It’s an all too common pitfall of International Development to believe that your job is to go in, teach the right way to do something, and get out. As I prepared for my 6-week internship in Takoradi teaching Entrepreneurship I pictured myself in front of awestruck students, learning basic business skills for the first time. I saw young entrepreneurs thanking me for how much I’ve improved their knowledge by teaching the right way to keep books, the right way to brand their businesses and the right way to leverage their new property. The first thing I learned when I set foot in the classroom was there is no right way of doing business. Even though our students have no formal business training, they are not learning business skills for the first time – they’ve been learning them, informally, their entire lives.
Ghanaian business education begins when a nine-year-old runs the family shop because dad is at work and mom has to run to the market for plantains. Dealing with money, customers and bargaining is commonplace at a young age. Even if no one in your immediate family is a vendor, you are sure to know someone with a stall at Market Circle, the hub of all buying and selling in Takoradi. Often you will see young children selling goods on the side of the street, making a couple extra cedis after school. This early exposure to trade and microeconomics ripples through their childhoods and into adulthood. As a recent business school graduate, I have to remind myself that some of our most fundamental lessons come from storefronts not schoolrooms and business will occur whether you have a degree in it or not.
I’ve learned in my past 4 weeks of teaching that our value as volunteers is not in educating the Ghanaian youth on business but rather in helping polish their existing skills. Our students may know their debt to equity ratios off hand but that doesn’t mean they don’t know their businesses. In absence of wide-spread University education and corporate recruiters, Ghanaians have become extremely resourceful in creating their own jobs following high school. One of our students opened her own tailoring business after saving a broken sewing machine from the trash a couple years ago. They may be without degrees, but our student’s practical business skills rival those of any new grad. Their determination is inspiring and reminds me how much more I have learned than taught since setting foot in Ghana.
– Kayla Kozan, Youth Leadership Team, Ghana 2013