Last week, I was in Ghana for a board meeting of the Ashesi University Foundation. I also visited startups and a startup incubator that I will talk about in subsequent posts. I've written about Ashesi's leader Patrick Awuah before. In full disclosure, I'm a big fan of Ashesi and was just elected chairman of the foundation board. For me it's the kind of leveraged philanthropy and social entrepreneurship that can really make a difference-exactly what Bill Gates has described as catalytic giving. This post is about the Ashesi story as a startup; and part of it comes as an outgrowth of a short part of a long conversation about many topics with Steve Blank a few months ago. Specifically, we were talking about social and non-profit entrepreneurship; and my contention is that even non-profits can benefit from the ideas of customer development and lean startup; and that in particular, it's important that non-profits also think about their business model in the same way as a for profit does.
The rest of this post goes through a short history of Ashesi, and a current snapshot of how the Ashesi University team is addressing its growth and why I think it provides great catalytic philanthropy example.
The Mission and Vision
Patrick didn't start out thinking he would build a university in Ghana. He first thought he would start some sort of business to help economic development; but when he visited, he noticed his experience being educated at Swarthmore and working at Microsoft built critical thinking, leadership, and practical skills that were missing from his secondary school peers who stayed. His view was that in a country where less than five percent of people who are qualified to get a college education actually complete, that college educated people would end up running the countries government, non-governmental organizations and businesses. He felt the way to change the direction of the country and continent was through generating a new set of African leaders with strong critical thinking, practical skills, and ethics. In 2001, when Ashesi was beginning, he took advantage of a change in the educational structure in Ghana that enabled the forming of private universities. ...
Patrick Awuah '89, a former Microsoft engineer, founded Ashesi University in his hometown of Accra, Ghana. Ashesi offers bachelor's degrees in computer science, business administration, and management information systems.