IBD team members Kaajal Baheti, Pedro Navarro, Howard O, Hassan Rashid, and Cecilia Toscana traveled to Accra, Ghana to work with Ashesi University, an innovative, private liberal arts college founded by Berkeley Haas alum Patrick Awuah (MBA ’99).
One Peruvian, one Guatemalan, one Chinese-American, one Indian-American, and one Pakistani-American in Ghana… sound familiar? The United Nations in a nutshell. It wasn’t until we got to Accra that we realized our diversity across cultures, ethnicities, personalities, work styles, and even religions. A team that was so different that it balanced itself out perfectly.
One of the main reasons why I signed up for IBD was to get a chance to learn from an international client. I couldn’t have imaged that I came out of the experience learning as much, or even more, from an internationally diverse IBD team. I learned that Guatemalan enchiladas are very different than Mexican enchiladas, that the Peruvian football team made it to the 1982 World Cup (crossing my fingers for Pedro that it happens again soon), that Chinese characters are based on ideas that build upon each other, and that northern Pakistani mountains are more beautiful than the Swiss Alps.
We continued to embrace our unique interests during the three weeks we spent together—from learning Hassan and Howard’s new card games despite not having any electricity, to making it a team mission to watch the Champions League finals live over tapas for Ceci and Pedro. As we arrived in Cape Coast for a weekend getaway, much to my excitement, the team even jumped on the idea of learning Western African drums and dance. (Ask any of us to show you the chicken move or swing move next time you see us! We’d be more than happy to perform.)
5 different ethnicities, 4 different religions, 3 home countries, 2 dietary restrictions, 1 project and many nicknames later—this experience would not have been the same without this unique combination of bright, funny, hard-working, caring, loyal and ridiculously diverse teammates.
The Challenge: Transforming a Continent
The founder of Ashesi University came to us with a grand vision to help develop the next generation of leaders to transform Africa and solve its biggest challenges. Ashesi had achieved remarkable success in a short time, and now, it wanted to develop an Institute to scale its successful model and share its best practices with other education institutions. After 3 months of working remotely, we finally arrived to Ashesi campus and, even though we had already seen pictures of the campus, it was much more gorgeous than we could imagine—a perfect place to spend the following 3 weeks.
In our time in Ghana, we conducted interviews with different stakeholders, all of them passionate about revolutionizing education in Africa, to validate our findings from previous research. What we found was that the higher education system in Africa is broken, resulting to high rates of unemployment, corruption, and little innovation. There is gap that Ashesi can help to fill, and other education institutions were eager to learn more about Ashesi’s secret sauce.
We facilitated an ideation session with internal stakeholders where we validated Ashesi’s core competencies that the market was demanding and the programs to deliver them. During the last week, we conducted a pilot with potential customers interested in the Institute to test which programs were the most appropriate and effective to achieve the Institute’s goal.
With all these inputs, we created a comprehensive business plan that we presented to the Executive Committee to recommend the implementation of the Institute and start working with a potential customer as part of a pilot initiative to validate our findings.
The Ashesi Family
The people at Ashesi made our time in Ghana truly memorable. From setting up workspaces to finding a bespoke tailor, our gracious hosts ensured that our stay was incredibly smooth. Ashesi provost Marcia shared her remarkable experiences and found a connection with each of us, from working at FC College in Lahore to doing an exchange program in Peru, to having her daughter working in Guatemala City. Patrick was the inspirational leader we heard so much about, and he inspired us to think broadly about the impact our project could have for higher education across Africa.
Ashesi means ‘beginning’ in the Akan language, and our team is very much looking forward to the beginning of the Institute when it launches—hopefully, a future IBD team will have the opportunity to be a part of this meaningful transformation.