Featured Profiles

The Assiduous Engineer Who Changed The Lives Of Ghanaians

Patrick Awuah is no ordinary man. After receiving a stellar and distinctive education, he decided to pass on this gift by starting Ashesi University, a not-for-profit institution in Ghana, instead of continuing at his stable job in Microsoft Seattle. His philanthropy and hard work helped him rank as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune in 2015. 


Patrick grew up in Accra, the capital of Ghana, during the military dictatorship. He attended Achimota School and was also a house prefect. This was Patrick’s first leadership achievement with many more to follow.


Patrick was one of the few fortunate who was able to escape Ghana during the destructive dictatorship. He was able to move to the U.S. on a full scholarship to attend Swarthmore College in 1985. At Swarthmore, Patrick earned undergraduate degrees in Engineering and Economics.


He was immediately recruited at Microsoft after graduation as a program manager and software engineer.


After joining Microsoft, Patrick returned to Ghana for a short visit, his first in more than five years. Upon reminiscing about his experience, Patrick said, “I was extremely disillusioned. Nothing worked. I came back to the U.S. and told my colleagues at Microsoft, “I’d never return to Africa to live.”


Nevertheless, the future had a different plan for Patrick.


When crises erupted in Rwanda and Sudan, Patrick started doubting his seemingly strong belief of never returning to Africa. Patrick felt accountable when one of the Vice Presidents at Microsoft initiated a campaign to support Rwanda. “I remember feeling extremely guilty because here was an American, not an African, who was doing something about a crisis that I had not even thought to do,” said Patrick.


However, it was not until the birth of his son that he realised that he wanted to contribute to his home country. Looking back to the moment he knew that he had a responsibility to fulfil, Patrick said, “When I looked for the first time into my son’s eyes, I realized I had been extremely arrogant to think that I had within me the power to disown a continent. Africa will matter to my children, to the way they see themselves; the way the world sees them.” 


Patrick proceeded to quit Microsoft in 1997 to focus on his plan to help Ghana. During his time at Microsoft, Patrick had gained a reputation for taking on challenging projects and successfully completing them. He further used these skills to identify the root of problems in Ghana and worked towards repairing these.


Patrick believed that a prominent cause of problems in Ghana was poor leadership at all levels. He compared his experience studying in the U.S. to the traditional education offered in Ghana. This comparison allowed Patrick to analyse that the U.S. focused on critical thinking and problem solving while Ghana’s educational system tested the ability to memorise and recall narrow subject matter.


After careful consideration, he knew that he wanted to build a liberal arts university to improve the educational system in Ghana. This led to the birth of Ashesi University. The name is derived from the word ‘beginning’ in Akan, one of Ghana’s native languages.


However, it was difficult to leave Seattle and move back to Ghana. “It’s hard to leave a good job and go off and do something this risky,” he said. Since he was about to undertake a massive challenge, Patrick wanted to make sure that he was fully equipped to change the course of Ghana’s educational system. Patrick enrolled in an MBA program at the prestigious UC Berkeley.


His experience at Berkeley helped him develop a framework for building the revolutionary Ashesi University. UC Berkeley and Swarthmore both supported Patrick’s project by co-designing a curriculum that combined the traditional liberal arts college experience with technical majors. He graduated from Berkeley in 1999 and moved back to Ghana with his family immediately to create Ashesi.


The nation’s first liberal arts college, Ashesi, quickly gained a reputation for innovation, communication and leadership. In 2012, it was ranked as one of the top ten Most Respected Companies in Ghana and was the first educational institution in history to win the award. Patrick was also named as the 4th Most Respected CEO in Ghana in the same award ceremony. The first class of students graduated in 2006 and the university already made its mark in history by inspiring and educating the next generation of leaders.



Patrick went on to receive the prestigious World Innovation Summit for Education Prize for Ashesi’s impact in Africa. He also won the MacArthur Fellowship and the McNulty Prize. Patrick was also presented with the Membership of the Order of the Volta by the President of Ghana, one of Ghana’s highest and most prestigious awards, given to philanthropists who have dedicated their goals to servicing the country. To further recognise Patrick’s extraordinary efforts, he was nominated as a Global Leader 2007 by the World Economic Forum. He also won prestigious awards from Microsoft, UC Berkeley and the Millennium Excellence Award for Educational Development.



With Patrick’s unwavering dedication to service and passion to overcome educational inequality, he has inspired and changed lives in Ghana. In Patrick’s words, “I was stalling because of fear of failure. But if I didn’t try, I would have failed anyway so – why not try?”