Ashesi hits the big league

CNN.com 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:  http://bit.ly/10OLmPT

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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. TED.com 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 TED.com. 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

Roads

Up to the chop shop

Up to the chop shop

Road to Ashesi