From left to right: Nina Marini, Felipe Sommer, Patrick Awuah, Maria JaramilloIn the spring of 1998, Joann Dunaway, then Director of the International Business program at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, approved a proposal to send a team of MBA students to investigate the feasibility of establishing a private university in Ghana. The research team was charged with finding answers to the following questions:

  • Is there demand for a new private university in Ghana and, if so, what should its attributes be? Is Ashesi's vision appropriate for Ghana?
  • How much can Ghanaians afford to pay?
  • What will it cost to establish such a school?
  • Does the macro-economic and political climate in Ghana allow for establishing a new private university?

Research team at their residence

The Research Team
The research team assigned to the Ashesi University project consisted of people with a wide variety of skills and cultural backgrounds. The cultural and intellectual diversity of the team was very beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, the team was able to view the task at hand from many different perspectives...challenging each others' assumptions and avoiding "group think". Second, members of the team complimented each other with skills including finance, public relations, management consulting, engineering, and project management.

  • Patrick Awuah was born and raised in Ghana. Previously, he worked as a Program Manager for Microsoft Corporation. Awuah obtained undergraduate degrees in engineering and economics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and is a member of the Tau Beta Pi honor society for excellence in engineering.
  • Nina Marini was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. After completing undergraduate studies in history at Haverford College, Marini worked in public relations at Bridgestone Corporation's global headquarters in Tokyo. She also worked as a financial analyst with Horst, Frisch, Clowery & Finan, Inc. in Washington, D.C.
  • Maria Jaramillo was born and raised in Colombia, South America. Before entering Haas, she worked for five years as an industrial engineer in the Operations Department of Carvajal S.A., one of the largest printing and publishing companies in the world.
  • Felipe Sommer worked for four and a half years at Andersen Consulting in Strategic Services for the Financial Services Industry before coming to Haas. Sommer has an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is from Buenos Aires, Argentina and has also lived in the Netherlands.

The team with students from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Accra.
Preparations in the United States
Before leaving for Ghana, the team made various preparations in the United States. First, in order to ensure a thorough and critical review, the team posed the hypothesis that establishing a private university would not be feasible in Ghana. By repeatedly asking why a private university might fail, the team came up with a comprehensive list of questions that needed to be answered.

Second, the team drafted questionnaires for parents and prospective students, and developed plans for focus groups to be conducted in Ghana. The team also consulted with Haas Business School faculty and gathered information from secondary sources such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Bank.

Third, the team took care of travel logistics such as acquiring visas and vaccinations, and preparing equipment such as laptops, a portable printer and office supplies. The team also arranged accommodation and transportation in Ghana.

Administering surveys with parents at a church in Accra.

Working in Ghana
Working in Ghana was intense and fun. The team often had to work with power from a diesel generator because of an energy crisis in Ghana that year (1998). The need for more capacity in Ghana's tertiary education system was considered to be so great that everywhere the group went, head teachers literally stopped what they were doing to help the team administer surveys. Parents, business people and government workers were equally receptive and helpful. The team's efforts to make logistical arrangements in advance of arriving in Ghana truly paid off. Having their own computer equipment and means of transport, for example, enabled them to work more efficiently and flexibly than would otherwise have been possible.

In addition to conducting thousands of surveys and running focus groups, the team made it a point to experience Accra's lively nightclub scene, its vibrant marketplaces, and some of its beautiful beaches.

Primary & Secondary Research in Ghana
The team administered over 3,300 surveys, held two focus groups with business leaders and parents, and conducted many informal interviews. The team also analyzed secondary data from Ghana's Ministry of Education and the Ghana Statistical service.

Their data ultimately indicated that:

  • there is significant demand for a new private university in Ghana;
  • Ghanaian parents are willing to pay for high-quality local university education; and
  • the Ghanaian government fully supports private involvement in tertiary education.

Members of the team with children at a fishing village near Cape Coast.
The main factors of success for this research project included great team dynamics, good preparation prior to traveling to Ghana, the team's resourcefulness while in-country and the credibility of the UC Berkeley name. The very nature of the project - which attempted to address a critical issue in Ghana today - and the friendliness of Ghanaian people also contributed greatly to the team's effectiveness.

The feasibility study in Ghana was very inspiring for the team. Nina Marini was so touched by what she saw in Ghana that she ultimately revised her career goals to join Patrick Awuah in founding Ashesi University.