Educating ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.
Patrick Awuah, Founder and President of Ashesi University.
Patrick Awuah is Founder and President of Ashesi University in Ghana which is striving to prepare students for rewarding lives and careers in Africa.
Patrick is a passionate advocate for empowerment and transformation through education grounded in ethical leadership and community. He has won many prestigious international awards including the MacArthur Fellowship; the McNulty Prize; and Membership of the Order of the Volta – one of Ghana’s highest awards, given to individuals who exemplify the ideal of service to the country.
The big change
Ashesi University is recognised as one of the finest universities in Africa, with an educational experience proven to successfully prepare students for rewarding lives and careers.
The academic programme has been designed in collaboration with some of the world’s best universities and organisations. At the heart of Ashesi Education is a multidisciplinary core curriculum that develops critical thinking, creative problem solving, ethical reasoning, and effective communication skills.
The combination of the core curriculum and a rigorous preparation in a major field of study prepares students to thrive and to lead in a rapidly changing world.
The ambition for change
The big vision for Ashesi University is: an African renaissance driven by a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.
Ashesi cultivates within their students the critical thinking skills, the concern for others and the courage it will take to transform a continent.
This is being achieved through educating and driving a movement in African higher education to scale up the education of such leaders.
A shift in direction
Ashesi University began instruction in 2002 for just 30 students. Today Ashesi is home to nearly 1,000 students who are poised for leadership in growing entrepreneurial sectors and for building a responsible government across Africa.
Ashesi aims to tackle corruption that threatens to hamper Africa’s growth by instilling a cultural change on campus to foster ethical leadership. The university has demonstrated that it can effectively foster a culture of ethics and concern for others through a rigorous honour code, community service, and intensive four year leadership seminar series which weaves ethics into all aspects of learning.
Making change happen
1: The start point
Examining the problem
“My key insight was looking at many different problems in Ghana and for each problem asking why the situation was what it was. As I did that with different problems, my and friends I always settled back on leadership. If we drilled down, it always came down to the people in charge making a set of decisions that were not fixing the problem. They were accepting the status quo and in many cases they were being corrupt. The insight was that if we could somehow change the mindsets and the attitudes and perspectives of future leaders of the country, then we would bring about a profound change.”
By asking questions and following the causes of a problem, Patrick realised that Ghana needed an educational system that prepared students to be problem solvers, deeply ethical and have empathy for society. Ashesi aims to set an example for the entire educational system, especially higher education.
2: Taking off
Conducting a feasibility study
Before building anything, Patrick and a group of graduates from UC Berkeley conducted a feasibility study on what was needed for a new private university in Ghana. The study involved focus groups with current leaders in the country, including leaders from the public and private sector, the military and faith-based organisations, which asked what they felt was missing in the preparation of university graduates. Patrick and the team also gathered data from surveys with high school students, college students and parents to inform the design of an academic programme.
“When we spoke with people in Ghana, they had all the same complaints. They all complained about the fact corruption was a big problem, they complained that when students completed university, they were unprepared to deal with complex problems, or to deal with ambiguity, and their communication skills were not what they needed to be. They talked a lot about what we call ‘soft skills’, the ability to work in teams and so on. They also felt that the preparation in particular skill areas like technology, science, economics, and finance was lacking and we needed more of it.”
3. Keeping going
Patrick believes that the vision and mission is not held by one person, everyone must feel a sense of ownership for it and believe in the values of the university. The leadership team at the university maintain very high ethical standards in how they operate as all staff at Ashesi are expected to model the behaviour they want the students to adopt and exhibit when they graduate. In learning through example, students are challenged and empowered to build the society they want to see on campus and beyond.
“If it’s Patrick’s vision, then it has an expiration date because Patrick has an expiration date. If everyone in this organisation and the culture of this organisation basically embraces the vision, then it is much more likely to endure.”
Work with people beyond the walls of the institution
Patrick involves people in the immediate community and leaders across the private sector, civil society and the government to speak at the campus. Some leaders become mentors to students, while others open up internship opportunities. Collaborations with other universities have also been established. Learning beyond the institution’s walls works to create and retain Africa’s middle class by connecting students to worthwhile African careers and providing them with experience of local markets and challenges.
“I think that engagement with the wider world is very important. The world is only going to get more and more connected, especially with the advances in technology. We’ve tried to be an institution that doesn’t have walls, internally between ourselves or externally between us and others. We have embraced a very broad set of people to work with us on this mission.”
Taking change wider
Find a buddy
The resources that come from friendships and networks are really important. The relationships that Patrick nurtured throughout his life have been integral for the success of the project.
“For me when I was struggling I reached out to people in my network. I think that it’s really important when you’re trying to make a change, especially a big one, to find a buddy to come on the journey with you. Spend some time to study the issue you’re trying to engage with, prepare yourself and then eventually, you just need to take that first step. It’s really important, especially when you’re setting out on a long journey, that you map out what the journey is going to be. When you get through that first day, pause and celebrate what you’ve just done and then go to the second day.”
Form a collaborative
Patrick and his team are looking to extend Ashesi education to more young Africans by growing to 1,200 students – while maintaining its unique campus culture. To provide students with the highest-quality education, Ashesi are investing in faculty development, and to help scale Ashesi’s model, they are expanding their idea-sharing platform. The annual Education Collaborative, launched in 2017, convenes African university leaders and stakeholders to learn about and co-design best practices in teaching for ethical leadership and critical thinking, management and administration.
The impact of change
- Ashesi is an innovative model for higher education in Africa: The Vice President of Ghana has called on other African universities to adopt Ashesi’s model of fostering critical thinking and innovation.
- Ashesi, as an African institution, is a new model for African educational and civil institutions.
- Ashesi is profoundly influencing the most critical factor affecting Africa’s future: leadership. This makes Ashesi a strategic, leveraged investment in African progress. Since only 6% of sub-Saharan Africans attend college—this 6% will be Africa’s future leaders in business and government. To change the Africa of tomorrow, Ashesi recognises that Africa must educate this 6% differently, with a completely new curriculum that fosters ethics and innovative thinking. Ashesi graduates form a small but impassioned cohort. As they are promoted into positions of leadership, their ethical integrity and critical thinking skills have a widening influence.
- Since opening, Ashesi has produced over 1,000 graduates who are fulfilling a lifelong commitment to create progress on their home continent.
- 90% of graduates live and work in Africa. Most remaining alumni are pursuing graduate degrees in the US and Europe and plan to return to Africa.
- 47% of students are women – African women are underrepresented in higher education. Ashesi are committed to gender equity.