Let Akosua Koranteng speak to you about Africa. Don’t expect a lashing of fervorous rhetoric about the ‘Renaissance of Africa’ or ‘Africa Rising’. Instead prepare to hear the measured tones of a woman who knows where she comes from, where she is going and what she is courageously committing to in order to get there. Akosua is a woman who understands the deep complexity of Africa’s plight and its potential. She also understands that her heritage and destiny are inextricably linked to this continent.
A Ghanaian by birth, Akosua was born in Accra and immigrated to South Africa with her parents when she was five. Ghana was in turmoil and South Africa, despite its fresh wounds from the defunct apartheid regime, symbolised a beacon of hope to her family. Her parents established a hair salon, Amalinda, in East London and thus exposed Akosua to the virtues of entrepreneurship from an early age. Her mom, Florence, would never let her sit idly at the salon and used to point out that it paid for their schooling. Her father, Isaac, a lecturer at Walter Sisulu University for a time, also emphasised the importance of education, making it easy to understand why Akosua is so entrepreneurially minded and academically inclined.
She works as research analyst at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), evaluating the effectiveness of social programmes aimed at alleviating poverty. She describes it as being in line with Mr Gray’s vision of creating sustainable development through high-impact leaders who have identified entrepreneurship as the best way to do this. Her role in this vision then is identifying the spheres of development that entrepreneurs should focus on.
When Akosua first heard about the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme her thoughts were, “I’m not good enough for this yet.” She later realised that the prospect of being part of a community unified by the vision of leveraging their privilege, talent and intellect to effect change for the better was something she could not ignore. It called for some courageous commitment on her part. She would have to push aside the familiar fears of inadequacy.
These fears plagued her especially during her early school years. She was mercilessly bullied at her first school. When she was eventually able to attend a better school she found that most of what she had learnt at the previous school was wrong. “In my whole primary school experience all I can remember was being told not to do things … I was also pretty slow in school … I used to be the last person to finish my work … I struggled to make friends in school … and teachers hated me,” recalls Akosua. Another poignant memory of hers is of arriving at an East London church in her Sunday best (which in Ghanaian terms means a puffy, brightly coloured dress with frilly socks and patent leather shoes) and being greeted by barefoot peers in Billabong t-shirts and jeans.
Despite initially feeling out of place this church turned out to be exactly what she needed. Here she was encouraged to get involved and take up leadership positions, singing in their worship band and teaching at children’s church. Before long the skills she had learned in church were being transferred to her school life. She started excelling in Maths and English and by Matric she was doing well in all her subjects and heading up three committees.
Her focus during her first few months at university was applying for the Fellowship. She worked really hard. And her hard work paid off. She was awarded a Fellowship and now, four years later, she has been elected as vice president of the Association of Allan Gray Fellows.
Akosua’s work in development will continue and become more specialised once she pursues her Master’s degree in Public Policy and International Development. She also plans to spend six months in Ghana to write her family history and collect oral traditions and histories in the village that her parents are originally from. She explains, “I’ll make my best contribution to solving the developmental challenges facing Africa once I have fully explored its origins and its history as told by its people and those who have sought to make it a better place.”
Her journey up to this point and the future she envisions for herself and Africa, the continent she is so passionate about, embodies what the Foundation calls Courageous Commitment: the courage and dedication to continue, realising that applying consistent commitment has a way of overcoming.