Story in Brief
In 2021, Audrey won additional grant funding from the Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator programme through Ashesi's Ghana Climate Innovation Centre. At the November 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, Sabon Sake was announced winner of the US Department of State Climate Entrepreneurs Competition; where Audrey competed in the finals with three other startups from the US, Israel and Egypt.
Audrey first visited the sugarcane farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana - where she now runs Sabon Sake - as part of a volunteer project while still a student at Ashesi. The project was focused on identifying solutions to Ghana's collapsing sugarcane industry and, with it, hundreds of farming livelihoods. However, she and her colleagues stumbled on another challenge during this visit. They discovered that farmers burned most sugarcane waste accumulated during harvesting. The burning and other traditional farming practices in the area harmed soil health and led to broader declining crop yields.
It was a trigger for her. Audrey returned to campus with this unexpected challenge in mind and, with other colleagues on campus, developed a way to convert sugarcane waste to organic fertiliser that could eventually be manufactured and distributed at scale. It led to the creation of Sabon Sake, a name derived from the Hausa language which means "to make something new".
"Across sub-Saharan Africa, 65% of our soils are degraded," shares Audrey. "We are losing a lot of soil nutrients that provide food that feeds not just ourselves but also the world. Sabon Sake converts biomass waste which would usually be burnt or discarded, to produce an organic soil amendment that enables farmers to improve their soil health more sustainably. We are also able to train farmers to understand what it means to grow food in a climate-changing era."
"The farming communities we work with are growing food not only for themselves but also to supply local markets," she adds. "People from the urban landscapes buy products at the local farmers' market to sell in Ghana's cities. The local farmers are, therefore, significant food producers across the country. Farmers within our network understand the impact of climate change. They have witnessed it, know the importance of transitioning from conventional to regenerative agriculture, and are excited to adapt well to thrive."
2022 was a significant year for Ashesi. Over the past twelve months we established the guiding framework for our next decade, deepened research and innovation, and doubled down on the experiences that have shaped the university community. The year marked our 20th anniversary and also saw a full return to campus after two years of virtual learning. Here is a look at some of the stories we will remember from 2022. Share yours with us online using the hashtags #2022atAshesi and #atAshesi.
Ashesi's community marks two decades of impact
In March, our community celebrated 20 years since Ashesi's first class in 2002. A community lunch in the Archer Cornfield Courtyard saw us have our first university-wide gathering since 2020. We kicked off various events at Ashesi to mark our return to campus and our two-decade journey.
Ashesi's growth into a leading African university over the past two decades has impacted higher education across the continent in multiple ways. From a pioneer class of 30, we now have over 3,000 students and alumni. And over the past five years, we have helped transform learning outcomes for 149,000 students thanks to an inspired network of African higher education partners.
As an additional nod to Ashesi's impact on Africa and in higher education, the University was ranked as one of Africa's most impactful on the 2022 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings - among the continent's top ten and first in Ghana based on contributions toward the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ashesi continues to reach more as classes grow
In 2022, we officially welcomed two new undergraduate classes to Ashesi - the Class of 2025 at the start of the year and the Class of 2026 at the end. The classes collectively make up a little over 700 students, bringing our total student population to approximately 1,400. The Class of 2026 begins its first formal semester in January 2023 as Ashesi's largest, at 370 students.
We also welcomed the pioneering class of postgraduate students at Ashesi - the first cohort of our joint Masters in Mechatronic Engineering with ETH Zurich. The Ashesi - ETH Zurich joint Master's Programme in Mechatronic Engineering, formally announced in October 2020, combines the strength of mission, teaching, and innovation across our two universities. It will enable students to access a high-quality Engineering master's education in Africa, with faculty from Switzerland joining colleagues in Ghana to co-teach at Ashesi's campus.
Commencement 2022 was yet another reminder of the strength of our community, as a rainstorm forced an adjustment of plans the evening prior. It was one of our best events this year, as friends and family gathered to celebrate the graduands and listened to strong messages from speakers. The Class brings our alumni community to a little over 2,100.
"To this day, it remains hard to tell if having to spend some time learning online was a good thing," read Class Speaker Ndze'dzenyuy '22. "What we do know, however, is that more than anything we experienced in the past four years, nothing brought to life our endurance, resilience, boldness, and sense of community as this halftime period of online learning. [...] Even the basest of despair did not extinguish your little candle of hope. You have been resilient and supportive of one another, and you have been your finest. [...] Whatever is coming tomorrow will meet us, like always, at our finest."
Faculty deepen work in innovation and research
Led by the Office of Academic Affairs, research efforts across the Ashesi community saw a significant boost. Faculty raised funding to drive research projects in Computer Science, Business and Entrepreneurship, Engineering, and the Humanities. Faculty mentorship also saw many students take on ambitious projects, research and problem-solving competitions, several earning global recognition.
Ashesi also signed on to several new collaborative efforts to boost research and innovation, including with the University of Toronto, the Mastercard Foundation, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and the French Embassy in Ghana.
Beyond the Horizon: Previewing the Strategic Plan for Ashesi's Third Decade
Our third-decade plan, previewed publicly for the first time at our 20th anniversary, leans on lessons from our last two decades and accelerates our impact in Africa. Centred around six key predictions for Africa's future, the plan focuses on the skills leaders will require to harness the continent's economic and social potential.
Additionally, the plan will see Ashesi deepen its financial resilience, embrace thoughtful goals around diversity and access, and boost research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Through the Education Collaborative, Ashesi will also work with peers and colleague institutions to transform learning outcomes for a million students across Africa. We are entering our third decade with strong partnerships that give us momentum, with a global community including the Mastercard Foundation, Allan and Gill Gray Philanthropies, Cartier Philanthropy, and Global Affairs Canada, helping enable critical aspects of work into the future.
Thank you for journeying with us through an unforgettable 2022, and we look forward to kicking off our third decade in 2023.
When it comes time to choose a final year project, students at Ashesi often make their choices for various reasons. For some, project decisions may revolve around plans for a startup, while others may make their decisions based on their ability to execute.
For Eyram '22, Electrical and Electronic Engineering major at Ashesi, her project was inspired by her own experiences growing up as a child with asthma. Having been unable to participate in many activities or visit different places because of fear of an asthmatic attack, she wanted to build a solution that could help make life easier for children with similar conditions.
Her idea? Design and build a portable monitoring device and dosage counter device that could help asthmatic children better recognize triggers in their environment and, where necessary, alerts the user to urgently retrieve a rescue inhaler. Through sensors for air quality, humidity, and temperature, the device sends environment readings to a database that allows doctors to also understand which environments their patients are often in, which can be useful for dosage recommendations.
"The dosage counter also monitors how many times an inhaler was used per day," says Eyram. "This information is also included in a database and helps the doctor determine if adjustments need to be made to improve the user's condition."
To complete the project, Eyram had to learn additional skills around the design of printed circuit boards, as well as transferring data from the boards to a computer.
"I didn't do any classes on the Internet of Things, so I had to learn about a whole new set of systems," adds Eyram. "However, it's been exciting, and I have learned a lot of new things. I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Elena Rosca, who encouraged and supported me. I am also thankful to Engineering Department faculty, Nicholas Korblah Tali, and Peter Lawerh Kwao, for their immense help and feedback."
Everyone gathered at Ashesi's 2019 Commencement Ceremony would have noticed the lone student standing at the right of the stage. She was not graduating, but Petra '22 was a key part of the day's activities, having volunteered to provide sign language translations. It would be the first time this was happening at an Ashesi commencement and was one of Petra's first steps towards making sign language more visible within the Ashesi community.
"I learned how to sign for two years in High school," Petra shares. "It was a compulsory activity at the time, but my interest in the language remained even after I was no longer required to practice it. I continued to harness the skill because it helped me better understand and interact with the deaf."
At Ashesi, Petra has been working to share this skill with others. In 2019, she started the Sign Language Club at Ashesi. Its mission is to educate the Ashesi community and others beyond it about the importance of sign language and ways to support the deaf and people with severe hearing loss across the country. This year, the Club is working with the Ashesi Leo Club - founded by sisters Anna and Anita '20 - and the Ashesi Design Lab to design a teaching project for schools for the deaf in Ghana. The goal, as Petra explains, is to correct perceptions about the learning capabilities of the deaf.
"Many communities marginalize the deaf and view them as less capable because they cannot express themselves vocally," Petra shared. "Additionally, many outreach projects to deaf communities often assume the community's needs and do not necessarily focus on helping deaf people solve their own needs. We believe that given access to the same learning opportunities as everyone else, the deaf can be great problem solvers. This project focuses on helping the deaf - especially young people in the community - develop the necessary skills to tackle some of the problems they see in their communities."
To support the project's pilot, the Sign Language Club applied for funding support from the Fund for Service at Ashesi, which is supported by the Ford Foundation, and received a grant of $5000. The initial implementation spread over three weeks and was held at the Demonstration School for the Deaf in Mampong, the Cape Coast School for The Deaf and Blind, and the State School for the Deaf in Tema.
At the schools, students learned foundational design thinking skills with members of the Leo Club, the Sign Language Club, and volunteers from the Ashesi D: Lab leading sessions. Students also got to meet leaders within the deaf community who were leading initiatives to bridge gaps for people with hearing loss, who hoped to inspire them with their own stories. The collaboration ultimately brought together some 105 students at Ashesi, who collectively engaged with 355 students across the three schools for the deaf.
The team hopes to continue growing the program and expanding the teaching curriculum to other volunteers and schools in Ghana and beyond. For now, they consider this to be an excellent case study for others looking to empower the deaf and people with other disabilities.
In 2019, Clement '23 arrived at Ashesi to study Electronic and Electrical engineering. He had received a full scholarship to attend but had to convince his family to let him leave Cameroon for Ghana. Having once experienced a scholarship scam, his parents were skeptical and remained so till the day he arrived on campus. At Ashesi today, Clement is recognized as one of the student community's most engaged members, serving across several organizations and working to help deepen Ashesi's diversity.
He has also started an experience-sharing initiative to get more young audiences to participate in civic engagement. It has since reached hundreds of students, serving as a skill and resource-sharing platform for students seeking to contribute meaningfully to causes. Even though Clement has found a community of civic leaders at Ashesi, he was engaged in volunteer work long before arriving on campus.
Growing up in Muyuka, a small farming town in Cameroon, Clement and his peers did not have the opportunities other students in urban areas of the country had. Like their parents before them, most of his colleagues planned to become small-scale farmers after high school. In his village, this was an endless cycle.
Clement's parents, however, wanted him to pursue more education opportunities. They convinced him to move to Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, to live with his older brother. His family believed the change would allow him to find stronger schools and do better in his high school exams. They were right.
Although a good student, Clement had to catch up with his peers in Yaoundé because they were further along in their learning than he and his peers back home. He also learned more about the pathways that existed for young people like him to pursue higher education. His experiences left him thinking a lot about his friends back in Muyuka.
"My time in Yaoundé made me realize that we had a lot of catching up to do in Muyuka," he shares. "The difference in me after three years was visible, and I believe it came from the exposure in the city and the opportunities I now had within my reach."
After his high school exams, he took a gap year. He returned to Muyuka with a new mission: to share his experiences and learning and help bridge the opportunity gap between his urban and rural friends. He had, however, underestimated what it would take to do this. The schools he tried to work with did not take him seriously because of his age. He turned to his former teachers, who helped him access their classrooms and speak with their students. Clement then leveraged this to start organizing small education fairs and conferences, working part-time to help meet the expenses.
During this period, unrest in Cameroon escalated, and students in his region could longer go to school on certain days of the week. Clement started tutorial sessions to fill in the gap, while still speaking with students about the opportunities that existed in the world. With the unrest persisting in Muyuka however, he moved back to Yaoundé. His commitment to his cause, however, remained unwavering.
"My passion for engaging with high school students urged me to volunteer with organisations such as Open Dreams, Enhancing Youth Empowerment for Creative Innovations (EYECI), Youth Centre for Progress (YOCEP) and NexGen Technology Centre," says Clement. "This work was a strong reason and a key part of me being able to come to Ashesi."
Now a third-year student, Clement is the President of the International Student Association on campus. The Association works closely with others across the university to help make Ashesi's campus inclusive. In June, he was selected as one of 25 members of the Youth Sounding Board for International Partnerships. The Board will advise European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen on the EU's global youth policy. The members were selected through an open call that resulted in 4000 applications from more than 150 countries.
"The decisions we politicians are taking now – on climate change, economic recovery, education, and so on – will have long-lasting consequences for this planet and its people," said Commissioner Urpilainen. "It is, therefore, more than right that we consult those in the frontline – the young people of today. These talented, bright young people will help us make the European Union's external actions work better for their peers back home and across the world. I very much look forward to hearing from them."
For Clement, civic engagement has not only been a way to give back, but it has also allowed him to grow and build a network of support. He now continues to encourage others to spend more of their time volunteering for causes.
"Civic engagement presents an opportunity for young people to acquire the essential aptitude and skills required not just to take on a rigid system, but to propel change within it," Clement says. "My civic engagement catapulted me from a lay boy in Muyuka to a man of impact and value amongst my peers. With the impact it has had on me and others, I will forever urge young people to engage with their communities and work out the change they want to see."
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