Afua Hirsch writes today in the The Guardian:
In East Legon, a smart suburb of Ghana‘s capital, Accra, two men and a woman in their 20s stand in front of a slick ad featuring a large plane in mid-flight. They are pitching a business idea for a website that would allow travellers to compare ticket prices, then book and pay for airline tickets on domestic flights.
The pitch has sparked a lively debate among the pupils who sit in a darkened classroom, with the words “generosity, positivity, standards” emblazoned on the wall. The students, who nod seriously at the feedback, are on the first year of an intensive training programme at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (Mest), a postgraduate school that offers university graduates – some with no prior experience at all – a two-year course in software programming and business development.
Mest provides its students with housing, pocket money, meals, transport and a laptop – free of cost – and, in return, it expects full concentration for two years of full-time study. Its teaching staff say that the transformation after students have been through the process is extreme. “When they join, they probably haven’t written two lines of code before. Next year they are creating apps left and right,” says Unni Krishnan, senior faculty member at Mest.
It is widely acknowledged that intensive training of this kind – which Mest says is producing world-class software engineers and businesses – is exactly what is needed in West Africa. But, like many of its neighbours, Ghana is still a country of contradictions, with pockets of world-class innovation coexisting alongside chronic poverty.