Dear madam chair, Ms. Esther Cobbah, invited VIP guests, founders and members of EWN, ladies & gentlemen and all proud builders of Ghana, good morning!
Indeed, you are a builder of Ghana if you have taken the time to be involved in the 2018 Conference of the Executive Women Network. For that, I say thank you.
Thank you to everyone who has made today possible particularly our hard-working organising committee led by our office manager and her assistant. A big thank you goes also to our MCs, speakers and sponsors.
I borrowed the title of my speech from a recent conference I attended where the Dean of my business school asked exactly those two questions. So I also ask: if not us to build Ghana, then who? If not now to build Ghana, then when?
Today’s conference is about implementing, taking action, to build brand Ghana. To deliberately participate in the creation of Ghana as we would like it to be.
As we for prepared today, we reflected on last year’s conference. Last year we focused a lot on what Ghana’s brand is and is not. We subsequently had discussions. We concluded that on the African continent Ghana largely enjoys the positive attributes of intellectual capacity, leadership and advancement. We are seen as better organised than most. Beyond our continent the perception is mixed. Those who know Ghana through personal experience perceive it positively, a welcome surprise some may say when they compare Ghana to other African countries. Others, for whom the continent is what the media says, see Ghana as yet another country in an unfortunate neighbourhood.
But my real concern today is with what the Ghanaian thinks of Ghana. How often do we consciously ask ourselves what we think of Ghana?
Over the last few decades, some in our country have been plagued by an incessant verbal pursuit of failure, for we live in a country where even some preachers only predict our doom and never our success. They find it hard to verbalise good outcomes. This is one category.
The second category is the one who does not predict our success but rather verbally invests in telling those who are doing so how they will not succeed. I recall the inspiring evening in April 2016 when the Executive Women Network was officially launched. A young lady walked up to me and said ‘I have seen so many of such things. This won’t go very far’. For once I was lost for words. I smiled and moved on. However, I did wonder who would waste their evening on an event they did not believe in. Was she just there to gawk and remind people that ‘we can’t?’
None of these two categories is why we are here. We are here because we are a group of people, predominantly women, who believe that we can deliberately and honestly craft Ghana’s brand based on the work we are willing to do as equal participants in creating Ghana’s prosperity.
We ask too often what someone else, the proverbial leader, is doing when we each are the change we need to see. As we act, the critical mass builds. Large-scale change will come when we reach our tipping point. We don’t need everyone for that but we do need many for that.
So the real question is, ‘what are we each doing with our choices and decisions to be that change?
Are we each creating change in our spheres of influence or are we just hoping someone else will?’
I understand that what we need to do is not easy but it is certainly necessary, so we each must demonstrate the courage to act.
EWN is about courage. At EWN we believe that as we inspire, empower and support women to realise their potential, they will not only contribute to brand Ghana through their success but also create platforms for other people to succeed. Ghana’s success lies in the success of her people.
Let me share two stories I culled from the ‘Humans of New York’ Facebook page. They are two stories of real Ghanaians. The first story is one of youthful hope while the second is one of someone who has had to find their own hope.
The first story:
“My father wants me to work in government, but I think there are plenty of problems we can solve ourselves. So I’d rather be an entrepreneur. Two issues we have in this country are erratic power and excess trash. So recently I’ve been dreaming of a waste-to-energy plant. It could be a solution to both problems. I’ve been researching on the Internet for months. The technology exists. But this morning I had a meeting with the electric company, and they told me the power supply is currently stable. There isn’t a market for extra energy. So I’m feeling a little disappointed. But I’m going to explore other ideas. I’m also researching methods to manufacture furniture with leftover sugarcane fibre. I just want to do something about all this waste. It makes me so angry. Our gutters are filled. Our bins are overflowing. I’ve been carrying this trash for a mile because there’s nowhere to put it. And nobody feels responsible for the problem. In the village where I grew up, everything was clean. Because everyone viewed the land as their own. I wish we’d view our entire country like that. Personally, I don’t want anyone calling Ghana dirty”
The second story:
“I was eighteen years old. I went out one night with a male cousin and his friends. I felt safe with him. But he gave me a drink and I started to not feel like myself. He took me home to his house. It was dark inside and I could hear people moving around. I heard murmuring in the shadows. I tried to lock myself in the washroom. But they beat down the door. It lasted all night. They took turns. I was still a virgin when it happened. I had goals for myself. I’d started reading at a very young age. I wanted to go to school. But that night everything changed. I didn’t leave my bedroom for months. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. But unfortunately for me, I got pregnant. I was forced to tell my family. My father didn’t believe me. He said: ‘If you’re old enough to get pregnant, you’re old enough to live on your own.’ He kicked me out of the house. He told me: ‘You’ve used your body once. You can use it again.’ I had to beg on the street. I’d go for days without eating. I hid in the bushes outside my house and begged my siblings for food. But they avoided me like I was a disease. I had to abort the baby. I wasn’t mad at the child, but I had no choice. I was completely alone. That was twenty years ago, and I survived. I’m financially comfortable now. And maybe I’ve found some peace. But I’ve never healed. I don’t want anyone in my life. I got married once but even then I felt alone. I’ll always live like I have nobody. I’ve made a few friends, but in the back of my mind, I’m on my own. Because I don’t want to feel vulnerable. I don’t want to feel weak. I don’t want to cry. I don’t ever want to need anyone again.”
A story of hope and another of isolation. No Ghanaian should be left behind and we each have a responsibility in making that possible. We each must play a role in prospering Ghana by helping the Ghanaian to prosper. We need each other to do so! We are each other’s ambassador and cheerleader.
Today you will hear from panellists who will share practical insights from their experiences. Experiences that provide real ideas to take away.
The technology panel will challenge our thinking on what technology truly means for improving our lives as Ghanaians on a large scale. How do we use technology as a mass tool for growth?
In education, we hear too often of a skills gap. Some employers complain about graduates lacking the right skills while educators pull their hair out. But is there really a gap? Have we analysed this? What are the solutions? The countries we compare ourselves to are dominated by mature companies with multi-year training programmes for graduates. What is the right solution for Ghana?
The entrepreneurship panel will go beyond the fad and zoom in on our ecosystem. Why become an entrepreneur, what does it take to succeed and create a lasting legacy?
Today corporate citizenship goes beyond assured governance to look at what constitutes doing the right thing for shareholders and the communities in which they exist. How are they contributing to the progress of Ghana? This is not about just CSR; it goes beyond that to include doing the right thing daily.
But the last panel is my well-known bias – young people. Our young people fill me with hope, so I will be glued to my seat patiently expecting to hear from them in the final panel: the fireside chat. These young people will make you proud as they reflect on real action they have taken. Perhaps they are the best representation of the rebranded Ghana that we must learn from and project to the world. One of them once said to me that the global apparel industry is worth trillions of dollars and it was a piece of that pie that she is focused on. I thought to myself, ‘this is a Ghanaian who models the kind of shift we need in our thinking!’
By this time, you are rightly thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get into the rest of the day’. I can’t wait either.
So here are some numbers to reflect on as you prepare.
According to http://ghana.opendataforafrica.org/ Ghana’s GDP at the end of 2017 was about USD47B. We rank 79th in the world. That is a figure not far off a single investment a middle eastern country recently made. One single investment for some is our GDP.
Or let me put it in bigger terms. Of the 7 billion people in the world, over 1 billion live in sub-Saharan Africa, our neighbourhood. That is about 14% of the world’s population. Yet our GDP contribution to the world is a little over 3% and according to the IMF, this percentage will not change for the foreseeable future.
The truth is that the benchmarks are so far ahead of us already that we cannot rejoice in just high single-digit growth rates. We need significant double-digit growth rates just to stop the gap from widening.
Someone once asked me how I felt ‘now that I have arrived’! It took him to the window of the room we were in. We were in Kumasi and I said to him, look around. Does this look like the city of someone who has arrived? Until my country arrives I have no business thinking such of myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, the numbers are stark. We have real work to do. We cannot afford to be the generation that once again let the opportunity pass us by.
Today we will network, we will be inspired and we will take notes but above all, I ask that we take action, for ‘if not us, then who? If not now, then when?’
This is the keynote address at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Executive Women Network. The conference was on the theme: Implementing Brand Ghana: the role of the young Ghanaian
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