story, I came up with 5 characteristics shared by Fred Swaniker and Patrick Awuah:
1. Mr. Swaniker and Mr. Awuah are entrepreneur-philanthropists who are seeking to be change makers not just within their own country, but well beyond. Both aimed to create excellent educational institutions that would serve students from across Africa and other continents.
2. Each understood the importance of leadership and had a burning desire to make a positive difference based on his own life experiences and expertise. Mr. Swaniker had moved around a lot due to unrest in the countries in which he was living and thus witnessed firsthand the difference a good or bad leader could make. Mr. Awuah believes that many of Africa’s problems today can be traced to leaders’ being less ethical than they could be and therefore made ethical leadership something every Ashesi student would study.
3. Both men understand the importance of giving by those that have more resources than others. Neither man waited for others to bring about the changes he dreamed of, but determined to do so himself because he had the means to do so personally and by working with likeminded others. Within a year of the permanent campus’s completion in 2011, the MasterCard Foundation was providing $13 million in scholarships to Ashesi students from nearly a dozen African counties. Mr. Swaniker’s initiatives similarly have drawn the enthusiastic support of investors.
4. Both men understand the value of collaboration and ‘did their homework’ before launching into their initiatives. Mr. Swaniker had his experience and contacts from building GLA that assisted him in creating ALA. Before Ashesi opened its doors on a temporary basis in 2002, Mr. Awuah had put in years of research on the project, from a feasibility study conducted with UC-Berkeley students in 1998 to the establishment of a Board of Trustees for the Ashesi Foundation in 1999. By 2009 construction of Ashesi’s permanent campus was underway.
5. Both Mr. Swaniker and Mr. Awuah dream big and have faith in the ability of today’s youth to solve the problems that plague our communities and planet.
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