Don’t be afraid to break the rules sometimes – Sir Sam Jonah

Mining mogul, Sir Sam Jonah, has advised students and Ghanaians in general to not be too afraid to break the rules sometimes in making life choices.

He said some important decisions must be taken with convictions and that it pays to stick to one’s convictions and decisions if they are well-thought through.

Sir Jonah was delivery the key note address at the graduation ceremony of the SOS -Herman Gmeiner International College.

Read the full speech blow:
Speech By Sir Sam Jonah, Executive Chairman Of Jonah Capital At The Graduation Ceremony And 25th Anniversary Of SOS-Herman Gmeiner International College

Honorary President Helmut Kutin, President Siddhartha Kaul, Principal Ofei and Vice-Principal Akita; administrative and faculty members; parents and caregivers, alumni, students and new graduates; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen; I thank you for the great honour of inviting me to speak on this special occasion. Today, we celebrate the class of 2015 and acknowledge the hard work of these students over the last four years. As today also marks the 25th anniversary of the college, we reflect on and acknowledge some of the many accomplishments of the school in the service of Ghana and Africa as a whole.

Today we salute Principal Titi Ofei, Vice-Principal Nii Amaa Akita, Director of Studies, Mr. Julian Kitching, Director of Boarding Mr. Paul Ahiable, and all the dedicated faculty members and staff whose tutelage and unmatched commitment continues to carry out the vision of the founding President. They have continued the excellent example set by the first Head, Dr. Albrecht Fuerstein and former Principal Mrs. Margaret Nkrumah.

The venerable Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For over two decades, SOS -Herman Gmeiner International College has been a leader in delivering that potent weapon here in Ghana. You have earned an enviable reputation as a centre of academic excellence for SOS children from all over Africa and non-SOS children from all walks of life. This school has set many on the path of professional success by implementing a rigorous academic scheme which subjects students to the highest national and international standards. You have and continue to provide opportunities for young Africans to learn to live together and to achieve the understanding and unity badly needed on this continent.

To the class of 2015, I would like to congratulate you for reaching this milestone. You have worked hard to get here; proving your merit exam after exam. Savour your accomplishment, it is well deserved.

Your graduation today marks the end of a journey which started four years ago; today also represents an important milestone in your learning journey. Think back on the last four years; giddy as you may feel today, it is the experiences you have had, and the relationships that you built over the last four years that you will carry with you throughout your life.

In this new phase of your life, the stakes will be raised. For many of you, one of the first big decisions would include what course of study to pursue at university. This can be a source of deep anxiety because whichever decision you take will shape your life, maybe forever. Trust me, I’ve been there before. Decades ago, after I completed Adisadel College, I was faced with the same challenge, what do I do with my A level diploma? When I told my parents I wanted to be a mining engineer, they didn’t like the idea, particularly my mother. She felt the industry was too physically challenging and perhaps was not prestigious enough. Clearly my mom would have preferred her seventh born to pursue a career in law or medicine.

Initially, neither parent would give me their blessing. But I knew the career I wanted to pursue and pressed them to change their minds. Eventually, my father grudgingly gave in, but you know, my mother never did till the day she died. Actually, the opposition I faced from her became a strong motivation for me. I took responsibility for my decision and even as I respected my mother’s reservations, I determined that they were not going to discourage me from pursuing my dream. I was going to be the best mining engineer that I could be and prove to her that I could do it. Ladies and gentlemen, today I am pleased I stuck with my decision.

As you strike out on your own, of course you will need the guidance and support offered by your parents, family and friends. But, ultimately, your decisions are yours. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs’ reminder is poignant, and one that I hope you will hold on to. You must have your own vision for your life. You will have to take decisions to actualize that vision; and those decisions will mould the men and women you will become tomorrow. Be courageous; don’t be afraid to take charge of your destiny. Seize those opportunities – as challenging as they will sometimes be – because they will be your chance to make your mark, to show the world who you truly are.

Trust that your time here at this college has prepared you well. The curriculum and programs like the Creative Action Service have turned out empathetic, compassionate, critical thinkers who have the knowledge and ability to effect change in society. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out and break the rules sometimes. And talking about sticking your neck out, I find the American author, Ruth Westheimer’s quote apt “my favourite animal is the turtle. The reason is that in other for the turtle to move, it has to stick its neck out. There are going to be times in your life when you are going to stick your neck out. There will be challenges and instead of hiding in a shell, you have to go out and meet them”.

Now a word about failures and mistakes– of which there will be many. In this age of self-help, I’m sure you are familiar with these words of Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Sometimes in their arrogance some successful people would want you to believe that it has all been smooth sailing. Ladies and gentlemen I have not met a successful person who has not had his fair share of failures and setbacks. In my own career and indeed in my personal life I have had more failures and setbacks than successes. What has kept me going is that I never give up. Develop a positive mental attitude that sees failures as learning experiences. I believe that if you’re not failing, you’re not growing.Where would we be if Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers had given into failure?

And don’t worry about making mistakes either; as the artist Neil Gaiman says, just “ make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” … And I would say, “Leave Africa much better off for your being here.”

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Africa is so blessed, that we really ought not to be where we are. As you know, we live in the most resource-rich continent in the world. It has 50% of the world’s gold, 55% of the world’s diamonds, 96% of the world’s platinum, 10% of global oil, millions of acres of arable land and 40% of the world’s potential hydroelectric power. In fact, the Grand Inga Dam along the Congo River will have the capacity to light up the whole of Africa and even export to Europe. And perhaps most importantly, Africa has the youngest population in the world. 200 million people aged between 15 and 24.

In addition,Africa has in the main, been spared the devastating earthquakes, torrential floodingtropical cyclones and tsunamis that engulf other countries. With all of these advantages, Africa ought to be at the top of its game.

Instead, paradoxically, it is the least developed of the continents . With all of our arable land, 239 million Sub-Saharan Africans are under-nourished. Only 66% of Africans have access to clean water; only 33% have access to sanitation, and only 40% to electricity.

Our education systems are the worst in the world, with UNESCO estimating that Africa will soon be home to 50% of the world’s illiterate population. Ghana, it would interest you to know, is at the very bottom of a recently-released global school ranking.

60% of African youth are unemployed – not including those who are underemployed with low pay and few opportunities for advancement. Even worse, African countries have the lowest life expectancy on a global scale, ranging between 38 and 66 years of age. For comparison, Japan has an overall life expectancy of 87.

Whilst Africa is touted to have some of the fastest growing economies, we can see that the ability to translate growth to economic and social advantages for the younger generations is relatively lower than other emerging markets. …Then there is corruption; 30 out of the bottom 70 countries of the corruption perception index are African countries.

Now, a number of reasons have been given for the disjuncture between Africa’s resources and its place in the world. Over the years, many have put forward theories about the impact of colonialism; and of Africa being a victim of the Cold War, as examples. Some even blame foreign aid as the reason for Africa’s underdevelopment.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us be frank with ourselves, Africa’s history of colonialism, our uneven trade relations with the West, even our dependence on aid should not excuse our inability to come up with better strategies for organising and managing our human and natural resources.

The overriding factor that has bedevilled African development has been governance; and bad leadership is at its core.

Between 1952 and 2000, there was a total of 85 coup d’etats in 33 countries. At least 20 African countries have experienced one or more civil wars in the last 40 years. These statistics reflect how deeply entrenched the lack of leadership is across the continent. The legislatures, the judiciary, the executive arms of government, and the public services; all of these public institutions are only as good as the people who run them.

I was asked as guest speakerto share my thoughts on a future for young entrepreneurs in Africa. Of course, boundless opportunities exist for you today. There is no doubt that in almost all economic sectors, Africa presents the potential to make higher returns. Notably, the agriculture sector is largely untapped; and the exponential growth of mobile telephonydemonstrates the abilityof proven technologies to transform societies. To a young entrepreneur, Africa presents an array of fantastic opportunities for innovative strategies. A number of entrepreneurs across the continent are using their ingenuity and business acumen to build globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs in Africa. Companies like M-Pesa, the mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinance company; and mPedigree, which addresses the problem of counterfeit drugs are well known. Then there are organisations like Apopo, an NGO that uses rats to sniff out anti-personnel landmines and detect TB.

Africans everywhere employ their ingenuity to survive and make their mark in business. The size and vibrancy of the informal market across the continent can attest to that.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we’ve seen,the problems we face in Africa are not due to a shortage of entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the hard work and tenacity of many entrepreneurs, inoperable government policy, poor public finance management that leads to inadequate provision of public utilities, the unfriendly macro-economic environment; and a host of other institutional failings severely undermine strategies and destroy the dreams and efforts of entrepreneurs.

Distinguished guests, there is a corelation between the strength of a nation’s institutions and its social and economic development. It is a fact that nations which build strong institutions have done better than those with weak ones. Two countries which exemplifythisare Singapore and South Korea. Singapore is often cited as a model nation, due to its evolution from a small struggling island with little to no resources, to one of the world’s richest nations characterized by order, efficiency and good governance. The founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew credited with this success, was able to transform the nation in less than 30 years. He famously stated that Singapore was able to lift itself from 3rd world to 1st world status due to having visionary leadership, the best judiciary, the best legislature and the best civil service. When you look at where Singapore is in relation to other countries, Yew’s assertion is undeniable. It is well known that Singapore’s public service attracts and retains the best. On almost any development index, Singapore ranks highest. No wonder they have excellent healthcare, excellent public housing, a strong education system, low infant mortality and high life expectancy. Again, ladies and gentlemen, this is a country with no natural resources that actually has to import water from Malaysia.

Unless the full potential of the public sector in Africa is attained, we will not be able to support sustained social and economic development, much less good quality of life for all citizens. As the Singaporean example shows clearly, we can only achieve this by developing a dynamic ecosystem featuring strong institutions and pragmatic sector strategies.

Incidentally South Korea and Malaysiagained independence in the same year as Ghana. Today, South Korea has a per capita income of $33,000 and ranks very high on world economic, social, health, education; and science and technology indexes. Ghana’s per capita income in comparison is $4,000.The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks South Korea in the top 10 for net take-home pay and1ston a number of education rankings including tertiary education attainment. This year, the Bloomberg Innovation Index places South Korea at number one.

In South Korea an important part of their value system is the inculcation in the youth of service to the nation. This value system is encapsulated in the expression Sun Gong Hu Sa , which translates as “first public, later private or personal”. The guiding principle is that without service to the nation, the state will not flourish.Within that systemthere is less of an emphasis on the Western ideal of individualism, which can sometimes manifest as selfishness;and more of a focus on national cohesion and prosperity.Civic-mindedness is promoted to the youth; and children are reminded of their obligations to the country as its future leaders.At the core, these principles are what have accounted for the strength of South Korea’s institutions and public service.

Here in Ghana, we have seen a strong public sector at work before. Indeed much of the progress made in the early years of our independence was as a result of a reliable and competent civil service.

At the time, our founding president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah relied on a relatively small but effective civil service to execute his vision. Sadly, today the public service cannot be said to be as efficient as it was then.

It is self-evident then that thesuccess of countries dependscrucially on the strength of its institutions; and unless bright young women and men of your calibre choose to work ingovernment and the public sector- our African nations will continue to fail their populaces.

I am not unmindful of the reasons why one might shun public service. Politics in particular seems to attract people who are motivated by considerations other than the genuine desire to make a difference. Between, corruption, nepotism, and the antagonistic partisan political discourse, citizens tend to mistrust public servants, and do not feel represented by them. Beyond that, weak public institutions withoutdated and long-winded bureaucratic processes, poor management practices; unsatisfactory conditions of service and aninsidious deficit in skills capacity make working in public institutions unattractive. But it is precisely because the right people don’t enter public service that change has been so long in coming.

To quote Plato, “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato of course was a philosopher, and tended towards uncompromising language; I would never be so uncharitable. What I would say though is that this present reality notwithstanding, it is imperative that top-performing young people like yourselves make it your ambition to be an integral part of the solution. Real transformation of the public sector must be led from within and supported by actors who are committed to change. Armed with the excellent foundation you have received here at SOS, as you progress in your training and in your careers; aim to be the leaders of this transformation. Apply your compassion, your grit and ingenuity to the service of your nation. Refuse to lose your country to the quagmire of mediocrity and malfeasance.Bring excellence, commitment and integrity back to politics and public service in Africa; and take your places as the heroes of our continent!

Now, let me reflect on SOS again for a moment. In this college we have an ideal model of what visionary leadership can achieve. 25 years after its establishment, we continue to witness the realization of President Kutin’s vision. There is an important lesson to be learned here. Without the day-to-day commitment offormer administrators like founding PrincipalFuerstein and Mrs. Margaret Nkrumah;as well as the present administration, faculty and staff, the vision of President Kutin would have remained a mere dream. Affirm your commitment to your vision by taking consistent actions towards its realization. Thisrequires discipline and hard work. That is the reality; and you know this. You did not make it to graduation today without affirming your commitment to succeed academically. Carry theprinciple with you through life:withoutaction, no vision can be realised.

And as we celebrate 25 years of excellence and 25 years of “Knowledge in the service of Africa”, we ask, where is this cadre of skilled young people who have been primed through their SOS experience to be the future leaders of our continent? The evidence suggests that graduates of this fine school have not yet put knowledge in the service of Africa’spublic service. In Ghana at least, in 25 years, this fine collegehas not produced one member of the executive or the legislature.

Mind you, SOS is not the only guilty one. A friend recently made an observation that graduates of the top 10 schools in Ghana make up less than 20% of the government and the legislature.

It is distressing that our top students who proceed to attend some of the best universities in the world tend to stay away, leaving the continent withoutthe leadership attributes desperately needed to effect change. They end up in the West in pursuit of better opportunities. Ghana, for instance, has one of the worst cases of brain drain in the world, relative to the population. We are second only to Haiti. We should find this alarming.

The notion that European and North American countries can provide better opportunities to African youth is seductive, but it is often a mischaracterization. Opportunities made available to migrants in the West can sometime be grossly exaggerated, while conviction in the potential of our educated youth to change our society is understated.

It is true that living and working in the developed West has its conveniences, however, here on this continent, you have the opportunity to change the course of the future and then leave behind a legacy that will be far-reaching in its scope and impact. …Besides, there is truly no place like home.

Having said that, in today’s context of globalization you will most often find yourselves living and working within global spaces. You have been privileged to have had an international perspective embedded in your curriculum so early on. Students and alumni, the Pan-African experience you have enjoyed is rare for most young Africans. The ideal of solidarity that has been inculcated in you; and the experience of living and learning side-by-side with students from different countries will stand you in good stead in the global arena. Use the understanding and insight you’ve gained to fostergood working relationships with your international counterparts and continue to practice sensitivity in your dealings with individuals. African solidarityand cooperation is essential to the progress of the continent.

Ladies and gentlemen,theinspiring and ambitious projectundertaken by SOS International College is truly praiseworthy. Providing the best students from SOS villages in Africa the opportunity to move on to university after secondary schoolis genuinely commendable; and the College has been a resounding success.Perhaps over the next 25 years we can see it expand its embrace to include more underprivileged children from outside the SOS family. Nowadays, innovative ways of sourcing funds areavailable. I am sure that by working with industry and other organisations like churches, endowment funds, scholarship schemes and other funding vehicles can be established to support more children to attend this exceptional academic institution.

To maintain these high standards of education in spite of the difficult era we find ourselves in is not easy. The administration, faculty and staff have every reason to be proud, as do you, the graduates of 2015.

To the parents and caregivers of these talented young people, I want to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made and the hard workit has taken to bring them this far. As a parent myself, I do empathize. The pride you feel today is deserved and well-earned. I am sure they will continue to make your efforts worthwhile.

In conclusion let me remind you that the path will not always be smooth. There will be many stumbling blocks and when you find that success is becoming elusive don’t give in to the temptation to take the easy road. When the trying times come, as they will, rely strongly on the moral and ethical values that your training here has given you. In the timeless words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the influential 19th century literary figure, “ Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” Let these words remind you that your vision for yourself requires that you break new ground.Shore up your courage and do what you know is right. You are among the finest and the best-trained in Africa. You have what it takes to face your challenges head on. Make your hard work count for something; for yourself, for your country and for Africa.

I know you will build a meaningful life and make Africa a better place for posterity. Thank you.


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