I would like to say a big thank you to Ashesi co-founder, Nina Marini, who is here with us this evening, and who played such a critical role in the creation of Ashesi University. Many thanks too, to the International Business Development (IBD) Program for giving us the platform and the space to plan the Ashesi project.

Patrick Awuah and Rich Lyons, Dean of the Berkeley Haas School of Business

My standing here is proof that the Spirit of the Haas Business School is having a ripple effect as far away as Africa.

Back in 1997, I came to Haas with the dream of starting an African university that would nurture a new generation of ethical entrepreneurial leaders. I believed that without new, ethical leadership, my home continent could not experience lasting progress.

I wanted to create a new kind of university in Africa, one that fostered ethical leadership, and problem solving skills.

Now, Haas doesn’t offer a class called, “How to start a university in Africa.” But Haas has taught me how to start an organization, how to manage a complex organization, and how to create a strong organizational culture.

Let me illustrate with the story of Festus, a young man who graduated from Ashesi this year. Festus comes from very humble beginnings. He grew up in a rural village in Northern Ghana, and at the age of fifteen migrated to Ghana’s capital city of Accra. He couldn’t afford the bus fare, but found a bus conductor who allowed him to stand on a bus for the 10 hours journey to Accra, where he set up residence in a slum. Festus put himself through high school selling gum on the streets of Accra, and then he came to work at Ashesi as a gardener. And then an interesting thing happened: Ashesi noticed him.

With encouragement from administrators and faculty, he applied to Ashesi and enrolled as a student with a scholarship from the university. Today he has a great job working to help build the capacity of rural farmers in Ghana.

Festus’s story certainly speaks to the essence of Ashesi’s mission. But what does it have to do with Haas?

There are not many places where a gardener would be brought to the attention of the admissions office or president of the university. Festus was noticed by the Ashesi team. This story is confirmation that we have successfully built a corporate culture that is quite deep and that is congruent with Ashesi’s mission. This story is about one of the most important lessons that I learned at Berkeley Haas: the need to pay attention to institutional culture, and to be deliberate about shaping it. This story is about values – a central theme of the Haas experience.

Today, Ashesi is a thriving university with nearly 600 students and a beautiful modern campus. Our graduates are starting businesses, or are helping grow existing businesses and social enterprises in Africa.

Ashesi is a promising hub of progress in Africa—and Haas played a key role

  • First, the Berkeley education gave me the confidence to begin.
  • Second, a team of Haas students came with me to Africa to do a feasibility study and help create Ashesi’s business plan. Without that business plan, I could not have raised the donations to launch Ashesi.
  • And third, Haas faculty worked generously to shape Ashesi’s curriculum. Thanks to them, Ashesi’s business courses embody much of Haas’ teaching principles.

Haas, like the other great B-schools around the world, develops excellent leaders. But Haas is different. Here, it is excellence with heart.

As I accept this award, I’d like to leave this audience with one thought. Strong universities that build ethical and critical reasoning have a ripple effect in the world. These universities deserve our support. It is up to all of us who have benefited from these great learning experiences, to make sure that privilege remains available to future generations around the world.

Thank you so much for this award. It is a great honor indeed.

Pictured, from left to right, are Amir Khan, Nick Mascioli, Nina Marini - MBA '99 and co-founder of Ashesi University, Patrick Awuah, Melissa Rawlins and Flora Kuo

Photo credits: University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business