It is almost Christmas here in Berekuso, Ghana and the people here are full of holiday cheer. In addition to hearing Mariah Carey’s renditions of several classic holiday songs, many buildings are decorated red and green! Though it doesn’t feel the same when 90+ degree days are the norm, this trip has been an early gift to all involved.
During the fall semester, eight Haas MBAs and their client, a private university in Ghana, collaborated to create a transformational experience. Ashesi University, founded by Haas alumnus Patrick Awuah, sits about 1 hour north of Accra, Ghana. Ashesi’s mission is to enable “an African Renaissance driven by a new generation of ethical entrepreneurial leaders” by leveraging the powerful liberal arts education Patrick experienced in the United States before spending a decade at Microsoft and attending UC Berkeley-Haas.
Ashesi recently relocated to Berekuso, a small agricultural community nestled in the hills an hour north of Accra. Berekuso boasts a community of 2,000 people who primarily support themselves by farming pineapple and cassava. The people are cheerful and joyful though the town suffers from sanitation, water, infrastructure and educational issues as do many villages in the developing world. Ashesi, desiring the prosperity of the town of Berekuso and seeking to build a sustainable relationship, engaged Awuah’s alma mater to research, analyze and strategize how Ashesi could improve the quality of life of the people in the village.
The Haas team spent 3 months during the semester learning about Ghana’s culture, and the unique challenges in Berekuso through ethnographic interviews and focus groups led by Ashesi faculty and students. Concurrently, the Haas team conducted research and interviews to learn about best practices in village level development across the globe. The Haas teams then came together to compare Berekuso’s needs with the identified international best practices to help craft solutions and strategies. An in-depth analysis was done for over 30 potential solutions, some large and transformative, others smaller and incremental. In collaboration with Ashesi, the Haas team developed implementation plans for 5 solutions:
1) A sanitary toilet technology that turns human waste into fertilizer
2) A mobile phone-based literacy curriculum application
3) An education leadership program whereby Ashesi students serve as full-time teachers at local village schools
4) A road improvement lobbying plan to engage the community and government
5) A composting program and plan to help control organic and inorganic waste
At the end of the semester, the Haas team traveled for 25+ hours to finish the project in Ghana with the benefit of being on the ground and living in Berekuso for six days. With no hotels or restaurants, the team enjoyed an authentic experience staying in student dorms and eating many traditional meals with villagers and at the university. The team spent time with the village chief, village elders and others to confirm their needs and to get their buy-in on proposed solutions. At the end of the trip, the Haas team presented a strategic plan on how to implement the most promising solutions. After our final presentation, Patrick remarked “this project really helped us kick start our Berekuso impact study and has helped us find the most effective ways for Ashesi to engage with the Berekuso community.”
Before leaving Ghana, the team visited the Cape Coast where there are many important historical sights related to the slave trade. Afterwards, some of the team traveled back to the US to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with their families while others dispersed to almost every continent on earth to see family or experience new countries and cultures with classmates.
“Kojo” as I’m known in Ghana or “Matt Thelen” as I’m more commonly known