“Anytime you leave what is familiar and comfortable, you are guaranteed personal growth.” This is what Nkgopoleng Moloi expected to happen when she joined 16 other Fellows on a week-long trip to Accra, Ghana, on 14 November 2015. What she did not expect, however, was the degree to which this would happen.
The Expand Your Horizons trip was facilitated by Dr Thabo Mosala from WITS Business School with the intent of exploring an entrepreneurial ecosystem in another African country. It was hoped that participants would get an idea of some of the challenges and opportunities facing their African peers and develop relationships with young entrepreneurs in Ghana.
The group’s itinerary included visits to universities, entrepreneurial hubs and an incubator. Besides their visits to the city’s major historical landmarks they also engaged in a little street salsa dancing! Here are some of our intrepid travellers’ experiences and reflections:
Lowell Martin Scarr
South Africa isn’t the only place on the continent where things are happening. Maybe that’s obvious, but it needed visiting the place to properly understand. It took a few days to relax in the new environment: smells, sights, thoughts. Stimulation. Suddenly I found myself in a place where I didn’t feel the colour of my skin. People hustling. Alive. Despite the oppression and lack of support.
Being with the Fellows, who share so much of my history, it was impossible to avoid speaking of things we usually can’t. Our dreams for the future, for home. What it is that’s holding us back and what we can do about it. We can’t keep waiting for the answers to be given to us, we need to make our own.
Ghana was a chance for me to think away from the noise of South Africa’s very loud problems of race, class and corporatism. It distilled entrepreneurship for me into a simple paradigm of enterprising and self-determination from your available space, resources, labour and moving to greater systems and collaboration. It showed me that society can be differently ordered from what I’m used to and that possibilities exist to shift the macroeconomic issues we have at home with good decisive governance.
I learnt that young people everywhere are concerned with similar things and that we can have conversations that help all of us navigate our spaces with new thinking. Most importantly, we can inspire each other.
I was energised and inspired by the sense of urgency, hard work, focus and dedication from some of the entrepreneurs we met. This had such an impact on me that upon my return, I met up with another Fellow to discuss a business idea we’d both like to work on, actively setting up meetings and making plans on how to make this happen. I was also moved by the obvious passion for Africa that we experienced through our interactions with Kobi (the lecturer from Ashesi), artists at Accradotalt as well as the ordinary guys we met on the streets.
What was interesting and relevant to my portfolio in the Association’s Executive Committee was the stance that Ashesi takes on leadership. I found it interesting that leadership is considered a core pillar of the university and is integrated in the curriculum throughout the university degree. The four facets of leadership; (i) intro to leadership, (ii) ethics, rights and rule of law, (iii) economics of leadership and (iv) community and service seem like a relevant approach on how we can nurture responsible individuals of high impact. This is something I will be exploring more in the hopes of incorporating the learnings into leadership activities planned over the next two years.
The trip to Ghana reinforced something about West Africa that I had seen previously while working in Nigeria: that West African citizens have a tenacious sense of enterprise. It’s incredible to witness just how ferociously people will find a way to create a space for themselves to participate in the informal economy.
What I found special about this trip was that I had a chance to deconstruct this notion with a group of likeminded individuals who also intend on having a massive impact on South Africa.
We explored different reasons that could be attributed to West African entrepreneurial flair that simply hadn’t translated the same way in South Africa. Was it cultural differences? The way their leaders chose to approach the transition to democracy? Their political history?
It’s a deep question that requires further discussion, but it’s nice to know that there’s a great deal for us to learn from our big brother in West Africa!
A highlight was meeting Hamza Moshood at the talk party with artists from Accradotalt and realising a few minutes into the conversation that we had a mutual friend. He is a writer and passionate reader of African literature with a wealth of knowledge to share and so much to teach. I have a long reading list as proof. Our conversations left me in awe of his passion for writing and how he is chasing it like it is the most natural thing to do. I’ve since realised it actually is and I need to stop making excuses for not doing the same.
The biggest learning point was seeing the Ghanaian culture in action. I think that we were shielded quite a bit given where we stayed and the places we visited, but I do believe that the individuals we spoke to or interacted with gave us a real glimpse of what Ghana is about. I liked that the people in Accra were really entrepreneurial but also conscious of their place in Africa (the world). People there seemed to have urgency about them and took initiative to change their situations (even if it was out of necessity). Looking at the platforms and opportunities we have here in South Africa I left feeling that we should be doing more. We should be more enterprising and should be striving for excellence.
Going to Ghana has opened my eyes to the challenges that much of Africa still faces. In the same breath I experienced the hope that exists there and the amazing culture of being self-sufficient. I learnt a lot about the history and culture of Ghana, but it also provided me with more appreciation of being a South African. We have very high standards in terms of what we expect of ourselves and that comes through with people being discouraged as a result of corruption and a lack of support from government. South Africa needs to give itself more credit but at no point become complacent – we have all the puzzle pieces; we just need to fit them together properly.