Shaping Future Leaders

A leadership center in Ghana works to empower local communities.
Queen Boresah

Queen Boresah Fantevie, executive director of the Boresah Royal Foundation, speaks at the 2018 Social Innovation conference. (Photo by Koranteng Nunkoh)

 

AFTER SURVIVING SLAVERY, trafficking and child labor throughout her own childhood, Queen Boresah Fantevie is driven to improve the lives of children in her home nation of Ghana. Now an adult, she’s working to help children exposed to similar challenges. “[Because I know] the psychological, sociocultural, and educational deficiency posed to the victims of childhood abuse, the onus lies on me to save and rescue these children by offering them the opportunity to get reintegrated into the community and access high-quality education,” says Fantevie.

Fantevie is one of Ghana’s queen mothers, who act as the custodians of the country’s culture and customs. Historically, queen mothers have assisted chiefs in the administration of their communities, and they have focused on women’s empowerment. But more women who might once have served as queen mothers are taking on the roles of chiefs—responsibilities that come with the need for leadership training.

When Fantevie heard about the new Global Center for Leadership and Social Innovation—opened in 2018 in Accra, Ghana, by the New York-based University at Buffalo (UB) School of Management—she mobilized 20 queen mothers to attend the center’s first Social Innovation Conference in July.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to build the capacity of the queen mothers, since I believe fundamentally that development begins with women,” says Fantevie. “At the conference we identified the leadership traits we need so we can stand and fight to bring change to our communities.”

CENTER OF ACTION

The Global Center for Leadership and Social Innovation is a joint effort of UB’s Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (CLOE), based in Buffalo, and African Rights Initiative International (ARII), a relief and development agency based in Accra. The center serves as a regional hub that helps individuals such as Fantevie access leadership training and address challenges in the region.

The center provides study abroad experiences for UB students and delivers a leadership empowerment program to part-time MBA students at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. It also facilitates visits of Ghanaian leaders to Buffalo. For example, in spring 2017, Reverend Doctor Nana James Ashun, ARII board member, attended CLOE’s annual leadership conference in Buffalo to lead a session on addressing global poverty and injustice.

The two-day Accra conference that welcomed Fantevie and her fellow queen mothers attracted 300 other global and rising leaders. Attendees participated in a series of one-hour workshops, where they heard perspectives from UB School of Management faculty, members of the Ghana Navy, social entrepreneurs, institutional and nonprofit leaders, queen mothers, and education and healthcare workers.

The conference also featured a Pitch for a Cause competition, for which the community had been invited to submit ideas. Ten finalists, chosen by organizers, presented their solutions to social issues in Ghana. The top three teams won cash prizes, and all ten finalists received three years of mentorship and training support from the UB School of Management, CLOE, and STAR- Ghana. STAR-Ghana works to increase the accountability and responsiveness of government, authorities, and private enterprises to Ghanaian citizens.

The second-place pitch came from HEART for Children Africa, a nonprofit that educates children living in underprivileged communities. Baaba Bonuedie, the organization’s founder and executive director, pitched the nonprofit’s “Heart Box” project, which provides boxes of school supplies and gifts to help Ghanaian dropouts return to the classroom.

HEART’s team met after the pitch competition to discuss strategies for making Heart Box a household name among the wealthy on the continent, says Bonuedie. “After learning about rebranding at the conference, we decided to design a logo, which we’ve created and have been sharing on our social media platforms as we prepare to launch. The entire conference was so inspiring.”

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

ARII and UB have had to overcome inevitable cultural differences, related to everything from time management to interpersonal relationships. Faculty and students also have had to cope with ongoing challenges such as inconsistent internet connections, frequent power outages, and limited access to clean water, especially when conducting projects in rural parts of the country.

“This relationship has taught us to be flexible and adaptable,” says Molly Anderson, executive director of CLOE. “In the United States, we’re used to things starting and ending on time, but in Ghana they approach time differently. Bad traffic caused this year’s conference to start two hours later than scheduled, yet it went off without a hitch because that’s just how things work in Ghana.”

The school has relied on Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, clinical assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo and a Ghanaian native, to help ease the way. Siaw-Asamoah coordinated an initial exploratory trip to Ghana in 2017 and has made many connections in the region. “She understands the complexities involved in developing such relationships as a native,” says Anderson. “She has made sure we are working with people whose values align with ours.”

Shaping Future Leaders

UB School of Management undergraduate Hira Kashif leads a group of children at the Bawaleshie School in Ghana. (Photo by Anthony Falvo)

 

Using Siaw-Asamoah’s connections, students and faculty have been able to travel from Buffalo to regions in Africa to accomplish work that would otherwise have been impossible. For example, they worked with the Ghana Navy, whose members escorted the UB team to a remote island for a medical mission. The Navy provided security and introduced the group to the chief and hundreds of poor and marginalized people from eight villages who needed medical care.

Siaw-Asamoah also created a new ten-day study abroad experience, first offered in 2018. UB students visited business and cultural sites throughout Ghana, kept daily journals, completed research projects, and interviewed Ghanaian leaders. When they returned to campus, they shared their experiences in a poster showcase.

REPLICATING THE MODEL

The center’s activities already have produced the types of real-world changes the school’s faculty hoped to see when they started this journey. For example, using what she learned at the Social Innovation Conference, Fantevie has formed the Association of Traditional Rulers Ghana, a group of chiefs and queen mothers who come together to work on developmental and policy issues. The association is currently at more than 120 members and counting. “The center,” she says, “has inspired and motivated us as leaders to set out and accomplish great things.”

The center hopes to generate more success stories. As its next step, it will launch Leadership Ghana, a program that will deliver monthly sessions to a cohort of approximately 30 leaders across all sectors. Program participants will learn about the needs of their communities and local industries as they develop a network to enable them to address issues together. “Our hope is to make a lasting social and collective impact by tailoring our knowledge and capabilities to the needs in Ghana,” says Anderson.

The UB School of Management is exploring opportunities to replicate this model in places like Indonesia, India, and Eastern Europe. The ultimate vision is to transform CLOE into a global center for leadership and organizational effectiveness, says Paul Tesluk, dean of the UB School of Management.

“One of our missions as a school is to make a global impact through social innovation,” says Tesluk. “We see great potential throughout Ghana. The center will be our catalyst for positive change.”

Kevin Manne is the assistant director of communications at the University at Buffalo School of Management in New York.

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