Empowering the nation through digital literacy.

· United Way and IBM offer to help the Zongo communities.

This is our moment in time to shine to become more than what we thought we could ever be; this is the nation’s time with destiny to be free of illiteracy in all its forms. In promoting World Literacy Day 2017 (at the Muslim Counselling Centre, Kawokudi Park, Kanda, Accra, September 7, 2017), this thought was racing through my mind in my address to the Imam, chiefs, elders, and parents of the Zongo community on “The role of digital literacy in realizing one’s potential”.

September 8th was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO in 1965. This year being the 50th year celebration, the program was planned to encourage people to appreciate literacy and adult learning in a digital world.

Digital education for global citizens

It was a great honour to have shared the dais with the chairman of the Zongo chiefs, Chief Imoro Baba Issah, his vice Chief Osman Jackson, Mrs Alhassan Andani, and Angela Kyerematen-Jimo, the country general manager for IBM. What a delight it was to have met Angela, a proud product of both Wesley Girls High School and Achimota, and the first woman in Africa to be appointed managing director of IBM!

The writer with the chiefs and elders of the Zongo community

Generally, literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that allows one to communicate effectively with others. I noted that the ability to write and read especially in this digital era is key to being both a national and a global citizen. One can be as eloquent as kings’ and chiefs’ linguists; however, without the ability to read, write or share one’s ideas, we leave scant reflections of our thoughts and deeds for posterity.

Additionally wider communities everywhere needed to be sensitized to appreciate and advance the skills to use digital tools among students, teachers, government officials, civil society, and so on.

Protecting children

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the uses and abuses of IT everywhere, even as they relate to children. That creates the necessity to educate teachers and other stakeholders to guide children with the discipline and protocol in using the internet and social media. Access to a world of information and ideas is the order of the day for every country, without exception. Countries that have succeeded first taught and guided children with the discipline and the appropriate behaviors in the uses of IT.

IT facilitates problem solving abilities and creates a lifetime of opportunities to develop the gifts and talents of everyone. It was so refreshing to hear the elders themselves express the desire for their generation to be taught those skills which I shared my interest to partner with IBM Ghana to do.

United Way Ghana

United Way Ghana is dedicated to supporting individuals and communities to achieve their potential through quality education. Considering the busy state of Zongo communities on Fridays, it scheduled its event on Thursday 7th September, a day earlier, to enable maximum participation by community members. The main objective was to increase the awareness and importance of IT in education, and to help redirect the negative use of digital devices to laudable causes. It sought to empower children to use technology to improve basic education in East Ayawaso, and to sensitize community members to appreciate the role of IT in improving basic education.

United Way’s volunteers were to engage the children in various activities and talk with them about learning to become proficient in technology and skills that could lead to rewarding careers and futures. The focus was to include a seminar on the advantages in the use of digital devices; launching on to the internet with little or no assistance based on the childrens’ grade levels; a demonstration on how to use the online search engine and office application tools; exposing the children to online resources (courses, books, templates, etc); and opening up a social media account using a digital device.

This year’s World Literacy Day event was an opportunity to advance the knowledge of digital tools among young people and expose them to digital processes they can employ to improve learning and research in deprived areas.

IBM Ghana and CoderDojo

CoderDojo is an initiative by the CoderDojo Foundation based in Ireland with the vision to promote ICT and encourage learning and development in a fun, friendly, safe, supportive, and enjoyable environment. [Check information about the CoderDojo Foundation: https://coderdojo.com/]

IBM Ghana CoderDojo started as part of the company’s goal to champion the advancement of ICT skills in Ghana which is in line with the “IBM Africa Skills Initiative” aimed at enabling the existing and future African workforce to develop skills in the new disruptive technologies.

Since October 2016, IBM Ghana has run weekly coding classes at the IBM Ghana Office, which have been attended by local children aged between seven (7) to seventeen (17) years. The training is conducted in partnership with IBMers in Ireland and in Ghana.

These students, referred to as the Ninjas, are trained in basic programming and coding languages like HTML, JAVA, CSS, etc. The company’s aim is to extend this to under privileged kids and to this end the 3rd session of the coding classes commencing in October 2017 will include kids from the Nima in the Ayawaso East Sub Metro of Accra.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Exploring opportunities in entrepreneurship.

· A final year capstone course at Ashesi University.

It was an honour to have been invited by Dr Sena Agbodjah Agyepong for a panel session with her cohort on opportunity spaces in entrepreneurship, and to “charge students to be disruptive as they think opportunity” (30th September 2017). Sena and I shared a faculty office when I taught Leadership Seminars at Ashesi University, so that request was my command. I was to meet on the panel the young brilliant Ekow Mensah – a serial entrepreneur named one of the “50 Most Influential Young Ghanaians”.

(From 3rd left front row) Dr Sena Agyepong, Anis Haffar, Ekow Mensah.
Kojo Botsio (1st right, second row)

“What is Your Mission?”

To begin the conversation, I entreated the students to consider what each might ponder as a mission based on the following definition: “A Vision is what you see through an imaginary window; it starts in the head. A Mission is what you do; how you get there on your feet.”

The definition is aptly supported by a call for Africans to be diligent problem solvers, active doers, suggested by James Kwegyir Aggrey in the 1920s, when he charged the intellectuals of his day: “I don’t care what you know, show me what you can do.”

Re-iterating the importance of education in creating problem-solvers, I contrasted a 2015 article that bemoaned the high number of unemployed graduates in Ghana, with a later response article that asked these “unemployed graduates” to be problem solvers.

Three key educational outcomes

A meaningful education at every level must answer three key questions: One, “Is there a product you can foresee and produce?” Two, “Is there a service you can provide?” and Three, “What is a societal problem you can solve with your education?”

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided a generic list of problem areas and targets that demand efforts not just from governments and corporations, but from individuals to step up and provide their support through entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and advocacy.

The focus of the “One District One Factory” initiative served notice that every district in Ghana is well suited for value addition in the endowment peculiar to that area including agriculture. With scientific methods these days, one does not necessarily need a huge piece of land. Greenhouses in parts of California’s San Joaquin Valley towards the Silicon Valley, and southern Africa attest to the efficiencies of small scale profitable ventures in vegetables, legumes and horticulture, as examples.

In Ghana, we are not to be pitied

Poverty must never be suggested to the youth considering the rich potential of this wonderful country. Some global exemplars put the nation’s efforts to shame. Why import foodstuffs when rice, chicken, tilapia, legumes and various nuts, for example, can be farmed locally for local employment and profits? Other examples include dairy farming to produce milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, and so on, as done in California, Wisconsin, Denmark, etc. Equally deserving of attention is the focus on the districts to include cotton production for textiles, school uniforms, female sanitary towels, backpacks; and also corn for corn flakes and syrup, animal feed, and beverage supplements.

Ekow Mensah’s Success Formula

Ekow Mensah confessed his proclivity for mathematicising everything, as he shared what he calls his Success Formula for entrepreneurship: (Awareness + Knowledge + Skills + Experience + Networks) divided by Time, and all multiplied by (Health + Ethics) = Success.

In stressing the importance of Time in this Success Formula, Mensah cautioned that Time is the denominator in this equation, and so the more of the other factors you have, the less time you spend in executing your idea in order to maximize success. He added that the global economic system and the large digital world we live in today “pays for expertise, [so aim to] become the best at what you do.” He hailed Ashesi’s honour code as imbibing the Ethics factor into students, the future business people and political leaders.

Adding value means making your product “more accessible and cheaper”. And it’s important in building partnerships and networks since people are willing to share in your vision and ideas, and corporations are willing to give you money “if you have the right structures in place.”

Papa Kojo Botsio

Papa Kojo Botsio [a grandson of Kojo Botsio of “the Big Three”, alongside Kwame Nkrumah and K.A. Gbedemah on the dawn of Ghana’s independence on the Accra Polo grounds] concluded the session. During his undergraduate years at Swarthmore College – the same liberal arts college that produced Patrick Awuah, Ashesi’s founder – there was a lot of inspiration for beginning initiatives to find practical solutions to various pressing social issues. He identified his passion in Education during those years.

It often discouraged him to discover that other people were solving problems he had identified, but later he realized that there are enough people to be impacted in any chosen problem area, even if you are not pioneering solutions in that field. He mentioned the importance of experience in a field and learning faithfully and deeply in a specific area. Having been inspired by working in the Graduate School Recruitment Office of Cornell University during his Masters program, he’s now set to do a Ph.D to focus on addressing the limited access to higher education for economically and socially vulnerable students in Ghana. Botsio intended to influence policy internationally and locally in that regard.

Students’ takeaways

The students cited the following takeaways from the discussions that fruitful morning:

  1. Be the best in your field or be the “Go-to person”.
  2. Let your business be simple and easily accessible.
  3. Look to serve other people.
  4. Be exponential. Turn your passion into compassion for the many.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)