Reflections from Ghana
Written by: Jayson Wang, Patrick Drown, Ryan Armanda, and Sarah Vlazny
The road to Ashesi
The car ride from Accra, Ghana’s capital, to Ashesi University starts out paved, but the final twenty minutes of the ride is a bumpy, slow dirt road. Ditches in the road, car stalls from slippery mud after a rainfall, and large rocks that must be avoided are all part of the drive. A first time driver or passenger might think, “Where are we possibly going?”
Creating a new model of education to advance a more equitable, just, and prosperous Africa is a lofty and noble goal—and one rife with stalls and pitfalls. Seeing what’s possible, rather than accepting the status quo, is a challenging exercise that Ashesi students, faculty, and staff undertake every day. The university, after all, was founded in 2002 with a vision to create a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders to transform the African continent.
Our 2023 IBD team was paired with Ashesi University for a consulting project related to the university’s branding. Ashesi sought to understand how multiple stakeholder groups relevant to the university—current students, non-Ashesi students, faculty & staff, funders, other universities, and employers—perceived the institution, and how they could improve their brand image through those perceptions.
To tackle the brand questions with which Ashesi approached our team, the team got to talking! Before arriving on the Ashesi campus, we spoke to multiple funders, administrators from other universities, and employers. Then, during two weeks at Ashesi, our team held multiple focus groups with Ashesi students, faculty, and staff.
Patrick Drown facilitates a focus group discussion with faculty to gain perspective on brand challenges that Ashesi University faces.
Sarah Vlazny and Jayson Wang pose questions to Ashesi staff to understand what they view as Ashesi’s strengths and weaknesses. To prompt discussion, focus group participants first shared their top words that come to mind when they think about Ashesi. The word cloud aggregating responses is seen on the screen in the center of the room.
A few things from our week on campus:
- The cafeteria at Ashesi was a fast introduction to the most popular Ghanaian foods! A few of our team favorites:
At left is fufu with chicken light soup. Fufu, the mound in the middle of the bowl, consists of a starch—typically cassava—that has been boiled, pounded, and rounded into a ball. At right is chicken, jollof rice, and waakye. Jollof is found across West Africa, its red color from tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, red bell pepper, and a bevy of spices. Waakye, the black substance on the plate, is a uniquely Ghanaian dish commonly eaten for breakfast or lunch that consists of black eyed peas and rice.
- The Center for African Popular Culture at Ashesi is home to several works of art that provide commentary on cultural changes relevant to Africa. One of the center’s pieces, Heaven Can Wait by Michael Soi, is photographed below. The director of the center, Dr. Oduro-Frimpong, gave our team an impromptu tour of the center, after his participation in our faculty focus group.
Ashesi University overlooks the mountain town of Berekuso, a suburb of Accra. The vantage point pictured here is from a student dormitory’s rooftop terrace.
- During the team’s second week, the team had the opportunity to join a celebration event for Mastercard Foundation graduating seniors. The Mastercard Foundation fully funds upwards of 50 students in each class at Ashesi University. Pictured below, our team learns from students about their experience at Ashesi and plans for after graduation.
During the final week, the our team had the opportunity to present our research findings and brand recommendations to Ashesi’s leadership team. After hours of interviews, pouring over survey data, and five focus group discussions, we narrowed our findings to five key opportunities for improvement for Ashesi. The biggest takeaway was realizing how students, faculty, and staff took the mission of Ashesi seriously; campus-wide, people believe that Ashesi is educating the next generation of changemakers in—and, ultimately, for—the continent. Our recommendations focused on how Ashesi can capitalize on its passion for change—one that is palpable across campus.