Patrick Awuah '89, founder and president of Ashesi University, is among this year's 24 recipients of MacArthur "genius grants." The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.
Ashesi University, which Awuah founded in 2002, is a four-year private institution that offers a core curriculum grounded in liberal arts, ethical principles, and skills for contemporary African needs and opportunities. Awuah, a native of Ghana, was educated at American universities and began a successful career as a Microsoft engineer, but a vision for better higher education in Ghana drew him home. He saw a stark contrast between his college experience, which stressed critical thinking and problem solving, and the rote learning common in Ghana’s educational system. He was also convinced that a focus on ethical leadership in the next generation of Ghana’s leaders was the best means for combating pervasive corruption. In 2007, he delivered a TED Talk about the "creative thinking" he learned at Swarthmore and the role it played in helping him found Ashesi University.
In a little over a decade, Ashesi is already firmly established as one of Ghana’s premier universities. Every one of its graduates has found quality employment, and almost all remain in Africa, where many have started much-needed information technology businesses. Awuah’s innovation in higher education is not only empowering individual students; it also has the potential to transform political and civil society in Ghana and other African nations by developing a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.
Awuah graduated with degrees in engineering and economics from Swarthmore, which awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2004. He also earned an MBA from UC-Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Awuah is a Fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative (a branch of the Aspen Global Leadership Network) and a member of the United States Council on Foreign Relations.
"The college that I have helped establish in Ghana, Ashesi University College, is an attempt to create an institution like Swarthmore College in Africa," Awuah said at Swarthmore in 2004. "We face enormous challenges on a continent that has too few such institutions. Yet, we persevere with the knowledge that our success will make a tremendous impact on the lives of many future generations in Africa and the world."