Seven things Ghana can teach the UK about innovation and entrepreneurship

Kumasi, Ghana

Rosie Coleman, Business Associate at Challenges Worldwide from Kumasi, Ghana

Ghana has recently been classified as a middle income country, losing the shackles of ‘developing’ and paving the way for its regional and continental neighbours. Ghana is unsurprisingly proud of the incredible achievements it’s made in such a relatively short period and it’s a joy to be witness to optimism and innovation sprouting from all directions. So what can the UK learn from Ghana’s incredible rate of change?

  • 1   Everyone has entrepreneurial spirit: Here in Ghana, being entrepreneurial is a way of life and not just a fancy term for someone with a big enough bank balance to make her good idea a reality. Graduate schemes, of the type that millennials in the UK have become used to worrying about, don’t feature much in Ghana, where it’s much more commonplace for new graduates to be already working on their own small individual business projects. So many people are driven to make a difference to themselves and the economic growth of their country and, more often than not, help to solve one of the issues facing their community too. We in the UK could benefit from the sense of determination and drive that I’ve experienced here
  • 2   Working with limited resources is seen as a challenge, not an obstacle to success: Ghana is a middle income country and has already succeeded in halving the number of Ghanaians living in poverty in recent years. However, it is undeniable that Ghana has fewer financial resources and less economic buoyancy to rely on than the UK. Not only am I yet to hear anyone use this as an excuse for not starting a project they believe in, more often than not it is the very reason they’ve started the project. There’s a real sense of collective drive and ambition to continue the amazing economic growth Ghana has experienced over the course of just two generations. ‘We’re all in this together’ actually means something here
  • 3   Buying local is the norm: With a wealth of SMEs within their economy, Ghanaians are never short of local producers to utilise within their supply chains. Cheap international labour is not such a driving force for outsourcing, with most enterprises valuing the speed and efficiency and long term national benefits of using a local supplier. In both the short and long term, this sure has helped the Ghanaian economy grow at a far faster rate than the British ‘race to the bottom’ approach.
  • 4   Recommendations come from real people and communities not online reviews written by strangers. People still talk to each other, trust the advice of neighbours, aunties, members of the congregation, and this translates to real sales for SMEs across a huge range of sectors
  • 5   Mobile technology really is king: Banking doesn’t rely on holes in the wall or PIN numbers to transfer money between contacts in West Africa. No, where more than 60% of the population don’t have a bank account, mobile money has given economic independence to millions of Ghanaians. Mobile money is used for pleasure and business; with a simple instant transaction at one of the thousands of corner shops or street level enterprises, money can be transferred from mobile credit to cash in hand. It’s a masterclass in adapting technology to meet local demands and proves that context really is key to breaking into any new market.
  • 6   Self-sustaining is not just a buzzword: it is commonplace for houses to have a small holding of home-grown veg or kept animals, not just because it’s a handy extra revenue stream but also because sustainability is empowering!   Even in the trickiest of outside spaces, a flexible approach is always found. Our wonderful host family here in Kumasi grows amazing mushrooms, keeps a small rabbit farm and has a really smart self-made back-up power supply for when the power outages occur. If Britain is going to come anywhere close to meeting our climate change targets, adopting the self-sustaining mantra practised and preached by Ghana would be a good start.
  • 7   Real value is placed on international networks and regional collaboration: Ghana has been at the forefront of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since its creation in 1975 and increasing exports and imports from regional neighbours has been a large part of the government’s strategy over the last decade. Unlike the UK and the attitudes that led to Brexit, Ghana understands that supporting the economic growth and stability of the whole region will pay dividends in the future for Ghanaians as well as boosting the long term prosperity of citizens of neighbouring states. There’s a lot we in the UK can learn from this fabulous country and a lot we should be proud to support.

Rosie Coleman is a Business Associate at Challenges Worldwide and is currently providing consultancy support to SMEs in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi. Check out her LinkedIn profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosiealicecoleman) to get in touch and for more of her thoughts on entrepreneurship and innovation. Sent from a phone – what else would you use in Ghana?