Doing International Business Development in Ghana: A December to Remember
“What else will we have at home?” – we kept asking each other, as we walked along the aisles of the supermarket in Accra, Ghana.
We, a team of eight Haas MBA students, were headed on our way to the town of Berekuso, Ghana where we would spend a week seeking ways to improve the quality of living for local citizens. We knew that our living conditions would be luxurious compared to the average Ghanian citizen’s house – meaning we would have flushing toilets and relatively clean, cold running water in the house – however, items such as soap, linens and pillows had to be brought by those who desired additional comfort.
Finally, after 2 hours of shopping for supplies we loaded the van and headed to the final destination of our nearly 25+ hour journey.
We started our week in Ghana by debriefing with our client Patrick Awuah, Haas alumnus and founder of Ashesi University, to learn more about the university’s interest in developing the neighboring Berekuso community. We also had the privilege of touring the town with one of Berekuso’s chiefs.
Visits to public places such as water boreholes, markets, public latrines and waste dumps were a vital part of the experience, as we aimed to live the life of a typical villager as close as we possibly could. We even entered some of the compound houses to speak with local families and try traditional homemade meals, such as kelewele (fried plantains seasoned with spices).
We met with both the town’s Head Chief and with distinguished community elders in order to align the purpose of our project and to obtain the Chief’s blessing to proceed. Many members of our group had worked with C-level executives in our pre-MBA careers, however we felt immensely humbled by the presence of the most authoritative person in the village – Nana Oteng Korankye.
On the second day of our consulting engagement the team split into five sub-teams to work on independent solutions for the town’s core needs. Our team had worked to identify these core needs over a semester of research and we were very pleased when our research findings were reconfirmed during the village tour.
Team members Eve and Goutam attended classes at local schools. They spoke with the teachers and students to come up with ideas on how the performance of local education facilities could be improved.
Meanwhile Kris, passionate about the power of mobile technology, interviewed students at Ashesi University. He aimed to understand the student-run adult literacy programs and sought to learn more about how the mobile experience could enhance these programs.
Mid-week our team was honored to attend a local durbar festival in the town of Arkopong, celebrating the reunion of 17 divisional chiefs. The event was signified by the presence of prominent families, queen mothers and representatives of the Ghanaian government.
Attending the durbar festival was a very meaningful experience for our team from both a political and cultural perspective. The chieftaincy system is strong in Ghana, and traditional rulers typically hold more authority and respect with the villagers than official government representatives.
After the festival, we continued to study the village and perform interviews with key stakeholders. The team worked long hours to cover a breadth of issues ranging from trash and human waste disposal to road quality and access to education; every connection between these issues turned out to be of value to the team. Team members Robert and Edgar worked late into the evening to interview Ashesi University’s catering employees, subject matter experts in food trash composition.
Right before Christmas we had the luck of playing the role of Santa, and passed out gifts from a US charitable foundation to the local schools that hosted us throughout the week.
We could have probably built a predictive model on the number of kids that can be made happy with one soccer ball however this time around it was only about fun!
And, as some of team members recapped later, this encounter with local high school children became the highlight of their trip!
On our last day in Berekuso we shared our final recommendations with the founder and core personnel of Ashesi University, and presented the financial models we had built to support our proposal.
After exchanging farewells with those who helped us throughout the week, the team headed to different parts of the globe to celebrate the winter holidays. We each treasure the early December gift of our wonderful encounter with the hospitable country of Ghana!
Eve Kalenykh, MBA ‘14