Scholarship, leadership, citizenship

A university in Ghana equips its students to be innovators in their fields through a dual focus on “hard skills” and liberal arts that foster creativity and civic engagement. Does your institution help employees connect their work to the good of society as a whole?

Patrick Awuah left his home in Ghana when he received a scholarship to attend Swarthmore College. After his studies, he launched into a career at Microsoft, got married and started a family, a shining instance of the American Dream.

But, as he related to NPR, when Awuah was still a young man, he had a yearning to make a difference in his struggling homeland by educating young people; eventually, he quit his job and moved his family back to Ghana to found Ashesi University College, having realized that furnishing Africa with “enlightened leaders” would depend on revitalizing African education for “critical thinking and ethical service.”

Founded in 2002 with 30 students, Ashesi now has 565 full-time students, a staggering 47.4% of whom are women and 88% of whom are Ghanaian.

This young institution is already beginning to exert a significant influence in Ghanaian society, as it works to spark “a renaissance in Africa,” a fitting goal for a university whose name means “beginning” in Akan, a language native to Ghana.

The school’s culture is formed around “the Ashesi Way,” which “is based on the fundamental premise that our daily actions will make all the difference in reaching the end that we seek -- that the means determine the quality of the end.”

The “three pillars” of the Ashesi Way are “scholarship, leadership, and citizenship,” and they embody the school’s determination to inculcate critical and collaborative thinking in Ghana’s intellectual culture.

Awuah emphasizes that pedagogy in his country has traditionally centered on rote memorization, or what Dickens taught us to call the “Gradgrind model”: “'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life!”

Awuah’s experiences in the U.S. helped him to recognize that this sort of education does not equip students to make creative connections within their body of knowledge, to connect their own work to the welfare of society as a whole or to communicate their vision persuasively to others.

Ashesi works to achieve its goals through a rigorous curriculum centered on the liberal arts to foster creativity, civic engagement and communication skills. The students, who all major in business, management information systems or computer science, also receive intensive instruction in data analysis and quantitative reasoning.

The combined effect of this dual focus is to produce graduates who combine highly marketable “hard” skills with “soft skills” in critical thinking and communications that equip them to be not merely technicians but leaders and innovators in their fields.

How does your organizational structure encourage team members to integrate their work with their civic duties? How does it balance the need for effective leaders to have both technical skills and “practical wisdom”?