Mentoring entrepreneurs in Ghana: How one UBC MBA student sparked the expansion of UBC Sauder LIFT
When they first met in November 2021, UBC Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Abigail Okyere and UBC Sauder Faculty Jeff Kroeker were chatting about their shared interest in capacity-building initiatives in Africa. Kroeker spoke of his experience as Director of UBC Sauder School of Business LIFT, the school’s student-led business skills training course for entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya. Okyere posed the question, “Why not expand the program into Ghana?” After a moment’s pause, Kroeker replied, “I don’t think there’s anything stopping us.”
The rest, as Okyere says, is history. The idea to expand UBC Sauder LIFT into Okyere’s home country came to fruition in just a few short months, thanks in large part to her extensive network in Ghana and strong history of community leadership. By January 2022, UBC Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) and UBC MBA students stationed in Vancouver launched the course from the state-of-the-art UBC Sauder Learning Labs facility. Twenty-five entrepreneurs gathered in Accra, Ghana and joined virtually via Zoom for the three-hour inaugural class.
At its core, UBC Sauder LIFT represents Leadership, Innovation, Fundamentals and Training. The program’s mission is to provide participants with the business tools and knowledge necessary to improve their lives and communities. The goal is to fuel entrepreneurship, enabling participants to create or improve their own ventures. In the long-term, the training from UBC Sauder LIFT aims to play a role in reducing unemployment.
“The entrepreneurs in this cohort cut across many different business products and services,” says Okyere. “We have some fintech ventures, we have another that sells locally-produced African print bags and pouches, and one in poultry and agribusiness, to name a few.”
Originally an in-person course that required UBC Sauder students to travel to the Kibera and Mathare regions of Kenya for an intensive one-month period, UBC Sauder LIFT had to reimagine the structure and delivery of its curriculum with the onset of COVID-19. It pivoted to a hybrid learning model that uses asynchronous and synchronous methods to teach the pillars of financial management, marketing and strategy. The UBC Sauder LIFT team created over 70 curriculum videos and 1,200 assessments.
For the program in Ghana, participants pre-watch videos and complete assessments individually at their own pace. They then come together in a central location to connect with UBC Sauder student mentors via Zoom for live teaching, discussions and presentations.
“The key was running a hybrid program because having a central location where the entrepreneurs could gather, have access to Internet and laptops to use, was critical in making the program whole,” says Okyere.
Okyere is a founding member of GracedLife Leadership Centre, which she describes as a non-profit organization that seeks to “raise leaders, reorient mindsets, inspire change and develop a culture of selflessness and integrity among young Africans.”
With a strong presence in the local community and an office complex in Accra that boasts sophisticated learning facilities, the GracedLife Leadership Centre was the perfect partner to help bring UBC Sauder LIFT to the region.
As for why Okyere wanted to play such a critical role in UBC Sauder LIFT’s expansion, she says it comes down to two things: perspective and impact.
“It [the program] helps give UBC Sauder students the interface and exposure to the African perspective and context of business,” says Okyere. “On the entrepreneurs’ side, the impact it brings to their businesses is enormous."
As one of the main architects behind UBC Sauder LIFT’s expansion into Ghana, Okyere’s impact on the program, and on UBC Sauder as a whole, is difficult to overstate.
“In order to bring UBC Sauder LIFT to a new country it is critical to have a champion, a catalyst to harness the tremendous positive student energy from the classrooms and hallways of UBC Sauder and bring it to life from 11,000 kilometers away. Abigail did just this. She took the lead, the initiative and executed wonderfully in all respects,” says Kroeker. “The pure magic happened when we stood shoulder to shoulder in the UBC Sauder studio, reaching and teaching directly into the lives of 26 entrepreneurs in Accra. This is capacity building in real time, bridging two continents while fueling entrepreneurship and creating economic hope.”
It’s hard to believe that Okyere has been able to dedicate so much time and effort towards UBC Sauder LIFT while pursuing a UBC MBA degree.
With a Bachelor of Science in Administration, Accounting from the University of Ghana, Okyere says she was attracted to UBC Sauder for its strong global reputation and focus on responsible business practices, “I chose the number one business school in Canada and a leading school when it comes to sustainability.”
Okyere says two-party negotiations and skills for change management are two of the many concrete skills she’s developed thanks to her UBC MBA courses that she knows she will use throughout her career. “The more you understand people, and the experiences that shape their opinions, the more you can respect their perspectives and I will never take this key learning for granted,” says Okyere.
As she nears completion of her UBC MBA, Okyere says she hopes to continue making an impact on her home country with the foundational skills she’s learned at UBC Sauder, with a particular focus on helping entrepreneurs realize their full potential and grow their businesses.
“I want to make an impact in my country and that requires partnerships, radical action and mindset reorientation,” says Okyere. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to go to business school or receives a scholarship to study abroad, but that shouldn’t invalidate their dreams.”