Thursday, January 13, 2011

[Rotman] Ghana, another perspective

[Rotman Series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Darshan is an another good friend of mine from Rotman. He holds Bachelor of Technology, Applied Electronics and Instru, University of Kerala and also spent this last summer in Ghana.

Darshan has graciously written me a summary of his experiences which were from a different perspective than Harman’s (Darshan's had a bit more of a engineering / technology flavour). It follows:

Snapshots from Ghana – An Emerging Nation in West-Africa
Looking back, my 3-month Ghanaian summer experience provided a fairly deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges present in this sub-Saharan African country – one that is at the cusp of a developmental inflection point. Along with a fellow Rotman MBA student and four other Canadians, I was working for a non-profit organization located in Kumasi. The organization (SMIDO) dealt with supporting close to 80,000 people - a community of artisans, auto mechanics and metal workers in Suame Magazine (sector of densely populated metal workshops) – to gain market access and facilitate an ecosystem required for businesses to compete with the formal sector.

I arrived in Kumasi with a hazy idea in my mind about the place – drawing pictures and parallels with my home state Kerala, located in southern India. Those ideas were redrawn in the first few hours after I reached there. More than anything else, my first impression of Kumasi was that of a highly dense, busy, loud urban community trying to make ends meet. Beyond that first impression, however, the environment has a noisy vibrancy colored with great optimism about a better future.

Here are a few highlights from my visit there:

Industry and Client Site Visits: My tryst with Ghanaian business began with an introduction to Ghana's gold mining sector. After meetings with gold miner Central African Gold, who was once our client, I got a chance to tour their gold mine pits and extraction plants to see their operations first hand – this was quite an interesting piece of the visit. In another meeting with Red Back Mining, a Canadian gold miner, what was memorable was hearing the head of the firm’s social responsibility group talk at length about Red Back Mining's efforts to establish lasting relationships with the mine’s displaced community. Red Back has invested considerable resources in helping the local community in which it operates and asked our expertise in partnering with them to design skill development and training programs for apprentices from those displaced communities.

Economic Growth Prospects: Apart from mining, another key growth prospect in Ghana is information communication technology (ICT). Most high school children in urban centers have a Facebook account and there is an increasing trend toward being connected to the world - through mobile phones or the internet. Along with the addition of the focus on energy resulting from the recent discovery of sizeable oil reserves off the coast of Ghana, the country also has a Green Revolution going on where local farmers are getting more yields and income from their crops.

Talks with Ministers and Entrepreneurs: Some of the chats with Ghana’s politicians such as the Minister of State for Environment revealed a message of prudence concerning the potential perils of newfound natural resources and a desire to expand unions with other West African countries. A chance conversation with social entrepreneurs like Ashley Murray (Waste Enterprises) gave me a sense of profound optimism of the future of the private sector. The fact that Ghana enjoys a reverse brain-drain, wherein internationally educated Ghanaians and foreign nationals are increasingly returning home from North America and Europe to begin careers that will design enterprise development seems to support this growing optimism.

Despite the different rendezvous with entrepreneurs, business people and ministers, the time spent with the people within the non-profit was perhaps the best part of my summer. The long bus rides and trips were memorable as they included time to talk about our cultural experiences. Created by the common bond of intense cultural experiences – with visits to the beaches of Cape Coast, Elmina Castle slave trading post, Kakum and Mole National Parks and the countless soccer games we watched together - the personal connections forged during the trip will no doubt be more valuable to me and a true measure of my impact.

I departed Ghana very impressed by the hospitality of the Ghanaian people, the immense potential of the country and the depth of the challenges that will present themselves along this nation's path to growth.
[Rotman Series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

No comments: