Patrick Awuah: The man who left Microsoft to build a university in Ghana

By MARK BYRON WITH ROBERT JOSEPH AHOLA

Multimillionaire Patrick Awuah is a new generation of African entrepreneurs who have reversed the “African diaspora” and returned back to their native land and, as such, has disproved author Thomas Wolfe’s adage that you can’t go home again. Awuah has, in fact, done so and has flourished in the process. So has the university he came back to fund, found and accredit in his native Ghana – Ashesi University in Accra. 

When he made this major paradigm shift in his life, it came as a surprise to everyone, not the least of whom was Patrick Awuah himself. By every lifestyle metric, Awuah had all the reason in the world to stay right where he was. In 1997, he was already 15 years into a longstanding lucrative job with Microsoft where he’d made millions working as a programme manager. When he decided to take this leap of faith, the most supportive person of all was his wife who saw in Patrick the burning desire to return to his African homeland.

Originally, Patrick left his native Ghana in the early 1980s as a part of the traditional cultural diaspora to Europe and the US, where college-age African students come to their supra-society of choice, attain a degree from a highly regarded university and stay on with a path to citizenship and a lucrative career. His job at Microsoft, especially during the exponential growth years of the 1990s paid huge dividends, and it would have been very easy for him to stay right where he was and amass an even larger fortune.

But Patrick Awuah had always nurtured the idea of a private university in Ghana, because he recognised the need for institutions of higher learning especially in his homeland as something of paramount importance. To shore up his own academic credentials, Patrick even went so far as going back to get his master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley. But even after he had gone that far into the pursuit of his dream, he would wake up on more than one occasion, wondering if he’d done the right thing.

“And then I read the words of Goethe,” Patrick remembers: “ Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it – begin it now.’”

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