This is a speech delivered by Andrew Takyi-Appiah, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zeepay at the 93rd-anniversary celebration and Speech and Prize Giving Day of St. Augustine’s College in Cape Coast.
As we have gathered here today under the theme ‘Supporting the foundation that shapes future generations’ I need not remind you that our great school has shaped our fathers before us and will do same for our aspiring young ones seated amidst us today.
It is a tremendous honour to stand before you all today, at this yearly gathering that has come to mean so much to me. My time at St Augustine’s is one I remember with warmth and pride, and coming back here reminds me of why this place looms so large in my mind, as I look out at my fellow alumni in this audience, distinguished men and women who have brought pride and honour to this institution.
On my desk I keep a few mementos, personal items that inspire me in my work. Among photos of my family and artifacts from my father there is a St Augustine’s plaque, in pride of place, as a reminder of where I hail from and what proud legacy I have to live up to.
As happy an occasion this is, we come together at a difficult time in our nation’s history. We are in the midst of an economic crisis, social unrest and a fundamental lack of faith in the future from the very generation we depend on to build it. It may seem like an odd time to speak about success, but I firmly believe it is not just the right but a crucial time to do so.
It is often said that our leaders must serve as example for our behaviour, that nothing can truly change until they do, but I beg to differ. We must be the change we want to see in our country and each one of us must assume the leadership we seek because if we don’t, success and sustainable development will remain just out of our reach.
Ghana has long suffered with revenue mobilization, despite its abundance of God’s bounty, and though efforts have been made on both political sides, we’ve found ourselves repeatedly seeking relief for the same problems. Our nation needs a new deal, a new path forward, and as an entrepreneur in learning, I firmly believe that the path to prosperity is spelled in entrepreneurship, as it is what has shaped our world and continues to do so.
Entrepreneurship is something we often pay lip service to, claiming to want our youth to engage in, but we don’t necessarily realize its value until disaster hits. The pandemic not only showed us the true importance of national ingenuity and self-reliance but also democratized the use of technology for the very basic things of life, such as bill payments, food delivery and online education. Suddenly, there was no time for long-winded committee meetings and political debate – we needed new solutions, brave ideas and out-of-the-box thinking.
Fellow apsunians, it is high time for us to invest in shaping these young minds that are on the cusp of adulthood. We need to embrace design thinking in our knowledge dispensing protocols, we need to encourage opinion thinking and individualism, we desperately need to develop tomorrow’s Zeepay’s, Glico, Vanguard, Star Assurance and the many local companies that employ young people and contribute to GDP.
Such change requires commitment from all sides, be they political, civil society or the general public, all bonding together to provide the youth of today with the tools to become the leaders of tomorrow. There are many things that need to go into that toolbox – from startup hubs to mentorship programs, tax incentives for aspiring businesses and easy and safe access to necessary government services – but I would like us today to focus on the less obvious necessities.
I stand before you all today as the founder and CEO of ZeePay, but I didn’t just find myself in that position. My road to success was paved with trial and error, disappointment and downright failure, and that is the story of any entrepreneur worth his or her salt.
Fostering a nation of entrepreneurs does not merely require us to build the aforementioned infrastructure to enable financial growth, but it also requires us to change the way we measure success in ourselves and how we model it to others.
In this country, we put a high value on social validation, which is a fancy way of saying that we like to show off. The cars, the clothes, the parties, the lifestyle, it is all broadcast throughout our communities and the message is that the destination – not the journey – is what matters and that things equal accomplishment.
That kind of societal culture is poison to the entrepreneurial mind, as it tells him or her that it I better to have US$500 today than US$5000 tomorrow and that success is immediate and lavish, which I can tell you from personal experience is simply not true. Success grows, it doesn’t explode, it is birthed through pain and patience, as anything else which is truly worthwhile.
So how do we change the mindset of our youth, and thereby the fate of our nation? We do so by not just telling our success stories, but also actively sharing the tales of our failures, to normalize the journey of growth and encourage young entrepreneurs to stick it out, to keep going, to try and fail so they may learn and succeed.
My fellow students, I used to sell pineapple juice out of a cart on the street. It was my first business venture and I spent all my waking hours in the sun and dust, many days living off nothing but my own merchandise. I started a diaper business that went bust, a local fabric line that didn’t take off, I fell down and got up again and again until I found my footing. I’m not successful now despite these experiences, I am successful now because of these experiences, and the stories of the journey is just as important for the future graduates of this room to hear as the stories of my destination.
As I look across this room today, I see many successful men and women, fellow alumni who have distinguished careers and flourishing businesses. I will ask of you today to join me in mentorship of those around us who are just starting out, those still roaming these halls and mapping their futures between classes. I ask of you, my peers, to tell them about your journey, about the non starters, the bumps in the road and the failures on the way to success. Let us teach the younger generation what success really is, how it is achieved and the role of perseverance in greatness.
By mentoring our young the right way we will build this country, right our wrongs and instill a Ghanaian dream in our young that is no longer to leave this country but to lead this country, each individual taking responsibility for the future of mother Ghana.
In that vein of responsibility, I would like to use this platform to commit to the establishment of an innovation center on campus and a contribution of GH¢1million to an endowment fund purposely targeted at innovation as part of curricula to develop the beautiful minds that will shape tomorrow. Along with that commitment also comes a promise of an open door to any of you who seek council and mentorship, a humble offer to pay forward the lessons I have learned along the way.
I thank you all for the sincere honor bestowed upon me today, and I extend a special thank you to the 98-year group – congratulations for your tenacity and drive to make this day a success, you are a credit to our great alma mater. Let’s all continue to enjoy this weekend and to take the precious opportunities given here to learn from and with each other. Until we meet again – Ayeeko!
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