In February of 2012 I started an Initiative called Africa Works. It started as a hobby. Maybe a lite bit of professional interest. To start to see the other side of Africa and to recognise that looking at things differently Africans feel lucky and appreciate what we have. It wasn’t an organization or a movement. It was just a space to allow young people to understand the concept of innovation and creativity in Ghana. We held a series of open Events called ‘Innovation Clinics’ mainly to explore the role of creativity and innovation. Based on the discussions there were a few opinions expressed by young Ghanaian individuals. In these series I bring you the voices of Ghanaian youth sharing their views on various aspects of the Ghanaian society.
Below is a blog post written by my friend, a young aspiring Journalist in Development, Joseph QUAYE Amoo.
Culture and Innovation in Ghana
By Joseph Quaye Amoo
The Innovation Clinic is a platform created by Africa Works for sharing ideas and putting innovation and creativity at the center of the discussions.
The first edition was anchored on the topic: “Culture and how it affects Innovation and Creativity in Ghana”.
The preliminary stages of the discussion centered on culture and religion and how they are related in a way that affects especially young people to innovate and build upon new business ideas.
The discussion veered into religious tolerance which is a very important element in ensuring productivity and results at workplaces and in societies.
But is it really about tolerance? Is tolerance good enough to ensure there is an appreciable level of productivity and results? One thing for sure is that tolerance needs to be there first, before you even get started with anything.
In many societies, the participants noted, sometimes the majority counts. In an Islamic state like Iran where Moslems form the majority, it is almost impossible to work on ideas that conflict with Islamist laws.
In Ghana, the Islamic and Christian religions were inherited from other countries and had become on fundamental element of the Ghanaian culture which has left an ailing African traditional religion.
A question about what makes a Christian popped up and acknowledgement of the fact that people end up in particular religions because of the “accident of birth”- no one chooses where he or she wants to be born. We have relatively very little choice of what religion we want to belong to until we have matured well enough to take our own decisions. Religion is a very complex thing and very diverse in itself.
In many workplaces in Ghana, religious tolerance is often pretended, which may be dangerous in some respects yet we need to find a compromise.
Approaching a cultural context
What cultural context do we have in Ghana? Think about opening a new gay club in Accra. Even if the infrastructure is build and has fulfilled all legal requirements, would it be easy to market and advertize? How would people perceive such an establishment?
The laws of Ghana are largely based on morality whichstems from religious believes, hence the difficulty in accepting an innovation like gay clubs. Raising acceptance is a process of evolution. But it is a fact that culture is dynamic and influenced by external factors. Society largely defines the borders of morality.
Innovation in development
Innovation is not only about the product per say but also how it is applied. Innovators are always ahead of the times. A classic example is the evolution of Facebook and how it all started. Breaking rules, challenging the status quo and not paying attention to the societies definition of morality has made Facebook a hit across the globe. It is not only facilitating communication but affecting lives in a way that has never being thought of.
In Ghana and several other African countries, many people leave their natural creativity to God or deities by begging “Him” for ideas instead of being creative themselves. Anything is (or should be) related to religion including building your own business too.
Creativity and Innovation – taking risks in Ghana.
Being creative is about taking risks and knowing that there is a potential failure. For example, in the Ghana against Zambia semi final match of the 2012 African Cup of Nations, Asamoah Gyan was blamed for the defeat of the Ghana Black Stars because of missing one penalty. But he took the risk of failing and had proven successful many times before. Therefore it is safe to say that the Ghanaian culture is about “you may fail, so don’t even try”.
The culture of experience is shifting the creativity here. Many corporate institutions demand some level of experience from job applicants. Traditional companies fear to employ inexperienced people without having to determine their level of creativity that they will inject into those companies.
Many Ghanaians feel safe to be an employee rather than an entrepreneur in Ghana because of the risk taking element associated with entrepreneurship. In Ghana, opportunities are abound but we need to take the risk to potentially fail.
Three major statements echoed in the discussions of the Africa Works Innovation Clinic. Clear as they may sound, there is a great deal of complexities associated with them. The more I tried to understand them, the more I get confused. There they are:
- An idea does not make a business.
- Entrepreneurship is not about the money.
- A businessman is not necessarily an entrepreneur.
Education and Culture
We respect education and experience. Qualification is regarded more than wealth nowadays. Professors earn enough to be respected but not as much as business people and bankers.
The concluding part of the Innovation clinic was heated with arguments on culture and whether there is a Ghanaian culture at all. “We need to learn to talk about the Ghanaian culture without referring to 2000 years of European history taught to us in school way more than African history”, stresses one of the discussants. “We have adopted foreign systems and if we throw away our culture we have a very severe problem”, he concluded.
The Innovation Clinic seeks to generate discussions and to challenge the status quo to encourage and promote innovation and creativity in Ghana.
Africa Works Innovation Clinic is supported by World Wide Education.