What's New at Engineers Without Borders

Aug 8 2012 @ 15:11

Systemic, Scalable Change Goes National In Ghana

It's an exciting time to be at an Agricultural College in Ghana, whether you're an Administrator, a Lecturer, a student, or a member of EWB. In less than three years, our team has helped our local partners realize significant change in agricultural education. Lecturers have a host of new, participatory education techniques to leverage, and can take advantage of new, engaging opportunities to interact with and learn from each other. Students now benefit from experiential learning that's focused on agribusiness and entrepreneurship, and they're developing the skills and insights that they need to prosper, or help others prosper, in a sector that has the potential to create jobs and wealth among the poorest segments of Ghana’s population.

It’s amazing progress, achieved by incredible people on the ground, and made possible by incredible supporters in Canada and around the world. But…how did it happen? How did a small team of staff, volunteers and local partners change education for the better at every public Agricultural College in Ghana, for less than $115,000, in less than three years? And how is this change now owned and driven by local change agents within the agriculture education system? We’re glad you asked…

The problem:

Despite the importance of agriculture to Ghana’s economy, local youth see it as a “fall back” career or “poor man’s work,” with little opportunity to truly prosper. EWB’s research revealed that the challenges faced by Ghana’s Agricultural Colleges represented a significant opportunity to change this perception. Lecturers at these colleges were given little training in education, and didn’t have many opportunities to share their knowledge and experience with peers at other colleges. As a result, learning experiences were largely based on textbook memorization and theory, with little focus on developing practical business skills and experience. That was a problem – many of these students would go on to become Agricultural Extension Agents with Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and would be responsible for supporting farmers and helping them find business success.

EWB's role:

EWB had been working with Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) for about five years when we were invited to explore opportunities to collaborate with Ghana’s public Agricultural Colleges. It looked like a “perfect storm” (in a good way) – we knew MoFA and the challenges it faced, and we had unique insights into Ghana’s agriculture sector and rural farmers’ realities. This was a chance to work with the institutions that prepare young Ghanaians for work in this sector.

So, beginning in 2009, EWB dedicated staff, volunteers, and resources to working with the Agricultural Colleges. The Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship (A&E) project was born.

The systemic innovation:

The A&E project focused on two key needs within the Agricultural Colleges: the first was unlocking Lecturer potential, through training that emphasized experiential and participatory teaching techniques to better engage students. The second was helping students realize their potential by preparing them for business success (whether their own, or supporting someone else’s) through curriculum that built knowledge but also provided opportunities to practice applying those skills and to see them in a real-world context.

This curriculum wasn’t dreamt up in a Toronto boardroom. It already existed and was in use. But it focused on “the traits of an entrepreneur”, not experiencing entrepreneurship, or "you can be an entrepreneur".

It was designed to inform, not engage or better yet, ignite. To address this gap, EWB worked with Mr. Ishak S., a Lecturer at Kwadaso Agricultural College and our first partner, to enhance curriculum using a combination of his insight, and EWB’s experience in Ghana’s agriculture sector that emphasized business skills, management and team-work. At the same time, EWB worked to incorporate participatory education techniques that made lessons “real”. Students didn’t read about agribusinesses, they worked in teams to create one (amazingly, all were successful, and some students are continuing with their agribusiness beyond school).

Meet Mr. Ishak S., and see what he has to say about EWB (and the development sector. Warning: Video contains extreme honesty.)

The project was then refined with our partners to ensure ownership and support within Kwadaso Agricultural College. We knew we were on a good path when, during the prototyping phase, a survey of graduating students indicated that almost 80% planned to start their own business upon graduation, an incredible change in student attitudes. We were subsequently invited to help establish the program at a second college.

The course was working (although still being tweaked) and everyone seemed happy – program completed, right? Not even close. We’d successfully piloted the program, refined it and even replicated the success at another college – but there are five public Agricultural Colleges in Ghana. And more than that, the changes hadn’t been built into the system. The biggest challenge was yet to come: realizing systemic change that impacted every student at every public Agricultural College in Ghana. We needed to spread the curriculum and tools (and the knowledge required to deliver it) to Lecturers in all five colleges in a way that could be sustained without EWB’s presence.

The Approach:

It’s important to note that success was possible in all colleges because of the approach that our team took with the first one. Specifically:

  1. Proximity - In most cases, EWBers worked directly in the colleges, side-by-side with their Ghanaian partners. Their relationships were based on trust and mutual respect. EWBers were perceived as staff members of the colleges, leading to greater understanding and support from all stakeholders, including students, Lecturers, Principals, and National Administrators.
  2. Partnership – At no point was the A&E project positioned as an EWB initiative. Our team worked with Ghanaian partners at every level, helping them to create and lead change, while ensuring that they owned the program. That ownership has been fundamental to the program’s sustainability.
  3. Talent and Drive – EWB chose partners who wanted to create change. They’re hardworking, dedicated people and their determination and dedication is crucial to the program’s success.
  4. Systemic emphasis – EWB was never focused on creating change at one school. We had systemic change in mind from the beginning. With that in mind, we were already fostering relationships beyond our partner schools, all the way up to college HR staff and Directors at the national level. Having those relationships previously established made expansion and systematization MUCH faster and more effective.

So how did the team do it? The EWB team and partners from the first two colleges took a three-stage approach to spread the course and new teaching techniques throughout Ghana. Here’s how it worked:

  • Stage 1 – Spreading the word (and creating demand)
    Beginning in 2011, EWB helped our partners organize networking events where they could meet their peers and share knowledge. The A&E program was naturally a major topic of discussion. We continued this into 2012, even hosting an event for Principals at the colleges. Once they got excited about A&E, it was a virtual guarantee that the Lecturers would get top-level support (or even direction) to implement the A&E program (something they wanted to implement anyway).
  • Stage 2 – Implementing at three new colleges
    From January to May of 2012, our team supported the colleges in Damongo, Ejura and Ohawu as they implemented the course for the first time. At the same time, the team was acting as a conduit between Lecturers at different colleges – when one Lecturer would find an innovative, highly-effective approach, we’d share it with others, establishing the beginnings of a peer-to-peer learning network. We also worked with student groups, helping them identify how entrepreneurship related to their goals and motivations, and using insights gained from these interactions to advise Lecturers on course design.
  • Stage 3 – Letting local leaders lead
    From April to June, the EWBers stepped back, letting the peer-to-peer network that they’d nurtured become the primary support mechanism for Lecturers at all colleges. At the same time, the team launched the A&E Fellowship for Lecturers. Members commit to sharing knowledge to help each other learn, and gain access to online resources from all colleges, EWB’s support in networking, and ongoing updates about what is happening across all colleges.

The Results (and the much bigger picture):

As you can see, systemic change – real change – is about a lot more than training and curriculum. As a result of the EWB team’s efforts, the change wasn’t just adopted – it was spread to the national level by local champions. New colleges that have just begun to adopt the A&E program know that it as a locally developed and led initiative, and they are receiving support from their Ghanaian peers. In total, close to 500 students per year will now benefit from a participatory, experiential course that emphasizes business and entrepreneurial skills, which they can use to start their own ventures, or to provide vastly enhanced support to farmers as Agricultural Extension Agents. With the first class to experience the A&E program graduating this year, we hope to report on successes soon!

Finally, this is only one part of EWB’s work in Ghana’s agricultural sector. Our teams are also embedded within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to enhance the services that farmers receive; working with high-potential businesses to help them grow, succeed, and create jobs and local wealth; and investing in strengthening agriculture value chains and information exchanges to ensure that farmers have access to the information, tools, and markets that they need to prosper.

Agriculture is one of the most complex areas of focus in global development: there are numerous players, global interdependencies, and linkages that must be taken into account in order to create real, systemic change. EWB’s teams are stepping up to this challenge and realizing change, by driving to have impact and perpetually learning. We couldn’t do it without you and your support as a member of Team EWB.

Want to support EWB’s working in agriculture, education, and other fundamental systems, in Africa and around the world? Click here to make a donation today.


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