Release Date: March 20, 2018
On a scorching January afternoon, a group of University at Buffalo School of Management students were standing on a farm in Ghana, learning about food systems and economic development. As the students listened intently, the husband-and-wife founders of Innovation Village Seed Co. discussed the link between agriculture and community health and education, and how they support farmers in their community.
Meanwhile, other School of Management students were surrounded by children at Bawaleshie School, doing art projects and teaching the kids how to be role models. Outside, a team of UB MD/MBA, nursing and pharmacy students provided vision exams, malaria screenings and other much-needed medical services for more than 200 children.
It was a beautiful, inspiring day for the 20 UB students — and just a small part of their overall study abroad experience this winter in the West African nation of Ghana.
Centered on social innovation and entrepreneurial leadership, the Ghana trip exposed students to new perspectives and leadership styles, provided opportunities for cultural exchange and, ultimately, proved to be transformative for many students, who came home having grown personally and professionally. Professor Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, a native of Ghana who serves as director of global programs in the School of Management, led the trip.
“Global studies are so important to understanding how the world works,” says Anthony Falvo, a second-year MBA. “Through travel, you gain empathy and become more welcoming to new cultures and ways of living.”
Throughout the 12-day trip, the students were based in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Upon arrival, they completed an orientation and traveled to Mamfe, a nearby village, where they experienced a traditional wedding and funeral, and met with the village elders and chief.
“Today was a fascinating display of how the people of Ghana approach issues of family, community, marriage, life and death,” says Seth Wagner, a family nursing student at UB. “Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and we were honored that they were willing to share their knowledge and culture with us.”
From there, the students divided into three teams based on their interests and academic programs: medical, education and economic development.
The medical team set off for the Afram Plains region to provide health care services at the remote Hope Island and the Donkorkrom Presbyterian Hospital, in partnership with African Rights Initiative International and its Doctors in the Gap initiative. Over four days, the group saw hundreds of patients, performing exams, distributing medication and supplies, and referring patients to other facilities for further treatment as needed.
In addition, Molly Anderson, executive director of the School of Management’s Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (CLOE), and Claire Cowden, an MD/MBA student, led a leadership training for hospital management and providers, which hospital managers plan to incorporate into future staff orientations.
“When we debriefed, it was inspiring to hear how our experiences had changed everyone for the better,” says Evelyn Quist, an MD/MBA student. “At times, I was frustrated that I couldn’t do even more to help. But it matters — it matters that our team traveled to Ghana, my homeland, with open hearts and minds to serve with zeal and passion. I am truly grateful to have been part of such an amazing team.”
Meanwhile, the education and economic development teams visited the Madina and Kaneshie markets to interview vendors about leadership and observe local business practices, as part of a research project led by Emily Campion, a School of Management PhD candidate.
“Conceptualizing markets as the original ‘co-working space,’ my co-authors and I chose to examine informal leadership in two markets in Accra,” says Campion, who is now working with two undergraduates from the trip, Hira Kashif and Olivia Miller, to code the data. “Our goal is to understand how informal leaders emerge in unstructured, shared work spaces.”
The economic development team also toured the Accra Compost and Recycling Plant, and visited ZoomLion, a company whose mission is to improve Ghana’s waste management system. Across town, the education team spent two days at the Bawaleshie School, hosting a soccer clinic and working with the children and staff.
“When we arrived, the kids were assembled in the yard waiting for us, and they were all so excited,” says Kashif, an accounting undergraduate. “By the end, we felt like we made an impact on the children, but perhaps as importantly, we will never forget the unforgettable impression they left on us.”
For Anderson, executive director of CLOE, the most memorable part of the experience was the people she met, the relationships she formed and the opportunity to help UB students forge new leadership capabilities.
“For the medical team to travel by a small boat to a remote island in Africa to serve marginalized individuals took courage, empathy and cultural curiosity,” she says. “Through the experience, they uncovered characteristics about themselves that will help them become global leaders.”
CLOE’s work in Ghana is just beginning: During the trip, Anderson and leaders from African Rights Initiative International signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Global Centre for Leadership and Social Innovation in Ghana. The center will increase the UB School of Management’s international presence and draw on its faculty and leadership expertise to develop high-impact leadership workshops and address significant challenges facing the developing region.
“Our hope is to make a lasting social and collective impact by tailoring our knowledge and capabilities to pressing needs in Ghana,” Anderson says.
Brandon Glasgow, a second-year MBA, said the most profound experience for him was touring the Cape Coast region and visiting Cape Coast Castle, a former slave trading post on the southern coast of Ghana.
“It was surreal to be locked in a room with no lights, no electricity, no help,” he says. “I couldn't imagine what it was like for my ancestors to sit there for days, maybe even weeks before they died.”
After 12 days in Ghana, the entire team departed for home, each having gained new perspective about another culture, global leadership and how they could make an impact through social innovation.
“For me, one of the most memorable parts was watching the undergraduate students experience Ghana. They were thoughtful in their reflections and observations, and I was impressed by their adaptability,” says Campion, the PhD candidate. “We all were reminded that, despite difference in culture or national boundaries, people generally want the same thing: dignity, joy, belonging and respect. We are often more alike than different.”