IFC Education Client Looking to Build a ‘Good Society’ in Africa – Conversation with Patrick Awuah
Washington, D.C., September 29, 2010—IFC’s support to a Liberal Arts college in Ghana is providing an inspiring educational environment to develop the next generation of African leaders.
IFC’s 2009 financing is helping to construct a new campus in Berekuso, outside Accra, for Ashesi University College. The institution was founded in 2002 by Patrick Awuah, President of the College who is a native Ghanaian.
Ashesi is already having a significant impact on Africa’s education system by expanding access to high-quality tertiary education and training future business and government leaders – in Ghana and other countries in Africa.
The college offers undergraduate courses in Computer Science, Management Information Systems, and Business Administration. Unlike other African universities, Ashesi also has a broad Liberal Arts core curriculum.
“We want students to think critically and analytically, both qualitatively and quantitatively – we want to provide a breadth of understanding and knowledge before they do a deep dive,” says Awuah who was himself educated at Swarthmore College in the U.S. “We believe strongly in ethics and leadership and in asking provocative questions about how society should be organized.”
Filling a Gap in Education
Existing universities in Ghana do not have a broad curriculum and Ashesi is filling a gap, says Awuah. There is very little multidisciplinary work at other institutions. Ashesi is fostering an education model based on student engagement – as opposed to rote learning – with a heavy emphasis on critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and ethical intelligence. “Instead of lecturing to students, we encourage them to think and engage in discussion and debate.”
Asked why community service is required for students to graduate, Awuah said that being socially responsible is a big part of learning. “If the purpose of education is to improve society, then students need to have real life experiences of how communities work and what they can do to help,” he adds. As a result of Ashesi’s leadership, other universities in Ghana have made community service mandatory.
Ashesi has a diverse student body and offers financial aid to nearly half of its students. Most students are from Ghana and West African countries, including, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Togo. Students also enroll from Ethiopia and Sudan. Of the total student population, 10 percent are from low-income homes and about 4 percent come from backgrounds of extreme poverty. There are about 500 students currently; this number is expected to rise to 1,000 in 10 years.
According to Awuah, “We provide a broad spectrum of students with access to quality education. Students from wealthy backgrounds pay the full fees (about $5,000 a year). Those from humble backgrounds may pay as little as $10. The goal is to have a diverse student body from different [economic] backgrounds so that all students can benefit.”
Ashesi used to cover scholarships with a mixture of loans and grants – now the school only provides grants, using philanthropic resources. “We ask poor students to pay something so they have a stake in the system – by making a contribution, they become a customer, not just a beneficiary,” Awuah says.
Graduating classes have so far had a 100 percent job placement rate with most graduates either remaining in Africa or starting companies that are hiring Ashesi alumni.
Says Awuah, “Most Ashesi alumni have stayed in Africa. A few have joined government – I know of one doing a peacekeeping job in Liberia… The majority have joined the private sector or working with NGOs.”
Awuah returned to establish Ashesi after a successful career in the U.S. software industry, where he worked with Microsoft. He acknowledges that it was not easy to set up a university in Ghana. “Corruption was a problem. People in certain positions were asking for bribes but we just didn’t do it – we were not willing to compromise.”
Discussing IFC’s $2.5 million financing, he says, “Long-term financing is something that Ghanaian banks don’t really provide or there’s not a lot of it. We needed financing targeted at a capital project to build an entirely new campus.” He adds with a laugh, “We are now in Accra in rented facilities juggling nine different landlords!”
The new premises in Berekuso, a village about 15 miles north of Accra, will house a brand new campus including an academic courtyard, classrooms, library, cafeteria, and dormitory. With permanent buildings, the college expects to offer science and engineering degrees, expanding beyond its current focus on business management and computer science.
Renewable Energy – Environmentally-Friendly Solutions for Waste Disposal
Ashesi has also introduced a renewable energy component, converting sewage and organic waste (from the kitchen) using a biodigester to provide water that is 99 percent free of pathogens for use in landscaping; and generating methane gas to power cooking stoves, thereby reducing costs.
“In Ghana, the status quo is to have a septic tank that is transported to and dumped in the sea – not an environmentally-friendly solution,” says Awuah. “The lagoon used to be blue when I was growing up – it is now dead and the government is spending huge amounts trying to clean it up.”
Other private companies in Ghana are using the biodigester approach. Ashesi hired an environmental consultant who had worked with hospitals in Ghana that had successfully deployed the biodigester. “It is a cost-effective solution. We expect it to be operational in about a year,” he says.
A ‘Good Society’
Asked about the benefits of renewable energy, Awuah responds, “Philosophically, Ashesi is engaged in the question of a ‘what is good society?’ The biodigester helps us deal with the sanitation problem by creating a community level sewage system. It helps us conserve water for gardening. It generates power.”
He concludes, “We are trying to bring about transformation in Africa through the education we provide – paying attention to environmental issues is part of that discussion. It makes sense for us to think through our role in enabling a ‘good society’… These are small initial steps for us but we are committed to engaging this question now and in the longer term.”
Communications Practice Group
Health and Education Department