Beyond precipitation

GhanaFall2012 234Rainy season brings the obvious — rain. What I have never considered are implications of rain beyond flooding and washed out roads. In fact, rainy season here in the Eastern Region, Ghana, the most beautiful birds, insects, flowers, fruits have flourished with the rain. Okay, sometimes, I’ve been caught in the rain and one time an uninvited critter came in from the rain, but beyond that, the now cool season has much to brag about.  (My apologies to anyone who’s running on low bandwidth and therefore can’t easily see the picture show).

Here is a sample of the region’s rainy shifts —

AprilMay 302 AprilMay 261 AprilMay 298 AprilMay 156 May_June2013 316 May_June2013 344  GhanaFall2012 283 May_June2013 301 May_June2013 334 May_June2013 126May_June2013 049 May_June2013 180 May_June2013 266 May_June2013 268

Hands – a poem by Leadership student Michael Fiifi Quansa

Michael Quansah serves as Ashesi’s student council president. He was one of five Ashesi students selected by Goldman Sachs for a spring internship in April. And when it was his turn in class to ‘visualize leadership’ in some creative way, Michael wrote and performed a poem, ending it with sign language as he spoke.


“Hands” by Michael Fiifi Quansah

Hands are for taking pictures and for moulding clay,
Hands are for counting and hands are for collecting,
Hands are for begging and hands are for giving,
Hands are for eating and drinking,
And hands are for texting and swiping,
Hands are for praying and smacking, ‘arses’
Hands are for healing and hands are for masturbating,
Hands are for cooking and cleaning,
Hands are for pulling and hands are for pushing,
Hands are for saving and hands are for pulling triggers,
Hands are for blessing and hands are for cursing,
Hands are for holding a new born baby and burying the dead and gone,
Hands are for holding your loved ones  and hands are for pushing the hate away,
Hands are for planting and hands are for harvesting,
Old hands say goodbye and new hands say welcome,
Hands are for saying “I love you”.

Some of the Leadership 4 crowd showing their hands!

Some of the Leadership 4 crowd showing their hands!



Posted with Michael’s permission.

Drawing the line – Leadership student Thelma Osagie-Erese reflects

Ashesi Leadership IV students each wrote several reflection essays during the semester. Osarieme Thelma Osagie-Erese shares her essay here on learning about leading as she steps out of her comfort zone.

“Last week, we had an activity where we had to seat on the floor in a full circle. My first reaction to that was ‘how am I going to get the stains off my trousers,’ and then I thought Dr. Neville was trying to play a fast one on us. After a few minutes of everyone adjusting and finding their rightful place on the floor, I began to look at it from another perspective. My opinion was we were in a leadership class, learning how to be servant leaders so maybe we were being tested and didn’t even know it. After throwing a few questions to people in the group, I realised somehow most of us were reflecting. What does it really mean to be a servant leader I ask myself? I’ve always known you have to be able to serve people before you can lead them but I never really put any deep thought into it. I believe to be a servant is one of the hardest things a person can do so how do I make that a positive thought and change the world from that level?

Personally, I saw this activity as an eye-opener. I realised that as much as I think I can relate to others’ suffering and circumstances, I can never actually understand how an orphan lives or why a young girl goes into prostitution until I leave my comfort zone and put myself in their shoes. One of the things that struck me was that while I was making all these realizations, there were still people who didn’t understand why we had to do this exercise. Why we had to leave available comfortable chairs and sit on the bare floor. Dr. Neville explained that we all didn’t have to sit on the floor, we all could have chosen to sit on chairs instead, and we didn’t have to follow the instruction. This made me think about leaders and their followers. Followers might not always agree with their leaders’ opinions or suggestions and it takes a bold one to ask questions or demand explanations. Sadly, in the world we live today, I find that we have more followers like some of my classmates who follow instructions blindly. Then I ask myself, where do people draw the line at following the status quo? When do they decide they want to believe in the visions they follow?”

Thelma Osarieme Osegie-Erese in class

Thelma Osegie-Erese in class…on a day we used chairs.

Posted with Thelma’s permission.

Leadership student – Jonathan Dotse on The Word

Jonathan Dotse,  a third-year computer science major at Ashesi, wrote the following essay for a leadership class assignment which asked students to use their creativity and visualize in some way their experience of servant-leadership. I re-print his essay here with his permission. It’s engaging, provocative and insight filled. I hope you enjoy.

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God.” — John 1:1

This bible verse highlights for me the importance of the written word in relation to leadership. It says a great deal about Christian philosophy that the concept of the word is directly equated to the Supreme Being. Even in the early days of the religion, its leaders were aware that the very essence of their faith was linked to the words written down in the bible, words that they could pass down to future generations. There were many prophets around the time of Jesus Christ who claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah, however the written records of Christ and his disciples have played an important role in keeping his memory and his message alive, making the difference between obscurity and immortality.

Jonathan Dotse (on the right)

Jonathan Dotse (on the right)

Words embody the role of the servant leaders in society. Sour world is shaped by the words we speak and hear each day, the words we read and write and text to each other. Words first emerged as the units of verbal communication during the evolution of human language over tens of thousands of years. The written word was the very first form of information technology created by mankind. It gave us the ability to capture our thoughts, to store, copy, and transfer ideas within a society. The oldest recorded words were carved into stone walls by an ancient civilization known as the Sumerians. Since then, the written word was always the domain of the ruling class around the world, who controlled the flow of information in their societies as a means to hold on to power. Words are powerful. The advent of the printing press weakened the powers of the elite to control information in society, and now the rest is history. Now, computers have taken our words and reconstructed them to form their own languages to communicate with each other, whether in Java, PHP, or machine language.

Most of us who are fortunate enough to be literate often take for granted the power and importance of the ability to use words to shape our lives. In this world of mass information, the illiterate are acutely aware of the value of all the words they cannot understand; words that follow them everywhere they go; weird-looking symbols supposedly representing something meaningful, but completely empty of meaning to them. They are surrounded by words plastered on road signs and billboards and posters and may see the same words that we see, but they simply cannot grasp its meaning. Think about those who cannot see, or hear, or speak, or communicate, for whatever reason. Those who live in silence have a deep understanding of the value of words.

In Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader,” he states that ‘the servant leader is servant first.’ Likewise, the word is first of all a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used in service of the self or in service to humanity, for good or bad. Tyrants and dictators may use their words to oppress and humiliate others, while elevating themselves and promoting their own interests, but the servant leader uses words to empower and inspire others. Leaders like Nkrumah, Ghandi, and martin Luther King Jr. used nothing but words to give strength to millions of oppressed people to rise up and claim their rightful destiny. Unfortunately, many people use words in a negative way without realizing the effects of their words on themselves and the people around them. The Rwandan genocide began as a war which escalated far beyond even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s wildest dreams.

Words have the power to harm or heal, to build or destroy. Servant leaders are aware of the importance of words as tools of creating change. This is why literacy is so important to raise people out of poverty and helplessness into a state of empowerment. The servant leader’s most valuable resource is the word — whether written or spoken — because it is the agent of all change in society. Without words, we could not express ourselves in the rich and complex way that we do. We would not have the great works of Shakespeare or the formulations of Greek mathematicians, or the unforgettable punch lines of lyrical rappers. We have the power to share our thoughts and ideas, to pour out our feelings and emotions, to express our hopes and dreams, simply by stringing a few words together.

Teaching and learning in Ghana

I found Ashesi five years ago when a colleague told me about the university’s objective – “Educating a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders.” Therefore, as I attempted similar objectives at my home university, I applied to the Fulbright Fellowship program though the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. State Department’s Department of Education and Cultural Affairs to come here to Ashesi University College in Ghana. Awuah (the university’s founder) and the Ashesi team appeared to be attempting the same vision I had, that integrity business is possible, that educating today’s students for leadership tomorrow can make a difference in the world, and that – as Margaret Mead put it years ago – one should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

November coaching session with senior thesis students

November coaching session with senior thesis students

This story harks back to my sister’s question last year, “so, what are you actually going to be doing there?” And multiple people’s questions summarized as, “why Africa?” I came here to teach and learn about improving our global world through “good business.”

This year at Ashesi, I jointly located myself in the business department and in the liberal arts department. In business, I taught organizational behaviour, the field in which I did my PhD work. In liberal arts, I taught three of the required leadership curriculum courses. Leadership is a central part of the liberal arts core here. The subject matter here spans from internal values analysis and self-assessment, to reading and discussing theory about leaders “out there,” learning political and philosophical tenets of “good society,” and applying lessons through service learning and studies of servant-leadership. The leadership objective is to equip students with the capacity to lead positive change in this developing world. In their majors, students learn skills and technical knowledge specific to their careers.

Vodafone Great Debate, Ashesi Strategic Marketing student teams

Vodafone Great Debate about Social Responsibility, Ashesi Strategic Marketing student teams and Dr. Neville as 1 of 3 judges

Going into the leadership series, I knew the least and therefore learned the most about African philosophy and political theory central to Leadership II: “Rights, Ethics and Rule of Law.” Through the semester, students and I analyzed social and political theory towards building and nurturing a “good society” where citizens have rights and yet are also expected to uphold responsibilities. Together, we crossed vast territory.

In all of my leadership courses, I stressed my own understanding of leadership as the leading we each do every day through every choice and action – I call this “leadership with a little l.” The same principles apply to little l leaders as apply to “out there” leaders, people who are hierarchically in charge or voted into office or appointed with explicit fiduciary responsibility to a particular stakeholder group. I call this “out there” leadership, “leading with a Big L.”

Big L leadership is what most traditionally gets taught or studied in formal education. Little l significance depends on a personal empowerment view, an inter-connectedness, a belief that each individual and each action is somehow connected to every other individual and action.

International Night, 2013

International Night, 2013

I suspect my American students think I am being a bit of a goodie-two-shoes when I say that they are the source of change for tomorrow’s world, no matter what career they pursue. Here, the Ashesi students take on the responsibility of making themselves that source for change – they are already the elite merely by attending college whether on full scholarship and first generation college or full-pay having already schooled abroad. These students must absolutely be, or quickly become, both little l leaders and big L leaders in order to gather a critical mass of committed change makers.

When I return to the U.S., I will argue that the American students have an even greater responsibility to become little and big L leaders than I had ever imagined, simply because they/we have been born into so much privilege.

And so to my sister who wanted to know what I would do here – I see now more clearly what I have done. I have coached and taught over 200 young people, helping to empower them to create their own forms of “good society” as they go out into the world of commerce. I have offered them comparative models and comparative principles from my culture as I absorbed principles, paradigms, and cultural practices from their cultures. I have also joined a community of scholars by supervising senior thesis projects, collaborating on joint research agendas, and probing into possibilities for education innovation.

Faculty meeting research presentation - Neville on Liberal Arts findings

Faculty meeting research presentation – Neville on Liberal Arts findings

As a researcher, I am learning from Ashesi alumni, people already out in the world practicing “good business.” Alums, through their stories, provided data from which I can build hypotheses about the capacities these young professionals have most relied upon in order to be the high integrity change that they hope to see in the world. My research outcomes will be recommendations about curricular approaches – especially for business teachers – for teaching integrity and courage (two emergent themes). The links between integrity and innovation, business and technology, theory and application, are precisely why I entered academia as a teacher-scholar 10 years ago; it is precisely too why I so firmly believe that liberal arts and business, computer science, engineering, nursing belong together.  (But perhaps that is itself a different conversation.)

For now, I’ll stop with a shared hope to change the world, albeit through the small and ever growing band of committed individuals.  Perhaps this is precisely the character of grass-roots diplomacy and change which Senator Fulbright imagined when introducing the Fulbright Scholars programs 60 years ago.


Note: I am deeply grateful to all who have made this learning journey possible, both here in Ghana and in the U.S., not the least of whom are my departmental  colleagues at Southwestern, my home university, for “holding down the fort” while I’m away.

Ashesi hits the big league featured Ashesi and founder Patrick Awuah on a 30 minute segment of a program called Voices of Africa this weekend. How exciting!

I see my colleague Charlie Jackson teaching, and my students listening, learning, and laughing together (like Krystal, Amaki, George, Mawuena, Michael, Isaac and others). I hear messages that I so believe in — that education can make a difference in fostering a better world, that liberal arts is an amazing approach for developing young leaders, and that Africa has such amazing opportunity to be made manifest by smart people pulling together. And I feel at home watching nearly 30 minutes of footage of the campus compound where I’ve spent much of the last year.

I hope you’ll watch and also feel a part of this larger dream, namely, creating a better global world through intention.

Try this hyperlink, or just copy and paste:

Ashesi University College

The word Ashesi means “new beginnings.” That’s a powerful namesake from which to launch an undergraduate teaching institution in a country where only 6% of the population have college degrees. And yet, seeding new beginnings for Africa is exactly the intention of the university’s founder, Patrick Awuah, a Ghanaian man educated in the U.S. at Swarthmore College and then at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who eventually – after an early career at Microsoft – returned to his homeland in order to launch a college.

Note: Patrick is worth reading about — among many awards and distinctions for education and for innovation, he has an inspirational message that grips people. profiles him for his “commitment to educating young people in critical thinking and ethical service.” You can get a feeling for his passion for the liberal arts watching his FastCompany listed Patrick as one of 2010’s most Creative Business People, along with Lady Gaga — check out my colleague Kajsa’s post about it.  Let’s just agree that Ashesi’s founder is a known guy these days.

Ashesi's main entrance

Ashesi’s main entrance

Ashesi University College is my host institution this year as I teach and formally learn about two things: creating capacity for positive change leadership in business, and the role of liberal arts curricula in shaping business students towards ethical business leadership.

Ashesi runs on a tight budget model. It is a private, secular, small (just under 600 students), residential start-up university (founded in 2002, moved to the residential campus in 2010) with no sizable endowment.  Every initiative is evaluated according to its fit with the organization’s vision, strategic approach, and financial sustainability. Students live five to a dorm room, eat in an open air canteen, and generally share transit everywhere (the school is a 20 minute walk up a steep hill from the end of the public bus line, and a 20-30 minute shared taxi ride to the nearest tro-tro stop, and that stop is actually the end of the tro-tro routes!). As enrollments continue to inch up, space constraints continue to pinch easy movement. Office space is at a premium, classrooms are in constant use, and a lottery system awards the coveted yet tight dormitory space. Fundraising for expanded facilities is heavily underway. All  the students here participate in the liberal arts core education program, and then major in either business, computer science or management information systems.

Class sizes range from small to small village – mine alone have ranged from 34 to 80 during the year. But the design works because of a vibrancy in the learning environment, a factor of the students’ enthusiasm, faculty engagement, dedicated executives and NGO leaders willing to come “up the hill” to do guest lectures (we are realistically about a two-hour journey from central Accra), and creative solutions to infrastructure problems. For example, internet connectivity is as predictably unreliable as the roads are bad. Postal mail doesn’t exist as we know it in the U.S., I suppose in part because the roads are bad, but also because there is little in the way of road naming or numbering that would allow for even long-term stable residences to be known by reliable physical addresses (people and businesses who want to receive mail have post office boxes into which most sen- mail gets delivered). The operational implication of this is that Ashesi student can’t order text books on the internet as American students generally do (and books purchased here are comparatively very, very expensive). Therefore, the university library estimates and orders textbooks from distributors who ship to the university’s shipping address.

Todd and Ruth Warren Library

Todd and Ruth Warren Library

Then the library staff issues textbooks to students registered in particular courses, reclaims the books at semester’s end, and reissues them again the next semester to the next wave of students (the librarian and her staff are currently in the process of counting books and students in order to estimate the needs for next semester; receiving the books from the distributor can require three months lead time).

The other driving factor in the tenacity of the people here is the crucial role education plays in economic development. They know that. The students are thinking, questioning, analyzing, researching, and learning all with a felt obligation to go out into the world and make it a better place than it is now. That’s precisely the new beginning which the Ashesi name sake is intentionally seeding.


Note: You can make a donation to Africa’s future through the university or its U.S. based foundation.

Hair as art

Ghanain women do amazing things with their hair…often. An American colleague warned me last August that  I could not easily use women’s hair styles as a feature for learning my students names. With Southwestern students, my home university, I notice that a woman has blond or brown hair that’s long or short. Then whether she has her hair in a pig tail or down, or wears a cap or not, is less important to me than if she sometimes wears contact lenses and sometimes wears glasses — a killer for trying to remember who is who.

An Ashesi student let me snap pictures of her hair styles over the last 2 months. Here are some of her different looks.

Phoebe in January

Phoebe’s hair short and down on a Saturday

Hair up for career day

Hair up for career day

Career day, the back

Platted and up
Platted and up

platted and up from one sideplatted and up from the back

Here, womens’ hair styles are as much their fashion expression as their choice of clothing might be in the U.S. I celebrate their ability (and patience!) to create such masterpieces.

Colleague in February

Colleague in February

Same colleague in April

Same colleague in April


Kuala cashier

Kuala cashier

Mango seller in Kitase

Mango seller in Kitase

An Ashesi senior Maticulous rows

My hair seems so uneventful. I have two styles, shoulder length and short. Though as I moved from my American highlights (my attempt at masking the onset of grey) to my 50 year old natural salt-and-pepper color, I did go through a several week period of shimmer — the last 1/16th of an inch of highlight casting a glow over my otherwise blackish-white underneath. Several women have asked me if they can touch my hair, several asked if it’s real, and ultimately many more (out of the generosity of the hearts of students who watched my same old American shoulder length style for 6 months finally change into something different) compliment my new, more European, short-short cut. It doesn’t change very quickly, and it’s far from being art!February's obruni short-short

From dust to rain

By 5:45 tonight the sky seemed pitch black. I went outside to look and could see traces of light creating shape to the intensity of cloud, the wind howling ominously. 20 minutes later and we have only a few very large heavy drops hitting the ground, accompanied by the wet smell of pending rain and the loud rustle of palm tree limbs blowing up against each other.

I’ve heard about “rainy season,” but have not seen it yet. I think it’s coming soon.

Harmattan has been the feature season here since January – an intensely dusty time when every day requires cleaning, every evening feet cleaning before bed, and every item of clothing and household good dusty no matter what cleaning happens. You simply don’t wear white during Harmattan. I remove my shoes and see every line of the shoes’ edge in dust as if the shoes themselves were still on my feet. I saw an American colleague at a conference last month; he laughed as I opened my laptop and clouds of dust poof-ed up (I felt like the little images of PigPen in the Charlie Brown cartoons, poof’s of dust surrounding him as he moves frame to frame). I think I had begun to lose awareness that things were dusty; in comparison to everything around me, the laptop seemed to be doing pretty well…until I was seeing it outside of Ghana and through American eyes.

Junction in Harmattan
Junction in Harmattan
Roadside "greenery"

Roadside “greenery”

The book I’m reading this weekend made me smile as I heard the author describe his visit to Ghana – “There would be no rain today; January is the dry season, which is one of the only ways to distinguish seasons in a country where every day of the year is hot and begins and ends around six o’clock. In January, all of West Africa is dry, and the wind known as the Harmattan picks up the Sahara Desert – all 3.5 million square miles of it, as far as I could tell – and blows it south the Gulf of Guinea – a thick, choking haze that stings your eyes and clogs your nose with the same brick-red dust that coats the broad leaves of the banana palms.” (p.11, Max Alexander. Bright Lights, No City). I’ve tried to photograph the dust, especially as a truck goes by, but the best examples of dust appear so opaque as to reflect too much light for the camera to understand what its photographing!

Green growth in the morning

Green growth in the morning

       Dust combined with humidity makes a streaked paste that seems to smear whatever I touch. Berekuso, where I stay 2 hours from Accra, registers a latitude of about 5 degrees north of the equator. For reference, that’s still 20 degrees farther south than the Florida Everglades (and equally humid it seems), and about aligned with Columbia in South America or Sri Lanka, south of India in Asia. I’ve never been to those places, but I have avoided Thailand (farther north) because I perceive it to be intensely humid with large insects. I have a newer appreciation for geckos and large lizards now, which people explain to me don’t bite people and do eat insects. If I could sort out humidity, dusty and rainy seasons, perhaps I’ll visit South East Asia some day.

I’m pretty sure tonight’s rain does not signal the beginning of rain season though. It took less than an hour to blow over, and nothing washed away. At least the rain has settled the dust for now.

The galvanizer

Berekuso speed limit

Berekuso speed limit

Every village needs one, and almost every major junction has one. I didn’t know the word as a trade 8 months ago; now I amuse students by telling them we don’t have them in America. The galvanizer.

A galvanizer hurrying to inflate the taxi's tires

A galvanizer hurrying to inflate the taxi’s tires

A galvanizer is the person who has an air compressor and jumps to attend to tires on every taxi, car or tro-tro that comes its way. Flat, low and leaking tires are the norm here — at least outside of the city where we live. To be mild about the situation, the roads can be horrible. On the worst section of a commute into Accra, it can take 30 minutes to go less than 5 kilometers because of the dodging and weaving necessary to navigate the erosion shaped and rock cluttered packed dirt road. Every several yards, a taxi driver can point out to me parts of old pavement remaining from the last time the road was covered. Ironically, the township still has speed limit signs noting not to exceed 50 or 70 kilometers per hour. I’ve mentioned before the executive who reported “things on the ground are not as they appear on Google maps.” Perhaps the speed limit is set at the maps level, not actually from on the ground.

Compressed air and tires for sale

Compressed air and tires for sale

I asked about the roadside tire sales. A colleague explained that the U.S. regulates thickness of tire treads necessary for a car to pass inspection, so people cast off “old” tires much more quickly than here. Perhaps we also have different road coverage compounds or different citizenry expectations for road maintenance. And most of the cars here have come from a lifetime in another country, or some tell me off-loaded here when not meeting the quality standards of other countries. That could explain the challenge most car shock-absorbers seem to face (sitting in the back of the Long Bus becomes a bouncy house!).

Whatever the circumstance, buckle up. We laugh on our commute that the worst sections are our “free” chiropractic treatment.

Berekuso road

Berekuso road


Up to the chop shop

Up to the chop shop

Road to Ashesi