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Opinions of Sunday, 22 November 2015

Columnist: Maxwell Adombila Akalaare

Patrick Awuah: A gift to humanity

It takes passion, a sense of commitment and consistency to turn a dream into reality and Ashesi University's Founder and President, Dr Patrick Awuah Jr., knows that very well.

In 1997, when he stepped down from his million dollar job as a Programme Manager for Microsoft and returned to Ghana to help build an African renaissance through education, nothing looked possible and the headwinds against him at the time were daunting.

Inspired by Goethe's advice – “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it -- begin it now” – Dr Awuah set out to create an educational institution that will be a reference point for innovation in the country and the continent in general.

Eighteen years on, the fruits of that dream – Ashesi (and its exceptional style of education) – is there for all to see.

Taking his turn on the weekly motivational radio talk show, the Springboard, Your Virtual University, on JOY FM, Dr Awuah, a Swarthmore College-trained engineer, told the host, Rev. Albert Ocran, that the passion for change which led to the establishment of Ashesi could be replicated in every facet of the Ghanaian society to help build the good society that every person yearns for.

He attributed Ashesi's tremendous successes over a relatively short period of time to the support of his friends and partners who believed in his vision of creating an institution in Ghana that can compete with its peers globally.

Good society

Dr Awuah's appearance on the show formed part of a special series on building a good society that started in September and would run till December this year.

Explaining what a good society is, the Ashesi Founder said although many things helped to create such a society, a good society was one that had strong public education, robust health institutions and was inhabited by people with integrity and empathy who respond the golden rule of life – do unto others what you want done to you.

"I think that it (the concept of a good society) is somewhat idealistic and I also think that it somehow feels like perfection, but I think that it is worth striving for because the alternative is dystopia. So, you can aim towards utopia or a dystopian future. I think that it’s better to aim towards a utopia so that even if you don't get there, you still have progress in your society," he added.

On how that applied to the business community, Dr Awuah said he had envisioned Ashesi from the beginning as an institution that he would want to work in if he was not the boss

"So, in the area of business, it means that you set up an environment and a corporate culture, where people are protected from things such as sexual harassment, people are given opportunities to grow professionally; they are not abused, hard work is rewarded, and you also do not tolerate corruption and theft. This is the kind of things I want to achieve in the organisation that I lead," he added.

He emphasised that leadership was the bedrock of any country’s strive to create a good society. “A leader always inspires, convinces and influences people to behave in a way that will impact positively on society.”

Education

Dr Awuah said there were positive things in the country that should be celebrated and highlighted.

He, however, added that dishonesty in the public sector was a bane to national development.

"I think that the educational system is quiet weak. Not just that is it weak, but a lot of people don't even want to accept that it is weak but at the end, a country will rise or fall on the basis of its human capital. Because of that, the weakness of the educational system worries me a lot," he said.

According to him, the current teaching philosophy does not encourage curiosity, exploration and confidence but rather suppresses people's natural flair for innovation.

The situation, he said, was compounded by the poor infrastructure, lack of innovative ways of teaching and poor management of schools, which result in the churning out of virtually half-baked professionals.

He explained that although the problem was across the board – from primary to tertiary – the situation was more pervasive at the primary level, where the current system generates failures.

"Majority of the people go through the public primary level and a lot of those people are unable to qualify to senior high school. People who go through the public basic schools are the ones who cannot afford anything. For them, the stakes are very high and it is, to me, very unfortunate that the state is letting them down so badly," he said.

Senchi forum

In May, last year, when some government officials and leaders in the country gathered at Senchi in the Eastern Region to chart a way forward for the country and the economy in general, Dr Awuah was made the rapporteur of the two-day event that attracted over 100 eminent people.

Touching on the development, the Ashesi Founder recounted that he was, at the time, called from the Vice President's office to come and contribute towards the national dialogue.

"I was happy to do it, it was an honour and a privilege to do that (contribute towards national dialogue). I really would like to see Ghana advance because I want to see Ghana being successful. I want to see every president and administration being successful. So, any administration that asks me to make a contribution, I will make that contribution," he added.

As a citizen of Ghana, Dr Awuah said Ghanaians needed to be positive minded on matters of national development rather than looking at things only from the political perspective.

He disagreed with suggestions that recommendations from the Senchi forum were ignored but said the implementation may have been slower than people expected.

“For example, the suggestion that the government speeds up work on the gas infrastructure and deal with the power situation has been worked on but it’s going to take a while,” he said.

Dr Awuah said it was unfortunate that suggestions from some reputable Ghanaians to state officials and institutions were often ignored only for those same suggestions to be implemented in different societies.

"I have had instances where public offices have come and asked for advice, we have given it; they have ignored it and I have seen those same exact advice implemented in other societies in Africa and they have been very successful.”

“Whenever I see that, I feel a little sad for Ghana but I keep moving on and I think we all need to keep moving on," he said.

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