The Voice of Africa

Building Africa’s tomorrow, today words with Bryan Achiampong

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Listen to this interview on The Voice of Africa Podcast 

TVOA: Hello it’s your host, Kadmiel Van Der Puije and Welcome to TVOA podcast, today We have a very special guest with us,  Mr. Bryan Achiampong,  Ghanaian Globally experienced Public Speaker trained by the English Speaking Union in London and entrepreneur , Mr. Bryan can you please tell us a little bit about your childhood growing up? 

Bryan: The earlier years of my life were pretty rudimentary as a highschool kid. Similar to most, I wanted to experience more of the fun of being in high school than be bothered about the ambitions of what lived beyond. Nonetheless, one aspect of my childhood that was always the round peg in the square holes of my train of thought, nonconformist, were visions of the future and my part in it. This latent interest and curiosity which would define my young adult life always found a way to perforate through my convoluted thoughts, and remind me there was more to living.

Have any of your family attended Ashesi, did they influence your decision to attend?

That is a big yes, my brother and sister actually attended Ashesi before me. To be precise they enrolled in 2011. Ironically, Ashesi was meant to be a temporary transition as they took a gap year to attend university in Canada, and my parents felt it would be a good use of their time. But, fortuitously everyone fell in love with the school. My mother, father and siblings themselves. So it was almost a known part of my future in upper 6, as I was considering universities. I certainly would not deny that I had a strong intent to study abroad. This was for two primary reasons- the first being the idea of a growth experience in a wholesomely new environment seemed exciting, and the second the fact that I had attended one school my entire life and had the definition paragon of lifelong friends. Nonetheless, beyond all these wants that were certainly present in my high school graduating year of 2014 from Faith Montessori School, I doubt I would have been transformed into the man I am now without Ashesi, and that maturity and sense of purpose is priceless.

How did it feel to be awarded the speaker of your graduating class?

That was a big one, and a significantly happy day. Initially, I did not even go for the nomination process to be recommended as a part of the pool of potential speakers. I was quite occupied with existential thoughts of life- centred on the future and what opportunities I wanted to pursue post-graduation. So this was me sitting in my room off-campus, and receiving a call that I had been nominated as the potential class speaker. So I took a breath and paced quickly towards the selection room with my entire class while trying to prepare a submission speech. That was a rush. It was a realization that these were people I have been with for four years and have a connection with, combining that with what I had done during my time at Ashesi and my interest in inspiring young people, it began to seem a lot less like just a speech and a lot more like a podium to display the exuberance of the coming Africa’s strength and dynamism. 

Presenting and being selected out of a pool of about 7 brilliant speakers in my year group was an honour, and a noteworthy summation of what my time at university, vision and growth as a person encompassed. An honest reflection of- what we do with our time matters.

Have you always been a high-achieving student academically?  What obstacles, if any, did you overcome while attending ASHESHI? What kept you motivated?

Not particularly. Again, my high school years were significantly laid back, and even parts of my College experience albeit more succumbed by academic and business-oriented pursuits in the latter. Particularly a desire to explore my interest and opportunities in the world gradually became an overwhelming force responsible for my focus points of growth. So honestly, it’s not even primarily about academics for me, it’s about the lessons in the academics, and these lessons could exist in a lot of other spaces. To be honest they usually do for me. So I can engage in learnings from Business Modelling, African philosophy, Design Thinking, Music, Physics, and many more as far as there is a growth experience to be gained.  

I have notable passions in terms of sustainable serial entrepreneurship, business development and developing infrastructure in a really revitalized business sector in Ghana, Africa and the world at large. Thus, I simply want to be as wholesome a person to be able to do all these things. So it’s mostly about growth experiences.

The International Public Speaking Competition is one of the several platforms that specifically focus on the youth. Can you explain your experience and what kind of impact that platforms has on young Africans like you?

That was a strikingly monumental experience in my life. It laid the foundation of my understanding that can serve as a stepping stone toward success. So to the question, I had opted to be a part of the International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) in my first year. During this period, I was on a roll and wanted to experience as many opportunities as I encountered- I had already signed up for nearly 7 clubs and ended up becoming president of 3- The Ashesi Business Club, Debate Society and Unilever Campus Brand Ambassador Team. The idea was just to get to vast experiences, I believe in maximizing your youth, and all these pursuits were in line with that. Because if you can, you are able to enjoy your life more while balancing it with what you care about. For the national competition, I had founded that the Ashesi Debate Society with 2 other friends and they were looking for speakers directly from the school and the club.

But during my first year when I participated, I was actually a second runner up in the national competition. How it works is they hold, nationals and then those who qualify get the chance to compete globally in London with leading Speakers from over 50 countries. 

So when I did not make it in my first year, I took it pretty hard, although I found worthwhile activities to occupy my summer vacation. It was still disappointing.

And then in 2nd Year during African Philosophical Thought, my lecturer Kobby Graham comes up to me after class and informs me he had a conversation with the national director of the program. The conclusion of that conversation was they do not want to host nationals this year, but they want to select me personally to represent the country. That was a mind-blowing experience and surfaced my belief in how the dots in your life can connect from being intentional and continuing to give opportunities your all- as emphasised by Steve Jobs in his Stanford Commencement Address.

That year (2016), with little preparation compared to the other nationalities present due to the short notice in participating, I started crafting my speech about a week before my flight, practising in the plain while remotely working in teams for other programs I was participating in. I delivered 2 speeches with the final being ’A Society of Integrity: Utopian or Possibility’. To get I had to do a lot of self-learning and practice on public speaking, take advantage of the training sessions available and pass through 2 disqualification rounds, of which 1 involved a freestyle speech. I emerged as one of the 6 Grand Finalist at the end of the program, and even received a complementary Award on the side for amicably engaging the audience.

In all, that experience enabled me realizer 2 things- the weight someone representing Africa to the world carries, as well as the excitement of achieving.

Are there any other role models/ mentors you had that you could confide in his/her process?

Role models come from several spaces- I do not believe there is a perfect role model as there is not a perfect human, but I am convinced there are people with remarkable characters we can learn from.

I would use 3 character categories to define my role models.

For Leadership, Dr Patrick Awuah has been an amazing example of a servant leader- a person who leads through service.

For Conviction and Purpose, Will Senyo is a remarkable man whose ability to envision and relentlessly pursue I admire.

For Visionary characteristics, Steve Jobs always stands out simply for his ability to envision, build and be dedicated to building an ecosystem that has forever changed the technology industry.

How have your personal experiences shaped the way you have approached your job + job acquisition

In simple terms, I would say my personal experiences have been shaped by a pursuit to do more. People usually say I’m extra. At first, I used to think it was odd, but now I just accept it. There was an instance of this moment I always vividly recall. In my final year, we were doing a midterm presentation for the Entrepreneurship Capstone. I presented for my team, and we were the only team in the class where the reviewing potential investor in the room said, “if he were investing in any team today, it would undoubtedly be our team as it was by far the best presentation he had seen and we seemed ready to take the market.” In response, my lecturer Dr Sena gave a remark that deeply struck and has since resonated with me. She commented that, while everyone in the class just sees Bryan’s presentation and is amazed by it, what you don’t see is that he’s pacing outside, up and down the hallway, practising every line, every pause and practising every question’s response, and so you see him and you’re amazed here, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. 

 

So here, that philosophy of what being great means was robustly internalized for me. At this, point in my career, albeit young, if somebody is bringing me on board they would be able to at least read an article or watched a video about me beforehand. I want what they hear or have read to be just the tip of the Iceberg. But there’s a lot of work that goes into that. So then it’s always about being as practised and prepared as possible, whether to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity or any form of career opportunity to compliment the brand I have built and to be more than what is expected. To be extra. 

 

What project have you worked on that you’ve been most passionate about- felt the most enriched by throughout your professional and educational careers did you find that you have had to prove yourself or defy people’s assumptions/expectations because of your gender and or racial identity

So for projects, I would say most of my most enriching experiences have been with Design Thinking Ghana Hub (DTGH) and the Ashesi Dlab. 

The way I got in contact with design thinking Ghana hub was through national service. My service period was pent at Ashesi University as a faculty intern for the Foundations of Design and Entrepreneurship Course in the role of a strategy and content faculty intern. Here I met Dr Gordon and David Hutchful who have equally been great inspirations, particularly in the field of design thinking. Just by the way, design thinking is simply a human-centred approach to solving problems. Dr Gordon was the head faculty and liked my work with him, so he pulled me on board for some of his DTGH and Ashesi D:lab projects. 

With these projects, we engaged a vast array of people from. Through DTGH we engaged multinational companies, startups, entrepreneurs and with Ashesi D:lab I had a chance to engage more with University students. The core of these engagements being to teach and apply design thinking business modeling concepts to learn how companies and groups in several industries ranging from Agriculture, Technology and Insurance make an impact that equally resonates with its consumers and stakeholders.

In my views, the best projects we’ve done have largely in collaboration with the Ashesi D:lab where we teach younger people how to create solutions to the problems they face in society. So for example, there was a featured project with Junior Achievement Africa, or J. A. Africa, where we partnered with Delta, and we were teaching young people how they can remodel the aviation space in Ghana. 

With these projects that involve younger people, it excites me because I know that there’s going to be a butterfly effect where it’s going to be ripple into other people they meet in their communities and as they grow.

Nonetheless, it matters when you can educate larger organizations on Design Thinking principles as well. Because those projects are going to improve their services, which in turn is going to improve the quality of life of a lot of people. 

Has there been a time where you have felt that you no longer have to defy other’s expectations— how did this shift happen

I would answer this question with a quote I came up with and which I live by, “ we are all giants until we compare ourselves to others.” We are all extremely great, you only start to feel like you have shortfalls when you start to realize disparities in yourself against others. But at the end of the day, you are stunning individually. 

You can be as only as big as your future intends you to be from your actions, or as small as the inactions you don’t contribute to that future. 

Digging deeper into the question, I have experienced doing really well in a program or competition and getting chuckles in the room from to other participants. Both locally and globally, I believe its the reaction of others to justify why they are not feeling good enough.

But I am not moved by that.  I am not moved to talk because I know the quality of my performance, however, people take it doesn’t change that as embody and internal locus of control.  In entrepreneurship, this mindset means I look inwards rather than outwards as to what affects me and affects my experiences.

What drives you as a young African; success, money?

I mean with all I envision I know wealth would certainly be a by-product and not one I view as wrong. The car goal at the moment is an Aston Martin model, probably the Superleggera or DBX. 

So, yes I definitely have that dream car but money is, is definitely certainly not my focus. Bob Marley said, if you focus on numbers, you’ll never be happy, and I live by that. I do not think money is a starting point, it is creating impact. If you pursue impact, and you tailor that with excellence in your pursuits, that creates success, the ripple effect of that success when people recognize it then facilitates wealth or money in smaller terms. 

But if you live for money, you’ll never be complete, neither would you ever be happy in my view. So I feel it is important for people to separate those identities of what making it in life means in terms of how to count your riches. It should not be monetary at least in my view, it should be more of the impact you’re creating and the channel you’re using to create that impact.

How crucial is the role of today’s young Africans in the development of the continent?

It is estimated that by 2050 Africa’s young population, aged between 0 and 24 years old, will increase by nearly 50 percent. The continent will have the largest number of young people. So off the back of that, I believe there’s a lot of history to be made in terms of what our contributions would be. Questions like, are we going to be consumers to the rest of the world or be part of the production process are important. Particularly as more multinationals are establishing branches in Africa, coupled with increased brain drain.

I feel young Africans have a chance to define their narratives more and to be more intentional about what they are actually contributing to the future. The time would come, we would have the numbers, but are those numbers going to be from the side of receiving or from the side of giving to the world? And I would be happy and prefer it if we, a large number of us, find ourselves on the side of giving and creating in the world?

Do you have a work-life balance? If so, how do you achieve it?

I think this would rely largely on time management in terms of achieving a work-life balance. This is how it works. My philosophy: to be happy in life, you need to achieve your goals and to be happy in life, you need to have relationships that equally bring you fulfilment. If you do not have plans or processes, what happens is that when you have more work coming in, you tend to overcrowd your schedule with this work, and then you can’t find time for the relationships that matter to you and vice versa. Either failure to balance creates a black hole which consumes your sense of fulfilment and joy. So what I do is to simply map put a process and have a structured plan that allows me buffer periods, which are spaces to relax and have personal and relational time. I feel building those buffer spaces from the planning processes always give you a chance to be able to enjoy life beyond work and should be something everybody should consider especially as you begin to grow in your career. See it as always leaving time for what matters.

Congrats on your position at Impact Hub Accra & Freelancing at Design Thinking Ghana Hub! Can you give us some information on the role you play in both companies

At Impact Hub Accra, my role is that of a Program Associate for Business Development and Relations. This role includes curating projects, liaising with our global partners, supporting strategy development and facilitating business incubation sessions. Our projects largely deal with providing investor support, an incubation space, and business development expertise to startups in Africa. A project, for example, would be the Level Up (Africa Scaling Up) program where we supported 13 startups with business modeling and funding support in partnership with Growth Mosaic. 

The beautiful part of this program, in particular, is how the funding works. We give the startups money without them being mandated to pay back. All we tell them is when your business grows, if you feel the need to contribute anything back to the fund to help another business, you can do so. That’s a mindset to giving which we appreciate. What we are trying to do is make it easier for startups in Africa to be able to start and survive their youthful years. Managing and connecting with the companies post program is also an essential activity. Studying their progress, particularly now with the pandemic, allows us to know the additional assistance required as well as revise our program structures to improve effectiveness for future beneficiaries. 

In the case of DTGH, I primarily work as a freelance consultant and program facilitator, providing Design Thinking focused assistance to businesses and programs in different industries. I have worked with MEST Africa, BIMA global, Ghana Tech Labs, the United Nations Development Program Youth Connekt Ghana and Ashesi D: Lab.

How can the public have access to information on the programs/projects Impact Hub Accra is setting up

I think a lot of discovery in life starts with Google. But to make it easier if you type Impact Hub Accra on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, that should take you straight to our social media accounts. Our website is www.accra.impacthub.net

How have your past jobs added to your insights on current workplace dynamics

If I am to reflect on how I have gained insights into work dynamics at the office, I would say the greatest source of inspiration has actually been out of the office and on the basketball court. Particularly for Leadership and Teamwork building. I was a team captain for the Longshots team back on campus, and as a team captain, you are dealing with a lot of people. A lot of people in different positions want to do different things with the ball and have to understand the need for working together, or simply put- passing assistance in every phase of the game. Everyone has to find a way to support, on offence, defence and even during a fast break despite the distinctions in roles. So just looking at the dynamics, there are stages I follow to be an effective captain and team player. First, understand people. Everybody is different, and everybody has their own tendencies and personality traits. So that’s the first thing you need to do. You need to know how to study and appreciate people. So that’s emotional intelligence on the list. Secondly, relating to people. Actually understanding people identify interests you can connect with. Now what that does is it allows you to always have a base for them to feel comfortable talking to you. Thirdly, you bridge connections. So you want to bridge connections so that although you know this person if you were to rope another person into the conversation, they feel comfortable in that space. Because what this does is anytime you have problems it makes it easier to develop solutions, as team members feel responsible for a good outcome because they experience a connection to the team.

So first you understand the individual personalities in your team, second you establish relationships with these people based on a connected interest, and finally you create a connection between different groups and individuals by being a central trusted node. The recipe to a great coherent team is really that simple at its base.  And if you ever want to know how to develop it, you can consider joining a basketball team and looking at how the dynamics play out.

Are you content with your title you hold now or is there still more personal growth. 

So I have a broader Manager title and underneath program associate related roles in the field of Business Development and relations. guess that seems pretty fancy, but it honestly doesn’t matter as much. What matters more is what you do under the title. 

For instance, I do different things as well, so I don’t just hold one title. Because when a company calls me to help them do their brand strategy personally, then I become a brand strategist as well. So I would say you should focus on where your speciality is, and based on those specialities, titles are assigned. That means more for growth than just words on a placard.

What projects are you currently working on?

That would be the COVID-19 economic booster program being deployed in Ghana and Nigeria, and featuring a lot of players in the Impact Hub Space. Impact Hub Accra, Lagos, Germany, and our global team as well. For this project, because of all the detrimental impacts the pandemic is having on businesses and the economy, we want to focus on economic recovery functions startups can perform during and post the pandemic. That is largely what we are trying to do with this project. We are identifying what these problem spaces are, and from these problem spaces, we want to open up the floor to startups who feel there are ways that they can actually improve the economy, which for now is the economy of Ghana and Nigeria.  While doing this, we also want to set a template for rolling this program in other African countries. Thus, providing funding, mentorship, networking, incubation and business development support to really start plugging out some of the problem places COVID-19 has created and making sure these businesses are sustainable, viable, feasible and have solutions that would be desirable for the economy to recover and grow.

What would you tell a young African who is trying to develop a successful business/make a difference in the world: do those suggestions differ between gender identities?

I would say you probably have to go on a Confucius type of journey to a distant mountain, or stargaze on top of a mountain to clear your mind, but that is probably a tad radical, and you may probably get missing. So to tone that experience down, I would say if you’re trying to create impact, if you are trying to start a business, the first thing you need to do is still to go out and have an experience. Either have an experience that relates to the problem you are trying to solve, or have an experience that relates to you. The point of either of these is not to rush it, but to gain insights through the things that come about from you venturing into a new space or into a new problem sector. And then from that, you get a reflection that is provoked by who you’re trying to be or what you’re trying to solve. When you realize this, you need to look at your skillset. Are you capable of building this? If you feel you are capable, you can get started with what you can do and where you feel you need help, that is when you need to start identifying connections that can help you. Because as great as an idea or you may be, you are also only as good as the support you have. So you start with going on a journey of discovery, that’s the first. This journey of discovery then becomes a touching point for enlightenment. Then third, you reflect into the abilities you have and how that complements what you want to do. So that’s going to highlight either you have to learn, or you have to identify skills to support you, which is the fourth thing – finding a good support system. That becomes other complementary skills, either in people or by learning. I believe if you pass through these four processes, it gives you a really good chance to become whoever you want to be or to do whatever you want to do with a pretty solid foundation and grounding.

How do you suggest this upcoming generation (millennials/gen z) hold grasp on success as well in an economy where fast wealth is feasible?

This answer would relate back to not chasing fast wealth but rather impact and ingenuity, through the acceptance that wealth will be a by-product. There are a number of suggestive principles in this piece related to time management, focus orientation and having an internal locus of control. So I believe reading this piece as a whole, internalizing and practising the principles shared, should assist you to develop a strong foundation for how to live an impactful, unique and successful life. 

To add, there’s a quote I really love and remember from my commencement speech by Lillian Dickson. It reads, “Life is like a coin. You can spend it on anything you wish, but you can only spend at once.” And so just to all the readers, I would like you to really reflect on the quality of the life you are living. 

To make it a simple process, see yourself as building two versions of you. You’re building a really great version of yourself and you’re building a smaller version of yourself with both of them existing in a parallel world. Every day your decisions are either making you into this great person or reducing into the smaller person. So just try to be intentional about knowing that you have this great chance and there’s great value in you that only you can reach. Spend that value of your life on what you feel matters most in being the best version of you, and the whole world will be a better place for it.

How do you wish to see the future? How do you wish these problems to be resolved in the future?

The future of Africa, like an African Renaissance, I think it is a beautiful place. It is a creative space that just really imbibes a lot of diversity. I believe we would move more towards Pan-Africanism as a continent, where we are more connected to different African countries with a lot more commonalities and operational relations as economies. Developments such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) adds to the feasibility of this future. This would also promote more African pride, more indigenous solutions which is going to cause Africa as a continent to be increasingly independent. But albeit independent,  the continent would also be a lot more contributive to the global economy, in the sense that again, we become less of consumers and more of producers and providers, in turn growing into market leaders in different sectors. So I believe the future of Africa is going to be a big chance for innovation and connectivity among different African countries, and a bigger chance to reflect African culture in terms of business and social life while creating better connections with a global world and the diaspora.

How can The Voice of Africa support and contribute to your causes?

Moving forward, I think the Voice of Africa is a really great platform. Beyond the projects I have discussed, have a lot more in the development phase. I love to work with like-minded talented and ambitious individuals who are really skilled in their field. So having this platform to update your audience on my projects and how they can benefit and connect would be a meaningful contribution. 

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