10 ways Haas has made its mark on Ashesi
November 9, 2012, 6:07 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

“When people ask me about the inspiration behind Ashesi, I often talk about my undergraduate education and the tremendous impact of my exposure to a world-class liberal arts institution.  That is the why of Ashesi.  The how of Ashesi, how the school came to be a reality – at the heart of that story is the Haas School of Business.”

~ Patrick Awuah, Haas MBA Class of ‘99

Patrick Awuah, co-founder and president of Ashesi University in Ghana, left Microsoft in 1999 to return home to Ghana and start a new kind of university in Africa.  His first step was Haas Business School to develop the skills he needed to build a world-class university from scratch.  At Haas he found much more than an education:  his Ashesi co-founder, Nina Marini; a co-hort of students that challenged and inspired him; and a rigorous academic institution with a passion for nurturing international entrepreneurs with audacious goals.

Patrick left Haas with a business plan for Ashesi University and a mission to educate a new generation of ethical leaders and innovative thinkers with the skills and courage they needed to transform their continent.  The Haas community has supported Ashesi every step of the way.  And when the campus opened its doors in 2002, the impact of the Haas culture could be seen in every classroom.  In honor of our 10th Anniversary, Ashesi recognizes the 10 ways Haas has truly made its mark on Ashesi.

10 ways Haas has made its mark on Ashesi

  1. Can-do spirit:  When Patrick said he wanted to start a private university in Ghana, the Haas community was inspired by his dream and offered their support to turn Patrick’s idea into reality. Haas, and now Ashesi, are places where big dreams are accepted and supported.
  2. Belief that young people can solve problems.  Nina and Patrick were profoundly impacted by the way students run so many activities at Haas.  This empowerment of student leadership and deep belief in the power of young people to shape an institution (and the course of human history) is reflected in all aspects of Ashesi.
  3. Core principles of Ashesi’s design:  In Haas’ Entrepreneurship Workshop, Patrick was challenged to think through the business plan for Ashesi.  Colleagues and instructors required Patrick to get down to what was at the heart of his vision.  The business plan that guided Ashesi’s first ten years was built at Haas.
  4. Core elements of Ashesi’s management:  In Haas’ Organizational Behavior class, Patrick focused on how to manage the culture of an organization and align it effectively to work with the mission of the organization.  Every day Patrick draws from those lessons when managing Ashesi.
  5. Visionary leadership:  Haas alumni, faculty, and leadership represented one-third of Ashesi’s founding board.  That founding board helped to manage every aspect of the university’s founding:  curriculum development; hiring; writing of policies and procedures, and fundraising.  Their leadership has guided Ashesi from a dream to a thriving university of 540 students.
  6. The business curriculum:  The curriculum for Ashesi’s Business department was created in partnership with thirteen UC Berkeley faculty members who gave generously of their time and expertise.
  7. Financial support:  Since 2008, tuition from African families has covered the university’s operational costs including scholarships.  This business model allows donations to be highly leveraged and applied to capital and program growth and additional scholarships.  With gifts large and small Haas friends of Ashesi helped with startup funds, scholarships, and to establish our permanent campus in 2011.
  8. On-going advising support from IBD teams:  Nearly every year since that founding IBD team, a team of Haas students has worked to tackle tough problems at Ashesi, from the first marketing plans to our current succession plan.
  9. Combination of academic rigor and teamwork:  Throughout their Haas education, Patrick and Nina were challenged by diverse teams of intelligent students and brilliant professors.  This emphasis on teamwork is reflected in Ashesi’s curriculum.
  10. Teachers-for-life:  The faculty support didn’t end when Patrick and Nina graduated from Haas.  Haas faculty members have continued to support Ashesi through their tough questions and by visiting Ashesi to teach and give lectures on campus.

We are forever proud and grateful for the impact the Haas community has had on Ashesi.

Thank you for your vision, friendship, guidance and support!


From romanticizing Africa to promoting ethical leadership to change Africa
April 12, 2012, 3:35 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Peter O. Koelle, Trustee at Ashesi University Foundation since May 2011

Growing up in Munich (Germany), Africa has always been fascinating for me: as a boy collecting exotic stamps from African countries; in high school reading African fairy tales researched by Leo Frobenius, a German ethnologist who, according to Senghor, “gave back to Africa her dignity and identity”, and at university, taking the chance to learn Swahili and reading books about Bantuphilosophy.  And travelling, of course, not only to Egypt, Morocco and South Africa, but also to countries like Mali and Sudan.

However, my professional life in international finance brought me far away from the romantic Africaphilia of my youth. After retirement I moved to Oxford in 2009 to do some academic “grazing” without the pressures of getting a job afterwards. But roaming around the enchanting English countryside and studying “interesting” things looked pretty soon like “leftover time to kill” to me. Maybe retirement is nothing but a bourgeois concept and board memberships are only for people who still want to feel important after they finished their career.

December 2010 Peter Woicke, whom I know since 1971 when we both were working for J.P. Morgan, and now the Chairman of Ashesi Foundation asked me to join the Board of Trustees. His argument was as follows: After his experience with the World Bank and as Chairman of Save the Children he was convinced that any development in Africa is dependent before all else on local ethical leadership.

I joined the Board without long deliberations.  Ashesi’s mission is pretty clear: to teach not only critical thinking, problem solving and concern for others, but entrepreneurial thinking and ethical leadership. This means initiative and risk taking but within a high moral value system. It also means putting character building and moral principles back into universities. It requires behavioural formation – and not just instruction, not “filling a bucket, but lighting a fire”. And it means a unity of life and not the schizophrenic situation that the life at work is guided by different ethical principles than private life. Globalization is leading slowly to global ethical standards and moral failures are not to be excused by ethical relativism.

The Ashesi education is not limited to the 4 years in a classroom in Ghana to get a good job afterwards. Before changing the world and changing Africa, Ashesi asks you to change yourself. What a great idea of Patrick Awuah to work to implement such an endeavour! Ashesi graduates will not have a profession – they will have a mission!

An American teenager’s view of Ghana and Ashesi
March 30, 2012, 4:24 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Rachel Warren, sophomore at Wesleyan University and three-time visitor to Ashesi University at ages 14, 17 and 19.

Ghana is by far the friendliest place I have ever visited.  The sights and smells are utterly foreign, but the place has a vibrant, welcoming bustle. Ashesi students, alumni, and faculty were so welcoming! They shared many meals with us, and a few women students invited me to join their discussion group and even took me shopping. I was also blown away by Ashesi itself.

In my own college search, I looked for a friendly, tight-knit student body, where students and faculty are passionate about ideas, and where problem solving and community building are fundamental values. No US college exemplified this better than Ashesi, where I saw students enraptured by a philosophical discussion of leadership and also giving presentations about community projects. I loved seeing the passion, the fire, and the hope in everyone’s eyes.

The Sense of Ashesi
March 29, 2012, 4:34 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

By Kentaro Toyama

I remember a brief exchange with co-founders Patrick Awuah and Nina Marini, soon after I left Ashesi University as its first calculus lecturer in 2002. They thanked me for taking on the role, as I had taken a leave of absence from Microsoft to teach. I replied to the effect that whatever I might have contributed to Ashesi, Ashesi had given me something far greater in return. Nina asked me what it was specifically that I had gained, and I told her, “It’s hard for me to articulate, but I sense that it will manifest in ways I can’t imagine. You’ll have to ask me in a few years.”
Ten years later, I see that if anything, I understated the case.

Least expected, if purely practical, were the ways in which Ashesi has contributed to my professional life, both as a line on my resume and as a salient influence on my thinking as a scholar. Two years after my time in Ghana, I was asked if I would be interested in helping to start a new research lab in India. Somewhere in the calculations of my US-based managers was the idea that I had previously gone off to some distant land and seemed to have enjoyed the experience, never mind that Accra and Bangalore are as different from each other as Seattle is from either. In any case, I pounced on the opportunity, and it led to exactly the change in career I was seeking at the time.

When I moved to India, I dropped my previous area of research in computer science, and started an effort to explore how information technologies could contribute to the socio-economic development of poorer communities. Over the years, I oversaw 50-odd projects where we tried to use electronic gadgets to support agriculture, education, healthcare, and so forth, but few had the meaningful impact that I had felt at Ashesi. At the research lab, we were focused on fixing problems with technology; Ashesi demonstrated an alternative approach – the value of teaching and mentoring so that people could address the challenges of their own communities. I’ve come to believe that that difference is everything in international development. So much so that I quit Microsoft in 2009 to write a book along these lines (still in the works!). Ashesi, of course, will feature as a key example.

I’m even more grateful for the intangible impacts of Ashesi. For one thing, teaching at Ashesi was an experience for which words like “fulfilling” and “rewarding” are insufficient. The students were so hungry to learn and so earnest in their growth, that at the time I feared it would spoil me as a teacher. Where else would I encounter students like the woman whose forehead seemed to furrow into a question mark during class, but who would come back confidently the next day to triumph on the quiz? She and her friends seemed to live in the library. Or, how about the man who  struggled to keep pace with the other students and came to my office hours everyday? I never saw a man smile so wide as when he earned a B on the final. The students took so much joy in new knowledge, it was like witnessing birds extending their wings for the first time. And instead of spoiling me, the experience has proved a resonant memory that echoes each time I teach.

Most of all, I’m glad to find myself part of a global family united by Ashesi’s mission. I once ran into Patrick at a conference on education – we met for lunch, and as always happens when I see him, I walked away stimulated and inspired. Sometimes, I meet an Ashesi donor or board member for the first time, and it feels like getting to know a long-lost cousin. Last August, I attended the inauguration of the Berekuso campus and saw most of the faculty and staff I worked with in 2002, some of whom I count among my closest friends  – we spoke as if not a year had passed.

And of course, there were the students whom I had taught. On the day after inauguration, we went out for a reunion dinner at a spot I remembered as where traffic jammed on my way to Labone, on Tettey Quarshie Circle. The circle is now a zooming overpass, and a shiny new mall stands where there once were street vendors. Though ten years older, my ex-students kidded one another like they used to, and kept calling me “Mr. Toyama” like they used to. As I listened to stories about their lives as bankers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, bachelors, spouses, and parents, a sense of warmth overwhelmed me – a sense I will forever feel as Ashesi.

My top reflection
March 28, 2012, 5:07 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Ashesi volunteer and longtime supporter, Ruth Warren, shares a powerful and inspiring message about her experience visiting Ashesi.

“In my three visits to Ashesi, the sheer diversity, inventiveness and energy of student and graduate projects has thrilled me. I love the mix of innovation, pragmatism and persistence. Poverty and corruption don’t fill Ashesi students and grads with despair, but with a strong determination to create change. I urge anyone who can to give yourself a treat and visit Ashesi. Immerse yourself in this beehive of energy, innovative thinking and pragmatic optimism. It’s better than a safari or a spa—you will come home reinvigorated from your front-row seat to a better future for Africa. Africa’s greatest resource isn’t oil, but young, ethical, hardworking Africans, with great problem-solving skills.”

What’s your top reflection on Ashesi?

My thoughts on Ashesi’s 10th
March 26, 2012, 4:46 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Dan Himelstein of UC Berkeley shares the story of his first encounter with Patrick Awuah – a memory he will never forget.

By Dan Himelstein

In early 1999, when I was the Director of the Undergraduate Program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, a Haas MBA student asked for a meeting with me to discuss a start-up idea he had.  Although other faculty members and senior management at Haas knew of Patrick Awuah and his Ashesi University dream, I did not.  Part of the reason for that is that I was focused on undergraduates, but most of the reason was that I was managing a significant learning curve transition having just recently returned from the business world to my alma mater to run the program I graduated from and to teach as well.

So, in walks Patrick to our meeting with a big idea and even greater dreams and the need for lots of help to make it all work, and I am prepared to listen, provide some advice, and say good luck as my plate was full, not only with my new role at Haas, but with my own four year old international trade services company in Los Angeles that still required much of my attention.  And then Patrick lays out his Ashesi dream in an incredibly composed, commanding, and visionary way, and he has me immediately hooked, not only about Ashesi, but about him as a true leader of people as well.  Being an entrepreneur myself and having been involved in many start-ups in multiple capacities, I ask him a series of very difficult questions to not only test his resolve, but also my own positive reaction to the concept.  He passed with flying colors (and so did I).

Ultimately what Patrick wanted from me was my expertise with undergraduate business curriculum since the US based university advisory boards he was creating did not have lots of people with experience in this area.  I tried to convince him that my cumulative experience of less than a year did not qualify me as an expert , but he was more convincing than I.  So I agreed to join the Business Administration Academic Council at the Haas School as its Co-Chair along with Professor Rich Lyons, who is now the Dean at Haas.  And it is one of the decisions I am most proud of in my entire life.

Ashesi University simply reflects the true good in people, something that is more rare than we would all like it to be.  It also brings out the best in people, which is something that inspires others to dig deep and see what they are made of.  And for me personally, it is the start-up venture that gives me the most ongoing satisfaction and generates the most smiles, even though my active role in it was relatively short lived compared to the many other start-ups I have been involved with.  Patrick, thanks so much for knocking on my office door 13 years ago.  You gave me a life long gift!

What brought me to Ashesi was Dr. Awuah’s Dream for a new Africa
March 23, 2012, 5:35 pm
Filed under: 10th Anniversary

Ashesi student, George Sylvanus Niikoi Neequaye  ’14, shares his thoughts on Ashesi’s 10th Anniversary:

“What brought me to Ashesi was Dr. Awuah’s Dream for a new Africa – that we can be ethical, Innovative, Critical Thinkers and have deep concern for society. All I wanted was to be part of this phenomenon. The inspiration I get from Ashesi is what it has made me become – a better person. Ashesi in one word for me is Revolution (Major Change). I have been involved in making tertiary education exciting just by the way I live my life and portray myself, yet learning at the same time. In the next ten years, Ashesi will be Africa’s MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and even the greatest in the world in terms of African change.”

What inspires you about Ashesi?