Changing hearts and minds

By Matthew Biddle

Children at the Bawaleshie School in Ghana.

Children at the Bawaleshie School in Ghana. Photo: Philip Shore

Outside a school in Ghana, children bang on drums and sing to celebrate each region of the West African nation. Soon, kids in flowing white garments begin to dance, as several UB faculty and staff members look on.

Then, the UB team, along with board members from Buffalo-based nonprofit HOSIKIDS, present six laptops, provided through a $1,500 donation from the School of Management undergraduate class gift. As each laptop is revealed, the children cheer in jubilation.

“I started crying. It was incredible,” says Cynthia Shore, senior assistant dean and director of alumni engagement and external relations in the School of Management. “Education is the king of kings in Ghana. Wherever we went, the respect for education, and impact of education, was clear and inspiring.”

The experience was part of an exploratory trip led by Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, clinical assistant professor of organization and human resources, to develop a study abroad experience in Ghana focused on social innovation and entrepreneurial leadership.

Emelia Arthur, former advisor to the President of Ghana, with UB representatives Tara-Jeneil Fenton, Siaw-Asamoah and Shore outside the University of Ghana. Photo: Philip Shore

“There are so many things you can learn by taking a courageous move to visit another culture and work in that community,” says Siaw-Asamoah, who grew up in Accra, the country’s capital. “Ghanaians are welcoming and hospitable to guests, truly value the opportunity to collaborate with UB and will introduce our students to a new form of leadership.”

With representatives from the School of Management, UB Honors College and Division of Academic Affairs, the group spent most of the trip in Accra. They visited three universities, a nearby fishing village and historic sites, including Elmina Castle, formerly a European slave trading post constructed in the 15th century. After noticing an issue with pollution, the team reached out to Zoomlion Ghana Ltd., a waste management leader in Africa, and toured multiple facilities.

“My favorite memory was seeing Dorothy in her element, surrounded by family and friends and sharing cultural context,” says Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning at UB. “It’s a gift to experience a new place through a colleague’s personal connections, which always results in the most impactful learning opportunities for our students.”

Using insights and connections they formed during the exploratory trip, Siaw-Asamoah and her team finalized the details for a new study abroad experience that will launch this winter. The 10-day program will complement the School of Management’s focus on global leadership, entrepreneurship and social innovation.

Children at the Bawaleshie School in Ghana. Photo: Philip Shore    

During the first two days, undergraduates and MBA students who are selected to participate will engage with local chiefs and learn about Ghanaian customs. Then, students will break up into three tracks: education, waste management, and health care and economic development. They will gain hands-on experience by teaching public speaking and reading at a rural school, helping Zoomlion solve a business problem, or working with the nonprofit African Rights International Initiative on health care concerns, financial literacy training and food systems planning.

Afterward, as an entire group, they’ll delve further into the country’s history by visiting significant sites, including two former slave castles and Kakum National Park, and reflect on all they’ve learned.

“Through this extraordinary trip, students will dig into their creative problem-solving skills to develop systems that help a community thrive,” says Tara Jabbaar-Gyambrah, senior assistant director, UB Honors College.

During the program, students will keep a daily journal, complete a research project related to their chosen track, interview Ghanaian leaders and, ultimately, bring their experiences back to the School of Management by presenting at next year’s DEAL Expo, a poster showcase held during UB’s spring open house.

“Our students will see challenges facing communities thousands of miles away, work to address them and then share their stories with our community,” Siaw-Asamoah says. “This experience is going to change their minds — and their hearts.”