When Abigail Okyere decided to travel to Canada from her home country of Ghana and pursue her MBA at UBC Sauder, she was drawn to the university’s global perspective and focus on sustainability. She didn’t expect the direct impact the program would allow her to have on the communities back where she grew up.
According to the Maclean’s University Rankings, UBC Sauder is one of the top business schools in Canada and the school is also known as a leader in sustainability. “Coming from a background in oil and gas, sustainability is my passion,” says Okyere. “I started my journey by researching which universities look at sustainability on a global scale and would let me engage with thought leaders and a global network.”
Soon after starting the program, Okyere learned about UBC Sauder LIFT–a pursuit focusing on leadership, innovation, fundamentals and training–she then realized the unique opportunity to make a global difference by empowering African entrepreneurs.
In the UBC Sauder LIFT program, which has been running in Kenya since 2006, students such as Okyere develop and deliver educational programming and workshops for entrepreneurs in developing markets. “UBC Sauder LIFT was the highlight of my MBA,” she says. “I didn’t know working on something like that would be possible, but the more I started thinking about how others could benefit, the more inspired and enlightened I felt.”
“I learned about how UBC Sauder was helping to raise business leaders,” Okyere says. “I got in touch with Jeff Kroeker, director of the program. I asked him, ‘Why can’t we do this in Ghana?’ And he said, ‘Why not?’”
Okyere quickly enlisted some interested classmates to help and got to work designing a curriculum and localizing content from the Kenya program. “In less than a month, everything was up to speed. We received 137 applications from all over Ghana. We brought that down to 36 participants who lived close to the leadership centre.”
While some lessons were recorded by video in a studio in Vancouver, Okyere and three of her classmates travelled to Ghana at the conclusion of the program to deliver one-on-one mentoring for participants and hear their plans for growing their businesses. “I saw my mom, my aunties, my siblings reflected in every one of the entrepreneurs I engaged with,” she says.
For Okyere, the experience brought home just how interconnected the global business world is, and also that responsible leadership includes helping to raise up new leaders in emerging markets. But Kroeker, Director of UBC Sauder LIFT, says the initiative couldn’t make a difference without students like Okyere. “In order to bring UBC Sauder LIFT to a new country it is critical to have a champion, a catalyst to harness the tremendous positive student energy from the classrooms and hallways of UBC Sauder and bring it to life from 11,000 kilometers away. Abigail did just this. She took the lead, the initiative and executed wonderfully in all respects,” he says.
“In fact, Abigail was one of more than 20 UBC Sauder students who taught five classes in total, live from our UBC Sauder studio. This interactive format is one of the core deliverables of the program and it enabled our students to teach directly into the Leadership Centre in Ghana where the Ghanian entrepreneurs interacted in real time with presentations. It’s a tremendously unique and powerful approach,” adds Kroeker.
That’s precisely the mindset UBC Sauder looks to attract—and help cultivate—as part of its responsible leadership ethos.
“I’m amazed by what our students achieve while at UBC Sauder, and what they take forward once they leave here. Abigail’s visionary approach to bring UBC Sauder LIFT to her home country is a great example of responsible leadership in action. The initiative she took in mentoring entrepreneurs in Ghana is exactly the kind of innovation and bridge building we need for a better future,” says Dean Dahl.
For Okyere, who received her MBA in May 2022 and now works at Microsoft, the lessons learned at UBC Sauder are just the beginning.
She’s now collaborating with UBC Sauder to bring the program to Zambia and is constantly on the lookout in her job for ways to apply the principles she learned in her studies. “Every single day, I’m looking at what opportunities are there to turn my purpose into business impact,” she says.
Click here to learn more about UBC Sauder LIFT.