Marketed as “From Columbia to Yale to Wall Street to Co-Founder of Ghana’s first Investment Bank to Finance Minister” leads one to infer that this would plausibly be an event about commodities, debt and equity issues, and investments. However, those in attendance at the Columbia African Development Group’s most recent gathering were definitely in for a treat as Hon. Ofori-Atta’s two hours spent on the podium was an experience filled with wisdom, encouragement, and heartfelt stories.
Hon. Ofori-Atta was born out of wedlock. When his father walked into his life in an Eastern Region village around the age of 8, this experience exposed now Ghana’s finance minister to the power of access to good education. Prior to commencing his talk, Hon. Ofori-Atta challenged all participants present to read the Book of Nehemiah, a book that tells how Nehemiah, at the court of the king in Susa, is informed that Jerusalem is without walls and resolves to restore them.
In my most recent article, Maame, Mama Africa Left Another Voicemail - inspired by the Columbia Africa Economic Forum, I vaguely addressed why it’s important for Africans to move back to our continent after acquiring the skill sets needed to make an impact. From the five lessons curated below, Hon. Ofori-Atta does an excellent job highlighting his inspiration for moving back and how the trivial moments during this process catapulted his positive influence.
Always consider the sacrifices others made for you
Every success story is accompanied by some sort of failure at one point during the journey. Hon. Ofori-Atta’s story certainly proves no other. After leaving the village to the city for Achimota High School, he was exposed to the various possibilities and opportunities in his reach. An effective climax took place when he failed his A-level examinations. At this moment, he could have decided to call it quits and let go of his goals, however; a heightened feeling of betrayal to his parents encouraged him to take the examination again and excelled. This humbling experience relayed the importance of putting his best foot forward as a student at Columbia University.
Take the time to self-reflect and gain clarity
As a track star in college, Hon. Ofori-Atta naturally gravitated towards running one of New York City's marathons. After one of these marathons, he laid in bed and realized something was not right. He felt the purpose for all his experiences commencing from the village, moving to the city for school, then pursuing education abroad at prestigious universities, only to land a job on Wall Street held a potent underlying significance. During this moment, he began to question himself, “Have you forgotten the history of your background?” and “Have you forgotten who you are?” These questions led him to sow a thought which reaped an action. The reaped action led him to sow a habit which reaped a character. He then sewed the character and he reaped his destiny.
You do NOT need permission to start
After assembling a few friends, Hon. Ofori-Atta moved to Ghana without clarity of what to pursue. As a result, he utilized and maximized his acquired skill sets for the betterment of others. Along with his friends, they began curating seminars and teaching Chief Financial Officers in Ghana the potential benefits of the stock market. One incremental step led to another and they eventually secured a loan of $25,000 to launch Databank Financial Services Limited, a bank which provides innovative and responsive corporate finance, brokerage, fund management and research services to local and foreign individuals, multinational companies, pension trusts, institutions and portfolio investors for the ECOWAS sub-region. According to Hon. Ofori-Atta, what truly propelled them to succeed was their passion, commitment, and their willingness to have fun throughout the process.
Marrying a partner of similar cultural background matters
Prior to meeting his wife, Hon. Ofori Atta attested to dating non-Ghanaians, which may have influenced his decision to live comfortably in the United States. Meeting his wife of Ghanaian origin - Dr. Angela Ofori-Atta - may have played an integral role in his decision to move back and invest in the growth of his home country. The formula is simple; being in a romantic relationship with a partner who shares a similar cultural interest or background could be extremely effective when making life-changing decisions - such as moving back to your homeland permanently.
Patience is key to unlocking greatness
I recently read on Quartz that “around 7% of Ghana’s 25 million populations applied to win the US Visa Lottery in 2015.” (Side note: Ghana's population is approximately 27 million) This makes Ghanaians the world leading applicants for US green cards. The majority of our relatives on the ground are leaving due to the country’s economic struggle, which was affected by the crash in global commodity prices. Unfortunately, those abroad who decided to move back are now packing their bags and leaving the country after a few months of no major breakthrough. To paint some color on why this trend is flawed, Hon. Ofori Atta highlighted his wife’s story of moving back to serve as Ghana’s very second clinical psychologist. Naturally, one would expect for her to praised as soon as she arrived at Kotoka International Airport. However, it took about a year for people to even take notice. What are you in a rush for?
Hon. Ofori-Atta concluded his talk with Theodore Roosevelt’s quote below;
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Dissecting the quote, one garners the importance of doing by faith, the essence of providing value, and the necessity to build the walls of our African continent as a collective. There is a stereotype that most Africans treat each other in a blemished manner however, we rather treat foreigners with utmost respect and love. In my perspective, this stereotype was shattered when participants witnessed Hon. Ofori-Atta carve out the time to listen and connect with every participant (whether it be an African or not) who approached him afterward. This action marks a man who lives and abides by his word of maintaining his core values and striving for excellence in all settings.