Ethical Higher Education: The Ashesi University Case

My article from last year on how we educate leaders with a focus on ethics was in the news again this week, this time in English!

I wrote:

“Africa is still the continent with the lowest level of university enrolment, at about 6% of the population compared to a 26% world average, according to UNESCO. What this means is that extremely few Africans ever get a chance to go to university. And those who do are destined to become leaders in society.

With this analysis, Ashesi University College has aimed to bring scholarships to deserving students, quality education to those who can afford, and making sure the future leaders of the continent are both ethical and entrepreneurial.”

But educating ethical leaders in a corrupt environment marred with inequality is a challenge.”

I also mention my taxing commute, here is one small section of it as recently shared with Facebook Live.

Read the whole article over at University World News.

Enjoy!

Ashesi in Swiss Newspaper NZZ

Screenshot 2016-06-29 15.56.32

 

Earlier in the spring, I was asked to write about Ashesi University for a Swiss newspaper, NZZ. Under the theme “The Other Africa”, I wrote about teaching ethics in Ghana illustrated by my own experiences and that of students and an alumn.

My Ashesi article under the headline “Hauptfach: Ethik von Kajsa Hallberg Adu” was recently published in the newspaper in a special issue on Africa in the excellent company of write-ups by Ghanaian-Afropolitan novelist Taiye Selasi, correspondent extraordinaire Alex Perry, and an article on smartphones in Africa by literary scholar Mohomodou Houssouba.

Find an English version of my article below:

Major: Ethics

(my original heading was “The Rough Road to Educating Ethical Leaders in Africa” alas…)

On the red, dusty road an hour from Ghana’s bustling capital of Accra, children play and goats scoff around for something to eat. I drive through the village; expertly avoiding the potholes, pass the police barrier, the water well, and the primary school before I make a sharp turn to climb the lush, green hill. Up there, I wave a greeting to the woman selling pineapples before I pull into the 100-acre well-manicured campus. I teach at a non-religious, private liberal arts college called Ashesi University College, located in the town of Berekuso in Ghana’s Eastern region. I work in an institution that has the, perhaps lofty, mission of educating a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.

Ashesi, as it is called for short, means “beginning” in local language Twi and is known for pushing the bar of private higher education in Africa, especially in terms of ethics and liberal arts. Perhaps others might also know of Ashesi as its founder and president is a very hands-on and influential leader. Dr. Patrick Awuah has been on the management listings of the world like Forbes 2015 World’s 50 Best Leaders, Fast Company where he was listed as number 87 of 100 Most Creative in Business 2010, and last year Dr. Awuah received the MacArthur “Genius Grant”. He can often be seen in the campus cafeteria having lunch with students and colleagues. In my view, Ashesi ought to be more known for is its recent pledge to run an engineering program for 50/50 men and women, something many top universities across the globe have not been able to do.

Since I was first introduced to the liberal arts institution in a 2007 TED video with Dr. Awuah and subsequently started to work there in 2009, much has happened in terms of growth and reach, but the focus on ethics, entrepreneurship, and leadership remains. The university college has doubled in size to 600 students of which 47% are women, 53% men. Ashesi has grown to have four undergraduate programs: engineering, business administration, management information systems, and computer science. While a majority of students come from Ghana, the institution aims to be pan-African with 21% of students from outside the country. The decision to make admissions gender-balanced was a pioneering move that impacts daily life at the university and underlines that women and men have an equal role to play in problem solving on all levels.

Africa is still the continent with the lowest level of university enrollment, at about 6% of the population compared to a 26% world average, according to UNESCO. What this means is that extremely few Africans ever get a chance to go to university. And those who do are destined to become leaders in society. With this analysis Ashesi University College has aimed to bring scholarships to deserving students, quality education to those who can afford, and making sure the future leaders of the continent are both ethical and entrepreneurial. But educating ethical leaders in a corrupt environment marred with inequality is a challenge. Ghana and its neighbors repeatedly scores high in corruption listings such as Afrobarometer or Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and a recent particularly shocking corruption scandal exposed judges in Ghana’s legal system accepting cash bribes to skew verdicts. Related is the hierarchal structure of the society that will make many visitors raise an eyebrow at Dr. Awuah’s presence in the cafeteria queue. At other Ghanaian universities, the leadership would go to lunch in separate senior clubs with air conditioning, service at the table, and not feeling they missed out at all from not talking to students.

In this context, it makes sense that Ashesi’s approach to teaching ethics is hydra headed and importantly stretches over the four years of the undergraduate program. In essence the Ashesi way teaches you to see yourself as the beginning of an ethical society. Second-year student Sihle Magagula summarizes the method as “continuous reflection on your actions and their outcome”. In the freshman year, ethics is taught in a course called Giving Voice to Values, developed by business lecturer Dr. Mary Gentile of American liberal arts institution Babson College. This curriculum is very practical as it assumes we all know what is wrong from right and focuses on giving tools for speaking up. Local examples include values conflicts where your supportive uncle both gives you a job and asks you do act unethically. There are also ethics components in other Ashesi courses, from Design to Communication, and in the four-year leadership seminar. For instance, in designing a solution it is ethical to involve the beneficiaries of your solution on all levels of development. In ethical communication, giving credit to your sources is key. In the final year leadership seminar, which aims to develop students’ social consciousness, students do service learning in the community. Student Mawuli Adjei says of the experience that “this might seem obvious, but directly interacting with a problem’s stakeholders rather than just reading about them compels me to empathize and personalize the problems that I am solving”. Hence, ethics at Ashesi ultimately about being more than a shiny ivory tower: we see ourselves as a part of the town of Berekuso and some collaborative efforts include a football field, a literacy program for adults, and adding value to the most common cash crop in the area, the pineapple. All these programs are student-led.

Another aspect of Ashesi’s ethics instruction is the Ashesi Honor Code that allows students to take exams without proctoring. The Honor Code is signed on by one year-group at a time after extensive deliberation and agreeing by voting. The model has received keen interest from the surrounding society. In 2009, the National Accreditation Board threatened to stop Ashesi’s operations over the Honor Code, but was persuaded by letters from students, parents, faculty and staff of the benefits of practicing ethics in university through unproctored exams. Recently the Honor Code system has been piloted at another university in Ghana and adopted at lower level schools.

Alumnus Anna Amegatcher of Ashesi’s class of 2014 now works as a market researcher and business analyst in Accra. She agrees ethics was part of every course at Ashesi: “It is not necessarily explicitly said, but from day one ethics like the honor code or ethics like when we came to Berekuso having shared kitchens, ethics was always sounding. I think at a point it was sounding more with students than even with the administration, which was good. It became a part of the student body. The message was there.” The kitchen comment relates to trusting others to not steal your foodstuffs. However, a recent series of thefts on campus – of electronic devices and other items – has startled the university and seen us take steps to reinforce the practice of ethics. How can we make sure our campus is inclusive? How can we make sure ethics is lived and not just spoken? The sense of urgency around these efforts shows the Ashesi level of engagement with ethics is a visible, constant struggle, and an ongoing conversation.

In her office in Accra, alumnus Anna Amegatcher suggests her ethics training is central to her carrying out her job: “It has just kept me conscious. It has become a part of me, like issues of ethics is a part of me. You just can’t take it out of me. Fortunately, it had been nurtured in me even before Ashesi, but I got to appreciate an organization was valuing it as something core to them.”

The goal of educating ethical entrepreneurial leaders in Africa might seem lofty, but is there really any other way? Having taught at Ashesi University College for six years has been personally challenging in many ways, not least because of a commute on an unfinished road winding through the Ghanaian countryside, as well as mitigating Ashesi’s high ethical standards in a surrounding society that might not always appreciate you speaking up. But there is the rewarding side as well. I work with young people who are excited to learn and take on challenges. Additionally, I have been privileged to see our alumni little by little effect change in Ghana and beyond. Importantly, Ashesi also pushes the envelope by introducing a “new normal” or new benchmarks for businesses and universities in the region, the continent, and the world.

 

Suspended after a Tweet? Nana Aba Anamoah, TV3, and the power of Social Media

Over the last week on Ghana Twitter, we have all forgotten about the corruption in the judiciary and focused our attention on a story involving one of Ghana’s foremost TV-personalities, Nana Aba Anamoah.

What happened was:

  1. An acquaintance sent Anamoah photos of attending a high-level football game in the UK.
  2. Anamoah posted the photos on Twitter, indicating that she had been watching the game live.
  3. The owner of the photos openly questioned Anamoah and accused her of theft.
  4. Ghana Twitter went wild.
  5. A letter from TV3 management, suspended Anamoah from work.

My view on this is that this is a historical moment for social media in Ghana. This sector has been seen as not “real”, something that happens outside of work. Hence most media personalities in Ghana have their own personal accounts, powered by their appearance on a legacy media channel, but run solely by themselves without any support, training, equipment, as well as away from attention from their employers.

Anamoah, I believe, is a case in point. Her Twitter account @thenanaaba has of today a whopping 164,400 followers, to be compared with her employer TV3 news @newsontv3, less than half or 62,900 followers. The official account of TV3 @TV3Ghana has only 10,430 followers. Having over 150,000 followers equals power. That makes Anamoah’s Twitter timeline a window for TV3 to a larger extent than maybe she realized. And as my favourite storybook character, Pippi Longstocking, says: “When you are strong, you have to be nice”. It is not particularly nice to post photos that do not belong to you without acknowledgement. It is not ethical to aim to fool your followers.

Not to worry, the media elite of Ghana is all coming to Anamoah’s rescue. The same people who last week were upset about the “lack of morals in our society” are now saying what Anamoah did “was a joke” and that actions against her are ” not proportional”, “unfair”, or maybe even “sexism” as other (male) TV personalities have said worse things on social media without repercussions.

However, not all TV-personalities read the news on the screen,  perhaps the most prestigious role in media. Not all TV-personalities have an equal number of followers as a small town. People with power have to be held to higher standards, wasn’t that what we all agreed last week?

To reconnect with my first statement about this making social media history, a number of important questions must be raised, maybe especially in relation to media houses in Ghana. Will you now create social media policies for your employees, “the guardians of your brand” to borrow from the letter? Will you now recognise that social media is a job? Will you educate your employees on social media ethics?  Will you engage with your programs’ social media involvement instead of leaving it for individual personalities to pursue? Will you act ethically in all your communication?

For the rest of us: do we post photos that is not ours without acknowledgement? Do we discuss issues responsibly? To we only retweet things we have fact checked?

Note: Anamoah has publicly apologised for her actions. 

Update: Marketing professional Nana Yaw Kesse wrote a post on what TV3 should have done and after this morning’s focus on the issue on Ghana’s principal radio shows, I have to give him right. I also learned the statement was read on the TV3 news and filed under “news” on the TV3 website, which seems incredulous as that makes TV3 the first (in news!) to actually make this item news! (When they should be more interested in us all forgetting about it.)

CNN and the Ghanaian Government: Interview with President Mahama and Media Ethics

Today I get the prompt to “upload my question to the CNN interview with president Mahama”. I think to myself, CNN…Ghanaian government. Was there not a thing there? Going through my emails, in a discussion thread on the perils of “too positive” media coverage, I find a link to this blog post by a BloggingGhana colleague, Roxanne L Scott from the end of May 2013.

In summary, Roxanne writes that the Ghanaian government payed 1,5 million USD to CNN in 2012 for positive coverage under the “CNN Eye on Ghana Project”. The project was centered around tourism and investment and produced stories such as “Welcome to Ghana: Historic castles, exotic wildlife and a golden coast”. (Scroll down and the slideshow title reads: “Ghana: the jewel of West Africa”) This project is no secret, it is covered in official documents!

In the same documents, we can read about the plans for 2013: “the Ministry [of tourism] will augment its Marketing Ghana Programme through intensive use of the international media. Funding will be mobilized in pursuit of the CNN Eye on Ghana project…”

(Docs below I have borrowed from Roxanne)

Roxanne writes:

“I’d love some clarification for how this $1.5 Million goes in reference to CNN.

If it is in fact payment, its unethical.

I recently learned at an arts and culture journalism workshop in Ghana it’s quite the norm for media houses to charge artists and organizations for coverage according to time. For example one can call a radio station in Ghana and get the price for a featured interview. Event planners also charge journalists to “cover” their event. Political parties engage in this as well. After press conferences, political parties pay journalists for coverage.

I thought it was a journalists job to look for the news. A journalists creates the content. If you’re being paid by an organization to cover the news, or if you’re charging for individuals/organizations to feature their content, thats more public relations (PR) and its unethical. You really shouldn’t call yourself a journalist.”

The media ethics debate in Ghana has a long way to go. However, it is not just in Ghana the lines between journalism and PR is blurred, as Roxanne rightly points out. The president’s CNN interview is scheduled for some time in October. Meanwhile, it looks like the CNN Eye on Ghana program alive and well and possibly “augmented” for this year. Does that CNN Eye on Ghana Project involve a primetime presidential interview? Later today over at CNN the window for uploading your video questions for president Mahama closes. CNN iReport, urges:

“Send us your questions for the president in a video (15 seconds or less, please) and they could be asked on CNN!”

I am guessing the most critical voices  (if they even can be captured in less than 15 sec!) – “What is the relationship between CNN and the Ghanian government?” and “Can we trust this interview to be objective on the basis that the Ghanaian government is paying CNN for coverage?” will likely not be featured…

My colleague Roxanne ended her blogpost in May with a plea to CNN for some clarification. She never heard back. I hope this time CNN will answer.

Please share this blogpost with your networks if you also want to know more from CNN on their relationship with the Ghanaian government.

My Views on ECG in The Mirror

On Saturday, I was interviewed in Ghanaian weekly The Mirror about the ECG scandal revealed and discussed earlier on the blog here.

This is what I said:

“People I talked to yesterday had very similar feelings to my own. We felt disappointed and angry. A state company is supposed to look after the interests of the state, and a state is its citizens. Rather, Anas report revealed, ECG is giving favors to corporations and making it difficult for individuals to even obtain a meter to get on the grid. A new friend even said, knowing it had gone this far, he felt he is losing hope and becoming cynical.

It seems ECG forgot their role of distributing electricity to individuals and companies and collecting money for it. On JoyFM the ECG spokesperson Dr Smart-Yeboah said the role of the company was to help keep companies in business – I disagree with that.

The management of ECG and its board should accept responsibility. The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) have been quiet on these issues. Ultimately, in my understanding, the Ministry of Energy is in charge of electricity in Ghana.

I think, except for the changes that ECG will do internally, we all have to help in the solutions. At Ashesi University College we have a course in business ethics that we call Giving Voice to Values. We assume we all have values, we can differentiate right from wrong – the difficulty is to voice those values.
Sometimes just asking a question is a start. Director of Public Affairs at ECG said on JoyFM “I have heard a lot of complaints, ‘they are asking money’, but nobody will tell you who.” Here we the public have to step up. Next time someone asks for bribe, can we ask for their full name? To talk to their manager? Can we call a journalist and ask them to look into the practice? Companies can help us by having hotline numbers and people on the other side of the line who are trained to take such complaints. Name tags for all employees would also be helpful.

I am not the right person to say what ECG should do now. However, this is a very serious blow to the credibility of the company and hence Ghanaians are expecting change.”

Fellow bloggers Edward Tagoe and Obed Sarpong were also interviewed. Click on their names for their blog posts on the scandal. Read more about teaching Giving Voice to Values here.

Update: Nana Konadu, Sweden and Ethics

So I was planning this great exposé about that Ghana now has a female running for the flagbearer of the ruling political party – aka this is as close as Ghana has been to a female president. On this issue, I have interviewed people, I have thought about it from several angles, but I somehow cannot get a good post out of it!

At the same time, I have now temporarily relocated to Sweden, which meant some serious packing, saying farewell to friends and family and stressing in Ghana! In Sweden, it has meant some serious adjusting, saying many hellos to friends and family and trying to wind down…

Next week, I will go to the city of Marseille in France for this symposium  on ethics. Lets see if I can do some blogging from there…If I can’t, it means another week of no posts here while I am sipping a café crème in the warm winds from the Mediterranean sea attending a symposium!

Pic of Nana Konadu Rawlings from GNA.

Ghana in Swedish Media: A Success Story

Yesterday, my good friend Ylva Strander from Meltwater Entepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) was in one of the Swedish main dailies as “She educates IT entrepreneurs in Ghana” (article in Swedish).

It was not the first time over the last few weeks that Ghana was mentioned in Swedish media. TV-reporter Erika Bjerström has recently reported about both the mobile phone industry and the the “oil boom” in Ghana in a series that chronicles “the new Africa”. See below! (Voice over in Swedish/interviews in English, beautiful pictures of Ghana).

Common for all of these news are their inherent positive angle. It is talked about technology in relationship to ethics and democracy, the business opportunities and the amazing economic growth.

Is this a fluke or a trend shift in reporting from Africa?

Teaching Ethics in Africa: Giving Voice to Values

Mary C Gentile Giving Voice to valuesThis semester, Ashesi University College‘s newest class, the graduating class of 2014, will receive a gift.

It is the new practical ethics course we will be teaching this year, Giving Voice to Values, inspired by Dr. Mary C. Gentile, previously with Harvard Business School currently at Babson College .  Originally intended for MBA students, the GVV curriculum is available for free for educators.

In a nutshell Gentile in her Giving Voice to Values curriculum suggests that we all have values, the trick is how to voice them or “how to speak your mind when you know what’s right” as it is called in the book (see image).

She has through research found that the single most powerful factor making people  speak up against violations of their values is (No, not a solid upbringing nor a strong faith, but) practicing speaking up!

It is so simple when you think of it that it is absolutely brilliant!

Through learning about yourself, your personal so called enablers and disablers of speaking up –  but also the societal enablers and disablers –  through looking at complex ethical dilemmas and writing scripts on how one could address them, we are providing tools for our students to voice their values in everyday situations here in Ghana.

Last semester, a working group modified the Giving Voice to Values curriculum to the Ghanaian, undergraduate student. We wrote new cases involving “your classmate” and “your uncle” rather than “your employee” and “your CEO” and thought of values conflict situations with a Ghanaian and undergraduate twist, one for instance focusing on family ties, another on plagiarism. I did a pilot of this new program in my leadership class, had a good personal learning curve  and many interesting and eyeopening practical discussions on ethics with my students.

As Ashesi’s mission centers around educating ethical leaders (see for instance this earlier post highlighting ethics at Ashesi), I am excited to see this course being rolled out to the whole freshman class this year and happy to be a member of the initiating team.

Gentile’s book on Giving Voice to Values is just now out, but while waiting for it to be shipped to you, do read this intresting interview with Mary C. Gentile on I’ve Been Mugged-blog.

Now over to you, how do you discuss and practice ethics in your organization/family/workplace?

Pic borrowed from the Giving Voice to Values book-site.

Ashesi University Questions Accreditation Board Directives

At my workplace Ashesi University we aim to educate the future leaders for Africa.Part of that goal is worked on through discussing ethics with the students and practising it on campus.

After much debate, it was decided that students should themselves take responsibility for fair procedure and take exams without proctoring lecturers. Instead, they monitor each other and sign a slip to certify that no violations of the rules have taken place. Or they do not sign and are invited for a meeting to discuss what they have seen or heard and the case is taken before the Ashesi Judicial Committee.  This also means all our students are well aware on our policies on academic misconduct. This is the Honour System. Similar systems are practiced at other higher education institutions notably Princeton University and Dartmouth College.

However, not everybody thinks this is a good idea. The National Accreditation Board of Ghana (NAB) recently gave us the directive of suspending the Honour System, read more about it here. It seems that the main objection towards the system is the Ghanaian environment.

The Senior Assistant Secretary at the NAB Richard Agyei told Joy News that he thinks the Ashesi Honour System is

“market copying of what happens in other systems without taking into consideration what your own circumstances are.”

You can listen to the interview on Joy FM here .

Yesterday, we decided to go public with the decision to respectfully question their deciscion. From the press statement here is the appeal to the NAB and the general public:

“We believe that the National Accreditation Board’s decision regarding Ashesi’s Honour System was hasty and was made with insufficient discussion and debate. We ask the National Accreditation Board to listen to the wisdom of our arguments and our logic. We ask the National Accreditation Board to heed the counsel of our forbearers and to remember the proverb: “the one who climbs a good tree must be given a helping hand.” We ask the National Accreditation Board to remember the national anthem of this Republic, which urges each of us to “cherish fearless honesty.”

We also come before the public to ask for support. We ask corporations who have hired Ashesi students, and who appreciate the calibre of the Ashesi Education, to help us make our case to the NAB and to the public. Finally, we ask academics around the world who are familiar with Honour Systems, to share their views with the National Accreditation Board of Ghana.

For our part, we humbly declare by unanimous consent of the Ashesi Student Council, the faculty, the administration, and the Executive Committee, that we are committed to maintaining Ashesi’s Honour System for the conduct of exams. We have the full support of the student body, the Alumni Council, and parents. Whatever the eventual outcome of this debate, let it be said that, “Here are women and men who stand for what is right; who honour the ideals of this Republic; and who believe in a brighter future for Africa”.

You can read the press statement from Ashesi University in full here.

Former Ashesi students Sugar n Spice write:

“The whole idea is simple, write your examination independently, and make sure you reference your work (do it right and you’re safe). Personally, I wrote exams in both situations (with and without proctors) and it feels much more better when you’re left alone without having one or two people walking around the room making you feel much more tensed. Every student is ‘policing’ the other, you don’t know who’s watching you and might not sign the honour sheet after exam.

It’s such a nice feeling when you’re trusted.”

Read their full piece on the Honor System here.

Is Ghana and its “circumstances” so different from other parts of the world that Ghanaian university students can not learn ethics the same way as students in other countries?

What do you think?