Friday, July 13, 2012

Entrepreneurship and questioning everything again

Day 31

10 July 2012

Tuesday was my second to last day with my kids. Guhhh, don’t get me started yet, I feel the pipes leaking already. I brought my camera that day, and we spent all of recess taking pictures together. I’m not ready to leave them yet!! :( I’ll put up the photos on Day 33, when we did our class art project!

The large part of the day I spent with my SSDS class visiting Kama Industries, a pharmaceutical company where its founder and CEO (I can’t remember his name for the life of me, so I’ll call him Bill) talked to us a bit about entrepreneurship in Ghana. It was an interesting speech, at best. He explained that there are many opportunities for entrepreneurship here, although I don’t remember him listing any specific examples. Rather, it seemed like he was describing the general mission of business, that says, hey, think you have a great idea? well, seize the opportunity and sell it. Certainly, the concept that creativity and innovation are the keys to success isn’t a new one, but I think we can all get behind it just the same. Especially if we aim to tackle such world challenges as globalization, poverty, health issues, and the global economy. My only criticism is this: can entrepreneurship really achieve these goals if they are only a means to an end, which is making money?

The irony cracks me up when I think about it. During the presentation, Bill pulled up a list of 5 M’s that are the necessary building blocks for any business venture: Materials, Machines, Money, Manpower, and Marketing. He asked us, which M do we feel is the most important of the 5? Naturally, we assumed the answer was Money. No, no, Bill objected, without Manpower, the wheels don’t turn. So, people, right? It’s people that are important. People provide the ideas, the energy, and the time to solve problems. I imagine he explains the process in depth in his book, which he offered to us for the one-time low price of 20 cedi.

Bill then led us on a short tour of the facility, where the medicines are manufactured. (We got to put on some goofy sexy blue shoe-gloves and shower caps for this part, oh baby.) Among the pungent smell of various chemicals were his employees, all participating in assembly line operations. Within the next year we hope to get some machines put in to take over these menial tasks, he mentioned. Nice thing about machines is they don’t get sick, they don’t create slander in the workplace, they don’t need vacations, they don’t get pregnant... (four of his employees are currently pregnant). Bill, you worry me. You’re starting to sound a little bit Huxleyian... But for the time being we’re glad to offer employment to these people. Phew! Saved yourself at the last second. Right? 

You can probably imagine how our group was buzzing by the time the visit was over. Entrepreneurship is well and good (American dream, anyone?), we agreed, but how can Bill endorse entrepreneurship as if it is for everyone? In his own words, Manpower is the backbone of any successful business. Well, that’s the service industry. That’s the “grunt work” per se: the people who labor, but don’t own. Where do they come from?

This is exactly what is happening in Vegas, my groupmate Queena pointed out. We’re raising two  groups of people: those who are set on the track for higher education and better careers and those who are set on the track for subordination. Her words made me stop short, so I asked her to explain. I learned more about Nevada’s education system in this one conversation that I ever had during my 20 years of living in the Reno-Carson area.

In Vegas, there is a big dichotomy between the nicer high schools in higher-income areas and the poorer high schools. The problem with the less-fortunate schools is that the system allows students to slide through, even though they have learned virtually little. Queena illustrated this with the idea of failing an assignment. How many points out of 100 would students receive if they not complete an assignment? A zero, you’d think. Actually, they would earn a 50. Still an F, but enough to grant them something, although they have done none of the work. In fact (and I have never heard of this up north), in Vegas there is such a thing called a “Certificate of Attendance.” This certificate essentially signifies that the student showed up for high school. This graduation is not as esteemed as a diploma or a G.E.D, but some employers (basically minimum wage service jobs) will accept it.

And then there’s the flipside; the students who earn 3.9 and 4.0 GPA’s in their lower-income school, despite the lack of a diversity of classes to choose from. Yet, when it comes time to take the SATs and HSPEs, they rank at the bottom in the state. Queena knows firsthand what it is like as a school counselor when honors students would come to her sobbing because they were placed into remedial level math courses for their freshman year or, at worst, did not make even the cut to go to UNR (which is viewed as the better quality of the two Unis). But it makes sense, after all, Vegas’s industry is tourism. And its Manpower? Well, let’s think about it.

Reflecting on the condition of my state’s education system, such is my #ghanalife.

Nante yie,

P.S. I think I should have named my blog "Ghana in Sixty Minutes" because that's how long it takes me to write every one of these dang posts, haha.

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