Archive for April, 2008

Nobody told me about the toads

April 29, 2008

Last night, I was forced to sleep with earplugs when a chorus of toads outside my window decided to to sing at full force. It has been raining a lot in Accra lately so at night when it’s not too hot and water is still on the ground, an army of toads will come out to sing their song. But sleep deprivation and potential loss of hearing aside, last night’s experience brought to mind a concept which has been running through my head since I arrived in Ghana – place is important.

In fact, place is very important for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs create products and services to solve problems. Simple as that. And if you live in a place where a particular problem doesn’t exist it is hard to imagine how to solve it and even more difficult to solve that problem with the deep insight that most great products have. There are great products being used in this world (probably in a place very dissimilar from where you live) that you would never have thought to create because you didn’t need to. You weren’t there, in the place, experiencing the conditions and context that made such a product necessary and useful. Even common problems like finding water to drink can be solved in very different ways based on where you are. How can an entrepreneur even begin to think about what products (or features on a product) are necessary to make it attractive to consumers in a certain area unless that entrepreneur has experienced that place?

I recently heard a story about a large Scandinavian telecom company that was trying to determine if Ghana and West Africa was an attractive market to enter. Wisely, this company spent the time, resources, and money to send a small team to Accra to do a feasibility studies. Real field research! Sounds great, except that this team spent most of their time in a posh hotel looking up facts on the internet. What is the point of going to a place if you don’t at least make an effort to experience it? Luckily, they did leave the hotel once to go see where and how cell phones were sold. Once again, I commend them for the idea, but at the market they decided to stay in the car. They didn’t speak with a cell phone user or vendor. I believe there is a richness of understanding that people can only achieve by really experiencing a place. Speaking with the people, breathing the air, and watching users and consumers in action is the only way to understand the context, subtleties, and nuances that lead to great products.

In all the research I did before coming to Ghana, nobody ever mentioned the toads. Not once in the many books and websites I read, or even in the conversations I had with people who had lived in Ghana, did anyone tell me that the toads would keep me from sleeping once the rains started. I wonder if there are any local entrepreneurs near my hostel who begin selling earplugs during the rainy season because they have lived in Accra for years – they have experienced it here. I commend these entrepreneurs for understanding the subtleties of their place. Place is important.


I am not my hair

April 28, 2008

Recently, I have been growing my hair out as a form of social and cultural protest. For weeks, my Ghanaian friends (mostly my students) have been telling me to cut my hair, remarking that “it’s not nice.” Saying that a haircut was for my own benefit, one of my students even attempted to provoke me by telling me that I “look horrible.”

But I don’t believe that these comments were for my own benefit. I am convinced that Ghana does not embrace diversity as much as it should – even in hairstyle. This concerns me as someone whose main purpose in Ghana is to spread the gospel of entrepreneurship – an activity that requires crazy thoughts and risk taking and tolerance of a diversity of ideas. So to spite them, and to make bare the conformist nature my friends were unwittingly succumbing to, I simply refused to cut my hair. Each week its has grown, I have received more and more suggestions to get it cut, but I simply refused.

Today, however, the laws of pragmatism and the Ghanaian heat finally defeated me and I cut my hair. It really is just too hot to have all that hair. When I returned to school, I heard many compliments and at least one person uttered, “Finally!” I have no problem keeping my hair short, sometimes (especially in extreme heat) I actually prefer it, but I take serious issue with a culture and a society that does not tolerate differences. If my students had such difficulty accepting the fact that I liked to keep my hair long, how are they going to expect the rest of Ghana to accept their forward-thinking entrepreneurial ideas?

Meaning & Happiness

April 25, 2008

“I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear.”
-The Dali Lama

My friends are making me happy!

Over the last few month, many of my friends have shown me that they understand the true purpose of life. They have told me stories about how they decided to refuse the standard lives that society has quietly, but consistently, told them they must live in order to start something or be apart of something meaningful – meaningful to themselves and to other people in this world.

One of my friends quit his job to start his own sports consulting company, another just won a business plan competition and is planning to start her own educational gaming company in order to inspire pride and positive learning habits in young black Americans. In Arizona, I know a group of guys who are starting a lifestyle media company which aims to show young men of every race how to be respectful, successful citizens of the world. One of my buddies from college is currently in Dubai doing work he probably isn’t qualified for, but succeeding, as his company tries to find ways to lower Dubai’s environmental damage amidst the flurry of construction that is going on there.

In general, I am happy to see people close to me risking future security to live lives full of meaning and happiness rather than lives full of work and obligation. I think our generation is finally waking up and realizing that the world as it is is not how it should be and we actually can work to make things better.

The Kwame Nkrumah Story, starring Don Cheadle

April 22, 2008

I think more ppl in America should know the story of Kwame Nkrumah and the role the America played in his downfall. Perhaps they could make a movie about it. Movies seem to be the only way I was ever able to learn about African history while in America. Don Cheadle could star.


Akan Names

April 20, 2008

I am thinking of adding two new names to the [FirstName] [MiddleName] [SurName] convention that has been my identifier since birth. In Ghana, due to the strong influences of the Akan culture, it is very common for parents to give their children a Christian name, a middle name, a family name, a day name, and a birth name. Wikipedia offers some explanation.

The day names are given based on the day of the week a child is born. There are different names for men and women. My day name, since I was born on a Tuesday, is Kwabena. There are some other variations, but I like the name Kwabena so have no problem being called it.

My birth-order name is Mensa, since I am the third born son of my father, or Berko, since I am the first born son of my mother. I am still trying to figure out if the naming convention is patriarchal or matriarchal, but it seems to depend on the tribe. Regardless, I have to admit I like Mensa better.

So I will see how these names stick, if I like them, and if I can develop a deeper understanding of their meaning and purpose. But until then call me Jareau Kenneth Kwabena Mensa Wade.

-Kwabena Mensa Wade