Babson Teaches Startup Skills to Students in Ghana and Rwanda

Posted by: John Tozzi on July 26, 2011

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This is a guest post by Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Victoria Stilwell.

More than 160 African high school students are getting lessons in entrepreneurship this week during Babson College’s first Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy, aimed at promoting leadership and business instruction in Ghana and Rwanda.

The academy brings students from high schools throughout the regions of Sekondi, Ghana, and Byimana, Rwanda, together in each country for a week of learning with two dozen faculty, undergraduates and alumni from the Wellesley, Mass. college. The sessions start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., but the Babson teams are offering smaller optional classes after hours because demand from students is so high, says Dennis Hanno, dean of the undergraduate school at Babson. Topics range from creating customer value and recognizing opportunity to modeling leadership.

“They just have this passionate thirst for learning,” Hanno says. “When I asked questions about what I talked about yesterday, they can answer them faster than I can.” Teachers from about 26 high schools in each country picked the students, who range in age from 16 to 20 years old. About 85 were selected in each country.

Throughout the week, students generate and refine business ideas, which their peers and the Babson team evaluate. Together they select the best business ideas, which become candidates for a share of $1,000 in seed capital administered through local churches.

The effort grew out of an 11-year relationship between Babson and the two countries, Hanno says. He goes to Ghana with a team of students and teachers each year to teach local high school students. In Rwanda, the college last year established the Babson College-Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center, a collaborative effort between Babson instructors and the Rwandan Private Sector Federation.

“One of the most difficult questions I get is, ‘Can I come to Babson?’ and unfortunately the cost of coming to Babson is just not in the realm of possibility for most of the students that we’re working with here,” Hanno says.

Hanno says he has connected with a Ghanaian university that will send teachers to the academy on Friday to talk about how the students can pursue entrepreneurship education within the country.

“When they ask me why I’m here, I tell them that my life mission is to have an impact on students no matter where they are,” Hanno says.

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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