Ashesi University founder honored with Elon entrepreneurship medal
Patrick G. Awuah Jr., president of Ashesi University in Ghana, traveled from Africa to the United States to receive an award that recognizes entrepreneurs who are leaders in their industry and who exemplify the values of Elon University.
Elon leaders honored the founder and president of Ashesi University this week with the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership, bestowed on individuals who possess integrity, innovation and creativity, passion for lifelong learning, and a commitment to building a dynamic community.
Patrick G. Awuah Jr. received the medal Thursday from Elon University President Leo M. Lambert at the conclusion of a question-and-answer program moderated by Raghu Tadepalli, dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the LaRose Digital Theatre to hear Awuah’s stories of opening and managing a liberal arts university to develop the next generation of African leaders.
Ashesi University is a private, not-for-profit institution ranked as one of the top 10 Most Respected Companies in Ghana in 2012, and Awuah was named the fourth Most Respected CEO in Ghana.
“You have impressed us today and by your reputation that precedes you, by your compassion, by your intelligence, by your standing as a role model today for our students on how to live a great life as global citizens,” Lambert said. “For all of these accomplishments, with our admiration and affection, it is my honor to present you with the 2014 Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership.”
Before founding Ashesi University, Awuah worked as a program manager for Microsoft where he spearheaded the development of dial-up internetworking technologies. He had moved to the United States for college and would graduate from Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia, and later with an MBA from the University of California at Berkley.
Awuah told his Elon audience that he never thought he’d return to Ghana, but once his son was born, he realized the importance of giving back to the communities where he was raised. Educating leaders would soon be his calling.
However, the road to starting a university wasn’t easy. There was money to raise, land to purchase, facilities to build and students to recruit. Awuah also encountered corruption in Ghana, though the Ashesi team stayed true to its own ethics.
“There were times when dealing with some government officials, there were big hints dropped about paying a bribe to get something done. That’s an issue,” he said in a response to a question from Tadepalli. “It wasn’t an issue in the sense that it was very clear to us what our stance was, which was absolutely not. It was very easy to say no. It was easy to say we’re willing to put up with delays. We were not willing to compromise our ethical compass.”
Awuah was also clear about the power of persistence and the importance of defining a clear mission for any enterprise.
“When you set off to do something, you have to be very clear about your mission. And when I say our mission, I’m talking about the ‘why.’ You have to be clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing. And never forget that,” he said. “It’s really important to have a really strong team. Your organization will be as strong as your team and no stronger than that. And it’s really important to be persistent.”
Elon University senior Elizabeth Greenberg, a Doherty Scholar in the Love School of Business, introduced Awuah and explained the meaning of entrepreneurship. Doherty Scholars, as well as the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the university, are named for Elon Trustee Ed Doherty and his wife, Joan, entrepreneurs from New Jersey whose daughter graduated from Elon in 2007. Ed and Joan Doherty established the center with a gift to the university and have been longtime Elon supporters.
“(Entrepreneurship) means that absolutely nothing is impossible. It means that by following our passions, we can answer the problems that previously seemed irreparable,” Greenberg said. “You don’t have to be a political leader to make a difference in society as a whole. You just need entrepreneurship. It’s a mix of bravery, a little bit of foolishness, it’s education and it’s passion drawn from your experiences.”
Awuah later praised Greenberg, calling her remarks “the best introduction I’ve ever had.”
In addition to the entrepreneurship medal, Awuah received the inaugural African Innovation Award during the program from the Elon African Society.
Past recipients of the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership include:
2009 - Jim Goodnight, CEO and Founder, SAS
2010 - Bernard A. Harris, Jr., CEO and Managing Partner, Vesalius Ventures, Inc.
2012 - Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Founder of the Grameen Bank and Chairman of the Yunus Centre
2013 – Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, founder and CEO, Pace Communications and Chairman of the Board of the American Red Cross