African Dream: Ghana's Patrick Awuah

Image caption,
Patrick Awuah opened his university in 2001

After living in the United States for two decades, Patrick Awuah decided to go back to his native Ghana and set up the Ashesi University in the capital, Accra.

The name of the liberal arts college means "beginnings" in Twi, the widely spoken language of the West African country.

When the university opened in 2001 it had 30 students. Ten years later, it has nearly 500.

"This began while I was at Microsoft. I'd gone to the United States to attend college and then worked at Microsoft," Mr Awuah told the BBC series African Dream.

"While I was there I became a parent and that event caused me to reconsider the importance of Africa for my children and their children, so that's when I really started to think about returning to the African continent and doing something that would help with economic development," he explained.

He said he found Ghana's educational system relied too much on learning things by heart and not spending sufficient time on building up critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

"I felt that if I could get engaged in education and really focus on developing ethical compassionate leaders - that would have a significant long-term impact in this country," he added.

Philanthropy plus tuition fees

Mr Awuah started by renting a building where he established an admissions office, a library, a computer lab, a classroom and a cafeteria. At the moment, Ashesi University has nine buildings.

The growth was financed through a combination of philanthropy and tuition fees.

Media caption,
Patrick Awuah: Dreams without action are not very useful. If you have a dream, you should take action, you should seek to implement it

"The model that we have implemented is that we want to have African money helping to keep this place running, and the African money is earned and comes through tuition so 50-60% of our students pay full tuition. The remainder are getting financial assistance from the college," he said.

The annual operations are run with the tuition money, and what they get through philanthropic donations is used for buying equipment and funding the scholarship programme for students who require financial assistance.

"Philanthropy is helping to fund a permanent campus that we've begun construction on," the Ghanaian entrepreneur told the BBC's Kevin Mwachiro.

He said that the campus project is also partially funded by a loan that the university secured from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an organisation that is a member of the World Bank Group and promotes sustainable private sector projects in developing countries.

Striving for excellence

Mr Awuah considers that dreams without action are not very useful.

"If you have a dream, you should take action, you should seek to implement it," he said.

"To be successful you have to understand that success is not some endpoint. It's a process that you're going through," he continued.

According to him, it is fundamental to do everything with integrity and to aim at achieving one's very best.

"If you proceed that way - that anything with your name on it is going to be absolutely spectacular - then it pushes you to strive for excellence and it pushes you to be successful," he concluded.

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning.

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.

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