As AfriKids’ UK Corporate Partnerships Manager, Emma Mortoo is used to meeting businessmen on a daily basis. On her recent trip to Ghana, her first since joining AfriKids, Emma met Albert, a local business man. Here she tells us why it was her most memorable business meeting yet.
Albert (pictured above) worked for six years as a “galamsey” boy – the term used locally in Ghana for someone who works in the informal deep shaft gold mines in northern Ghana. A dangerous occupation for anyone, but especially for a seven year old. Albert worked with his mum in and around the mines for six years from the age of 7-12. From a very poor family he told me his parents had managed to send him to school for a few years, so he had learnt to read before he had to drop out. AfriKids supported Albert through the Education Fund to get out of the mines and go back to school – a complex journey involving another local benefactor who spotted his potential. Albert was a really smart kid, and he told me proudly but humbly how he had rapidly caught up on missed years of education. At every given opportunity he spent time at the AfriKids ICT Academy, soaking up as much knowledge of computers, programming and networking as he could – he says he “loved it and happily did a few errands around the place to earn a bit of chop [food] money”
Following senior high school, Albert was offered a place at university in Ghana’s capital Accra, to study IT; without the AfriKids Education Fund he says he simply wouldn’t have been able to take up the offer. He graduated, of course, with a first and top of his year. A huge achievement in itself, but, the story doesn’t end there….
Today Albert introduces himself as the founder and CEO of Norgence –a software business that provides IT systems to the niche market of micro-finance and credit unions organizations in northern Ghana. When I met him in Bolgatanga last month Albert had delayed his trip to Tamale, a city two hours away, where he was off to secure his 45th client. Albert wants to create employment for local young people in sales and marketing, customer services and programming and he’s set to scale his business.
Getting his business up and running was a challenge. He told me that, “creating confidence in a Ghanaian designed product, especially from someone in the north was a big obstacle”. One he overcame with a winning combination of excellent customer service and a very reliable product. I confess to a bit of smiling and polite nodding as Albert explained software platforms and programming language he uses for his systems. All of his customers have come through word of mouth. Sadly, his mum didn’t live to see what he’s made of his life.
Of course not all AfriKids’ beneficiaries are IT geniuses but Albert does represent the impact AfriKids has in northern Ghana on the lives of children and young people. From the streets and into schools, out of mines and into vocational training; with consistent support that makes long lasting change a reality for the poorest kids. It’s not the cheapest international development model around but it works! I saw a huge number of children and young people who had been lifted from poverty and were training to be mechanics and seamstresses (often supporting the whole of their families) and children who were now spending most of their time in school instead of working on the streets.
Hearing his story made meeting Albert by far my most memorable business meeting yet.