Discovering the Spark: Finding Inspiration in the Vibrant Spirit of Ghana

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Discovering the Spark: Finding Inspiration in the Vibrant Spirit of Ghana

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Discovering the Spark: Finding Inspiration in the Vibrant Spirit of Ghana

Discovering the Spark: Finding Inspiration in the Vibrant Spirit of Ghana

We weren’t short of reasons to be distracted that afternoon: the ever-present oppressive heat, the noise of passing traffic, even the curious toddler in our peripheral vision. For the four of us, arranged in a semi-circle of faded plastic chairs in a courtyard between dwellings, there was absolutely nothing that could have taken our attention away from the stories we were hearing.

While most of our learning experiences at London Business School came in the vicinity of its Regent’s Park campus, that day’s lesson was in Jamestown: a lower-income township in Accra, Ghana. Our teacher was named Augustina. Like many of our other lecturers at London Business School, her knowledge was built from decades of lived experience.

Augustina is a 62-year-old, single mother of three. For the past 30 years, she has run a successful business – a lunch stall, catering to the people of Jamestown.  She spoke with an ease and a presence that could have only been built through years of overcoming challenges. Every question we asked seemed to unveil another insight about her business or inspiring facet of her life.

Since establishing her business three decades ago, she had expanded to three locations around Jamestown and was even once the main supplier of food for the local prison. Augustina carefully managed her inventory, stocking up or changing recipes dependent on the market rate – but no, she would never increase her prices. Her community relied on her for nutritious and affordable meals, and the close relationships she’d built with them over years was the reason for her success. Contributing to her community was at the heart of so much of her effort. She’d even brought a microfinance provider into Jamestown to support other entrepreneurs and would often mentor other women to help set up their own businesses.

Her final word on doing business, narrated through an interpreter: “It’s all about the strategy – moving and changing when you need to”.

Through her hard work and ingenuity alone, she had put all three of her children through school. They’ve moved out of Jamestown to work in professional jobs around Accra.

I was in absolute awe. This woman should be giving TED talks!

Interactions like this are not common across a lifetime and I felt like my week in Ghana – on a Global Experience, had far more of these than I was expecting.

WHAT IS THE GLOBAL EXPERIENCE?

The gorgeous DTI Africa Campus

The Global Experience is one of the defining features of the London Business School MBA programme. Each student chooses a topic and a linked destination (or vice versa) from the school’s extensive portfolio, which includes learning about Sustainability in Singapore, Managing through Crisis in Buenos Aires, or (in my case) Entrepreneurship in Complex Environments in Accra.

For each of these, the School’s Global Experience team pulls together a week-long agenda of organisational visits, consulting projects, cultural programmes and social opportunities to give students a snapshot into what life is like and how business is done in a completely different part of the world.

While every trip of such scale has its challenges, my experience was overwhelmingly positive and will continue to be a defining memory of my MBA experience – something I know many of my other classmates will also agree with

Apart from meeting Augustina and others in the Jamestown community, there were plenty of other highlights of my Accra Global Experience.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MY WEEK IN GHANA

Meeting exciting young entrepreneurs at MEST: MEST is an Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation and support for technology start-ups in Africa. In our visit to the Accra campus, we met the latest cohort of ‘Entrepreneurs in Training’— specifically chosen through a rigorous application process.

We heard about their business ideas, learned about how they were settling into Ghana and shared stories over a delicious Ghanaian lunch. Give it a few years, we might realise we’d rubbed shoulders with the founders of the next African unicorn!

Consulting for Impact Hub Accra / Ako Adjei Park: My working group of four (Alex Cowell, Kayla Sledge, Saanya Mansharamani and I) had the opportunity to work with a great team lead by Will Senyo and Kelechi Ofoegbu. Over the course of the week, we learned about their organisation and helped explore new revenue models for the development of their innovation precinct, Ako Adjei Park.

At the end of the week, we delivered a strategy that mapped out how Ako Adjei Park could go about offering its services to global companies looking to enter Ghana – an opportunity they are excited to pursue!

Visiting DTI Africa: Definitely the most heart-warming part of our trip, DTI Africa is a high school and vocational training institute teaching entrepreneurship, design and fabrication. A group of 15-18-year-olds, mostly from less privileged backgrounds, presented their first ever business pitches to an audience of very impressed MBAs. Many of their business ideas hinged on sustainability – for example using waste coconut shells or wood fibres as raw material for producing comforters or artwork. Many of these children had never heard of a business plan or even worked in PowerPoint until they joined DTI only a few months before these pitches – truly astonishing!

We followed these presentations with a tour of their beautiful campus, filled with art produced by DTI students. Seeing the impact the school was having on these children and the pride the children had in their school was truly moving.

The Accra nightlife: Where. To. Start. While our days were busy with the more formal portions of the programme, the organisers had given us plenty of opportunities to experience Accra after dark.

Dancing to amazing live music at +233 Jazz Club, having the locals rope us into an Afro-beat dance circle and even trying some of the local tipple, Akbeteschi (strong stuff!), will live long in my memory.

THREE ACCRA TAKEAWAYS

Sharvan Pethe

Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.  My time in Accra exposed me to so many inspiring, brilliant individuals who are making tangible change in the lives and livelihoods of their families and their communities. They do this in an environment with more challenges than many of us in the developed world will ever face. It reminded me that one of the largest contributors to the arc of our lives is the sheer dice roll of where you are born and what family you are born into. For those of us lucky enough to have beaten the odds, I’d argue this needs to come with a responsibility. It is a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities presented to us and to intentionally create opportunities for those who have fewer of them. MEST (run by Meltwater) is a great example of this – a global company providing tangible support for talented African entrepreneurs.

Connection is just a smile and an open question away. Conversations with new friends at MEST, in Jamestown or at DTI Africa, proved to be some of the most memorable of the trip. It’s easy to think that there may be so many factors that could separate groups of people with such different experiences. Often a smile, a joke and an open question – framed with curiosity and empathy – was all it really took for trust to be built. Conversation flowed, ideas were exchanged, and mutual learnings came in droves. Being put in a foreign country, in a week designed to open us up to new experiences, made this intentional and easy – and its merits are obvious to see. Away from a week like this, I wonder how many opportunities for such connection and learning we really take in our day-to-day lives. It begs the question: What are we missing out on?

My hips don’t move like that. The dance floors of Ghana are a whole different kettle of fish compared to the dance floors I’ve experienced in London or in Auckland. The moves are different, the songs are different, and my hips just aren’t made to move like that! Maybe I need to get back into some yoga?

In years to come, my time in Accra will be one of the most memorable parts of my London Business School MBA experience. I’m sure many other of my classmates will say the same about their experiences, all over the world!

If any of this column has piqued your interest, feel free to contact me on linkedin!

Bio:

Sharvan is a former strategy consultant and LBS scholarship recipient from Auckland, New Zealand. He spent four years working on important problems across a variety of industries, including helping to establish New Zealand’s national COVID-19 contact tracing service.

Sharvan comes to London Business School with an interest in ventures and technology. During his time at LBS, he’ll be busy validating his own entrepreneurial idea in the media space. In his spare time, Sharvan enjoys hiking, writing and comedy – hobbies he’ll continue to cultivate during his MBA experience.

Source: Poetsandquants.com

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