If there is anything you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has
genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
Those words, from the German writer Goethe, have a
special meaning at the Haas School; they are the inspiration
behind the name of Ashesi University in Ghana. And Ashesi,
which means “beginning” in Akan, one of
Ghana’s native languages, is one of the most intriguing
startups by recent MBA graduates.
A groundbreaking university with a purpose as lofty
as Goethe’s ideals, Ashesi is a private university
offering undergraduate degrees in business and computer
science that had its business beginnings as a student
project at Haas—in the course work of two MBA
99ers, Patrick Awuah, a native Ghanaian, and Nina Marini.
Five years later, Ashesi is well on track to meet its
not-so-modest goal of training Ghana’s future
business leaders. In March 2002 Ashesi started teaching
classes as the country’s first private non-denominational
The first class of students will graduate in 2005.
They will also have a foundation in liberal arts—Awuah
is a graduate of Swarthmore—and an emphasis on
“Ashesi is a dream come true,” says sophomore
Abraham Nantogma, who says he may start a business when
he graduates. “It is an affordable world-class
education right here in Ghana.”
The student-staff ratio is far better than at Ghana’s
state universities, he notes, where sometimes students
have to stand outside a packed lecture hall and listen.
“At Ashesi, the lecturers are able to pay attention
to our needs.”
The Class of 2006—forty-four men and women, selected
from more than 200 applicants—enrolled this February.
For Dodzi Anku, a freshman who had lived for 10 years
in Singapore and Vancouver, Ashesi solved the dilemma
of how to get a competitive degree in computer science
in her home country. She says that in some courses in
Ghana, students graduate in computer science without
ever having booted up a computer.
In contrast Ashesi is wired. There is a computer laboratory,
and terminals for student research and online access.
“We have constant Internet access, and we are
able to e-mail anyone from anywhere on the campus,”
Ashesi currently employs 20 people full-time in the
Ghanaian capital Accra and at its nonprofit parent,
Ashesi Foundation in Seattle. On its academic advisory
board are 30 experts, including 13 professors from Haas
who help with the business curriculum, teaching methodology,
and faculty training.
Even before Awuah enrolled at Haas, he had decided
to create Ashesi. His epiphany came when he and his
American wife, Rebecca, had their first child eight
years ago, a son Nanayaw. They were settled in Seattle
at the time.
“That made me reevaluate my commitment to Africa,”
recalls Awuah, who is moving back to Ghana this summer
with his family, which now includes a daughter, Efia.
He knew that his children’s future would be entwined
with Ghana. The fast-developing country has a dire need
for education; the most accomplished students have typically
left to study overseas, sometimes never to return.
Awuah had enrolled at Haas because he realized that
a top-notch business education would help his enterprise
become successful and self-sustaining. Now 38 and president
of Ashesi University, he still recalls the enthusiasm
when he arrived at Haas. “Every time I told someone
about my idea, they said ‘That’s awesome!’
There was just this sense that it could be done,”
When his project was accepted for the International
Business Development course, one of the few at any business
school that offer on-site international consulting projects
for MBA students, it so captivated fellow student Marini
that she jumped on board. Raised in Japan, she had expected
to work on a project in Asia. “But this classmate
with a dream and vision—it was a discovery for
me,” says Marini, 32 and vice president of Ashesi
With two others, they traveled to the sub-Saharan country
to conduct market research. As the idea took off, they
also developed a support network at Haas and with alumni.
In addition, Awuah, a Microsoft program manager before
he started his MBA, was able to raise some of the initial
funding through former business associates.
Ashesi still has strong links with Haas. It has remained
an ongoing client of the International Business Development
course. And in late May, Dean Tom Campbell, who has
taught and traveled extensively in Africa, offered a
leadership seminar on constitutional law.
The accolades have been fast and furious. In 2002 Awuah
was selected as an inaugural fellow of the Africa Leadership
Initiative, a program to nurture young leaders who are
motivated, effective, values-based and community spirited.
Last summer external examiners from Haas and Swarthmore
reviewed Ashesi’s coursework and gave it high
marks. And after the National Accreditation Board of
Ghana visited in October, the board’s deputy executive
secretary hailed Ashesi as one of Ghana’s best
new universities and an example to follow.
A final word from a sophomore, Regina Agyare, sums
up project’s boldness, power, and magic. “I
believe that coming to Ashesi was the best decision
I ever made,” she says. “Every day I count
my blessings and Ashesi keeps blessing me with knowledge,
skills, and memorable experiences.”
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