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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 October 2004

Columnist: Ulzen-Appiah, Ato

Student Initiatives

The destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions of its young men and women.

If this strikes a chord with you, thank you. This is because you have hope when people are giving up hope on Ghana?s bleak future. Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow (Yea, you can say that again) and we are really looking up to them to make the right decisions and prime themselves to create Vision 20-something or a Golden Age of Business (depending on which of Ghana?s political parties you care about).

For those who think our youth are all hip and hop and abuskeleke and alelekenkele, think again. Some of our youth are leading now and opening the eyes of Ghanaians to their potential. This article would try to pay tribute to these people, their organizations, their ideas, their intellect and their excellence.

I will start with MIT-AITI. MIT is a popular name; it stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, arguably the best technical university in the world. AITI stands for Africa Internet Technology Initiative. MIT-AITI is a student organization at MIT, founded in 2000 by African students at MIT. Its objective is to bring information and communication technology to Africa by working with its universities and schools. It presently implements its programs in Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia.

What is the big deal with AITI? It is totally student run, by students, and for students. Ghanaian and African students for that matter have taken the opportunity to contribute to Africa?s development by using their brains, their networking, their energy and their enthusiasm. AITI is being implemented in these three countries because students from these countries have found the passion and the interest to see it happen and have found the logistics to make it click.

AITI does its own fundraising in the MIT community and sponsors MIT students to go to Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia every summer to teach computer programming, website development and lately entrepreneurship for 6 weeks. It is introducing students from all over the world to the beauty and intelligence of Africa and students who come back after their summer experience rave about Ghana?s brilliance and its people. Yes, its people. The people we ourselves don?t seem to appreciate until we see other people who are not necessarily like us.

AITI has been impacting Ghana for the past three years, teaching students from Presec, Achimota and Legon. The reason why these schools have benefited is because old students from these schools have taken the initiative. It is not exclusive to these schools and AITI led by its student innovators are in the process of expanding. It has been training competent software engineers and businessmen in Ghana all this time and impacting them intellectually, resourcefully and inspiring them to create opportunities for themselves. The power of entrepreneurship, excellence and leadership is evident in AITI?s interaction with Africa. AITI charges the neither students nor the institutions any money, we get our own funding and resources and Africa receives it with open arms. It has a passion for Africa and so do the African students at its forefront.

Maybe the whole Pan-Africanist idea and ideal do not tickle you so I will come down to Ogyakrom?s finest youths. AITI runs its entrepreneurship course with a lot of help from GNVC (Ghana New Ventures Competition). Ghanaian students don?t need to look far to find partners in new initiatives because Ghana?s youth are diverse when it comes to innovative initiatives anyway. GNVC is an organization founded by MIT students and modeled after MIT?s 50K competition. It organizes an entrepreneurship competition, where participating students present business plans for their own companies and the best plans (teams) win monetary amounts to start businesses. Year in year out, it trains hundreds of young Ghanaian entrepreneurs, empowers them, networks them with professionals in our community and shows them their potential. It has helped start 6 new companies in Ghana in the past 3 years. How many companies have been started by our so-called businessmen anyway? They have introduced the first online entrepreneurship center which has content on business start-ups and the business industry. GNVC is now incorporated in both the US and Ghana and continuing its goals and objectives to Ghana?s development, silently.

It doesn?t end there. As if AITI wasn?t enough, Ghanaian students in MIT have found more ways to give back to their country. Welcome MIT-EASE (Expediting Access to Standard Education). This organization organizes fundraising events and works around the clock to find money, money which they don?t chop, but money which is going into sponsoring the education of 115 junior secondary school children in Ghana. It has formed an NGO in Ghana which selects the needy students it sponsors and makes sure they stay in school. It is entering its third year and is hoping to sponsor some of these needy and brilliant kids into senior secondary school and inspire them to enter the likes of MIT. EASE students have the energy and the enthusiasm to improve the organization and it is moving on to bigger things.

You may be bored of MIT already, but this is what I am familiar with and these are just a few of the great things Ghanaian youth are doing that you haven?t heard of. I think Ghanaians deserve to know and take inspiration from this. I will want to mention what one Odadee who just left Davidson College is doing with his networking and energy. He has his own programme called EACH (Educational Accessibility for Children in Hardship). Check it out here

One may realize that a lot of these initiatives are coming out of the US where milk and honey seem to flow day in day out. Ghanaian students in the US have seen the opportunities, seen what their Chinese, Indian and Brazilian friends are doing and in the midst of ?I am black? stereotypes, are contributing their best to Africa?s development. I also encourage other students who have opportunity staring at them to grab them and make it materialize for the good of our dear nation. Students in Ghana and for that matter the rest of the world are not left out. I believe that if we as students innovate and give our old people a reason to believe in us, they will invest in us!

Ghana hard, Ghana still hard! Who says there is no money in the system? Entrepreneurship and innovation are not entirely about money. I believe there are well meaning people (in Ghana too) who would fund such brilliant initiatives and invest in the future. Students all over Ghana are innovating, creating businesses that are better than what we continue to import and succeeding under some of the worst academic conditions. But you don?t know, do you? Is that because you don?t care or because the press wouldn?t report it, unless you pay them? Or you are giving me the same old made-in-Ghana-goods excuse? These are the kinds of success stories our youth must build Ghana with.

We need to close that generation gap, show our maturity in our entrepreneurial ability and our willingness to lead now. The best way to predict the future is to create it. We are and can be the future leaders now! Let?s act in Ghana?s best interest!

PS: I am providing the following websites for the curious minds. MIT-AITI:
GNVC: God bless Ghana,

Ato Ulzen-Appiah,
Odadee, MIT Junior,

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.