Friday, November 13, 2009

I ask for more Patrick Awuahs and more Ashesis in this life

Earlier tonight, I met Patrick Awuah. Again. Up close. This is the second time I am dedicating a blog entry to him. Why not? He's awesome. He gives me goosebumps when I meet him. Yes. Sounds weird. I told my roommates I had a crush on him. Oui. Of course, I am straight and straight up drumming home the point that we need more Patrick Awuahs in this world. If you didn't know already. But the focus of this entry is really about what he talked about tonight. What brought him to this area so I could be in the same room as him is not important. His words, actions, character are. Let's dig into what he said.

As some of you may know, Patrick and Ashesi University just won the Aspen Institute's McNulty Prize for 2009. Doesn't matter to me how relevant or prestiguous the prize is, but the fact that Patrick has yet another honour. Judges choosing the McNulty Prize included Madeleine Albright, Bill Gates, and Olara Otunnu; go figure. He won $100,000, a nice sum of money that will go a long way. It felt quite good to congratulate him in person, just a week after I had heard of his award from an Ashesi mailing list. The prize was in the conscience of most of the 30 or so students who gathered earlier tonight to have an evening with Patrick and Patrick started the night off with a short film prepared about Ashesi University which won him the prize. The film told a few stories Patrick had mentioned when I met him earlier this year and this is a time to share.

Araba Amuasi was one of the brightest students (computer science) graduating from Ashesi in 2007. Judging by the kinds of job offers her colleagues got, she could have landed a very lucrative job and a great career. Her community service project through Ashesi University was heavy on her heart and she knew she could positively impact many lives in a different way. She chose to go into management; become Operations Officer at an orphanage. She plans to use her computer science skills to completely overhaul the orphanage curriculum and to one day lead a transformation of primary education in Ghana. Ghana doesn't have a culture of community service, but here, you have a lady in her mid-twenties, spurning conventional Ghanaian wisdom to face some of Ghana's problems head on. No wonder Patrick speaks so highly of her. Patrick didn't mention his alumni who work at the McKinsey's, DataBanks and other reputable firms, he mentioned the societal change makers. You can tell this man is very different in a very good way. He cares deeply about our society and celebrates those who do the same.

Patrick's goal with Ashesi is to build ethical leaders, people who will change the status quo in Ghana and Africa. He identifies leadership failures as the biggest problem Ghana faces and that is what he's tackling. He's doing it in the most challenging way possible, in education. BarCamps, workshops and conferences may do the same thing, but educating a generation is much more powerful. Like Patrick mentions, at Ashesi, community service is not an extra-curricular activity. It is part of the curriculum. Think about that for a second. He understands what we need to do as a people and all those things are littered over an education that we will begin to cherish and revere in the years to come. To him, Ghanaian universities should be competing on whose students are the most ethical. Call us crazy, but isn't that one way to solve corruption? We have to start from somewhere. Patrick and Ashesi have started it.

It gave me extra thrills to see a couple of people I had met in the Ashesi McNulty Prize video. I have mad love for Ashesi and all the people associated with it. All these people are awesome and Ashesi students are top-notch, and have most of the traits you'll want in a young African that will make our continent a better place. Patrick told a story about his interactions with a beggar when he was young that made a difference in his life. The takeaway was to talk more with people. If I have been doing a lot of talking, "social animalism", networking, etc, I am about to take it to a whole new level, especially with people who may be of a lower class. We have to care deeply about our society. I don't know if our political leaders get it, but I know Patrick does. Recently, Ghana's ministers decided to use the public transport to experience it. I heard this from a fellow blogger. To me, this was a big deal. Did the media pick it up? Maybe. We have to care more about our environs. Like Patrick argued, aid may not be that bad, but it has to be aid with compassion. Our leaders don't get it, but Araba Amuasi does. Thank Ashesi.

Patrick also talked about his worries about the future. Other institutions in Ghana have been started with strong driving visions, great support and enthusiasm. Their founders may not like the state in which their 'babies' are today. Patrick worries about his handiwork, will it really pay off in the end? Will we have a better future and Ghana and Africa? Would his honor code experiment yield spectacular results? I choose to be optimistic and like Patrick, I have faith too. We can make a difference. It only takes a few committed citizens to make a change. And they don't have to be politicians. They can be computer scientists who choose to ensure a better education for kids who wouldn't have gotten it. They can be sportsmen who dedicate their free time to teach their neighbours about keeping in shape. They can be bankers who spearhead market clean-up campaigns because they believe the market women must work in better conditions. That's the vision.

Here are a few must-watch videos.
http://www.mcnultyprize.org/awuah.html
http://www.mcnultyprize.org/winner2009video.html

PS: Just remembered a soundbite by Patrick that I want to share
Ashesi can be the most expensive university in Ghana and the least expensive university in Ghana. This was in reference to Ashesi's higher costs of attendance and the financial aid options they had for students
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