A Global Need for Ethical Leadership: Lessons from Ashesi University in Ghana

By Amanda Clark, Intern, Minerva Strategies—

U.S. President Donald Trump’s winning campaign promised to jump-start the American economy, and end a corrupt “pay-to-play system” in Washington by “draining the swamp.” A month later across the Atlantic, Ghanaian president John Mahama conceded his country’s election to Akufo-Addo, whose campaign also focused on fixing a stagnant economy and fighting corruption. Both new Presidents face an uphill battle to fulfill lofty campaign promises while demonstrating a commitment to ethical leadership.

It’s not easy for leaders to be ethical; there are philosophies and principles of ethics that one should adhere to, but also skills they must learn and practice. Ethical leadership is a muscle that must be consistently flexed. One of Minerva Strategies’ clients, Ashesi University in Ghana, has made this quest to build ethical leaders the cornerstone of its work.

Ashesi’s strong emphasis on ethical leadership comes from its Founder Patrick Awuah, who was born in Ghana and moved to the United States in search for a better education and opportunities. Patrick graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in economics and engineering, received an MBA from Berkley, and landed a dream job at Microsoft in Seattle, WA.  When his son was born, he felt an overwhelming desire to do something different and more meaningful. He left his lucrative position at Microsoft and founded Ashesi with a bold idea: A university could nurture a new generation of African leaders who could move the continent forward.

Patrick’s belief in the power of an institution like Ashesi was inspired by his time at Microsoft, a company whose profits in a single year far surpassed Ghana’s entire annual GDP.  While Microsoft’s success is partly due to the talents and hard work of its employees, Patrick’s attention was drawn to the critical supporting role of external factors such as infrastructure, rule of law, and free markets which enabled the tech giant to flourish. Patrick explained, “These things were provided by institutions, run by the people I call leaders, and these leaders did not arise spontaneously, somebody trained them to do the work that they do.”

Armed with a liberal education, empowered and inspired by his team at Microsoft, and carrying his newborn son representing the next generation of Africa, Patrick Awuah returned to his native county of Ghana to found Ashesi University.

Ashesi University’s mission is to train a new generation of African ethical entrepreneurial leaders; leaders who have exceptional integrity and are equipped with the critical thinking and technical skills to come up with innovative solutions to the continent’s toughest problems. Patrick upholds that, Every society has to be very intentional about how it trains its leaders. He believes that with the continual march of democracy and free market economies in Africa, the continent is sitting on the precipice of a renaissance.  But this opportunity for an African renewal hinges on its ability to develop homegrown ethical leaders who can support institutions necessary for the continent to succeed.

What would an Ashesi-educated leader counsel new Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo, U.S. President Trump, or any world leader on the value and underpinnings of ethical leadership? We’re not sure but we do know that Ashesi University’s training stems from the idea that ethical leadership has to do with integrity, compassion, and empathy. With the Trump travel-ban and the international abortion gag order, many Americans are dismayed at the apparent lack of these qualities in our new president.

If leaders of the world’s superpowers and developing economies alike focused on ethical leadership following the Ashesi model, imagine the progress we could make to move our whole world forward.

UPDATE: PBS Newshour took notice of Ashesi’s amazing work with young African leaders. Check out their recent segment.