SPEAKING AT A CONGREGATION
The Vice Chancellor, Mr Chairman, All protocol observed, the graduating class, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour to have been called upon to speak at this important event and to share my life experience with our fresh graduants who are moving into a new phase of their lives. First of all, i must congratulate you for making it through the best university in West Africa; University of Ghana, Legon. I know you did encounter a lot of challenges coming this far and i must say here, that more and tougher challenges lie ahead of you. I have wondered what i could possibly say to you that would help inspire or spark something in you as you go forward to face these challenges in this new phase of your lives and career.
I have many stories of my life to tell, but considering the time given for my speech, i will dwell on only two and i hope that in these stories, you will find lessons that will help light your path.
I am Ethel Cofie, CEO of EDEL Technology Consulting (A digital……….company in Ghana and now in the UK) and founder of Women in Tech Africa ; Africa’s largest Women in Tech group, spread in over thirty African countries with physical chapters in Accra, London and Nairobi. Hopefully, by the early part of next year, we will be in Johannesburg and Legos.
It has been an interesting journey and i must confess that my story was not always nice and glamorous. Life as it is, is full of challenges, and one of the early lessons that i learnt (in my first story which i will tell shortly), is the fact that life does not give you what you deserve, but what you negotiate and fight for.
In this first story, life gave me a big blow when i was rejected by Wesley Girls High School because i could not make the grades in my BECE Exams to qualify as one of their students. Thinking to myself at the time, i said to myself “If i ever have a chance, if i ever make it to the top in life, i would want Wesley Girls High School, to wish that i was an alumina” and here i am today! One good lesson you could learn from this story is never to let the blows that life is sure to give you as you journey in it, put an end to the dreams you have of making it to the top. Again, never allow any circumstance determine your worth in life but rather, deem every difficulty as an opportunity to prove your worth. Being rejected has been one of the things that has driven me to where i am today. Yes, i failed to make the grade but that did not mean i was worthless. Mfantseman Girls High School gave me a chance and i proved myself worth the opportunity given me. In any circumstance, be it good or bad, prove yourself worth more.
And now, my second story: After my senior secondary education, i did a Degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Distributers system in the United Kingdom. My essay topic read: “The Computer is dump, I am smart and i can make it do what i want” I guess it was the topic alone that got me on as a Masters student because i happened to be the only female that did my specialization. The lesson here is to see your challenges and difficulties as dump and yourself, as smart. In that way, you get to make the best of all the challenges. I was headhunted, and so did not return to Ghana after my Masters Degree and ended up doing a couple of things. I took on my first job. Life was not always rosy but i moved on, making the best of all opportunities.
After a few years, i left my lucrative job and very comfortable life in London and returned to Ghana with the intention of starting a Software Business of my own (EDEL Technology Consulting). I told nobody about it. Not even my parents, because considering that they were the typical African parents, i knew they would object. They only got to know of my intentions after i had shipped all my belongings and arrived in Ghana. Everybody thought i was insane and guess what, there was yet another big blow for me. I failed completely. A lot of my working life was spent in the United Kingdom, where people understood technology. However, painfully, i came to understand what it meant to build technology in Ghana, where at the time most people did not understand what it meant. You can just imagine what my parents and people would say. The blow was overwhelming because i had spent my whole savings with little or nothing in my bank account. But again i girded my loins, mastered courage and fought the challenges that life gave me .I took on a few jobs, did a lot of projects and started EDEL Technology consulting version two(2) and i am glad to report that the second version has grown to the point where we have clients not only in Ghana, but in the United Kingdom. A lesson i hope you would learn from this is to believe in who you are and what you are capable of doing. Only when you do this, can you walk into a room, with your head up high and the confidence that you are one of the best that the world could ever wish for. I pray here that this confidence be not taken as arrogance as the typical African would. Confidence is when you are bold and know you possess answers to the many questions that life throws at us.
Alongside, i founded Women in Tech Africa and initiated the 1st Pan African women in tech meet up. Here, i was also faced with the many challenges and difficulties that come with celebrating women and making them see their worth as well as finding their place in society. We all know the difficulties of being a female in a typical African country like Ghana. However, i am again glad to announce that Women in Tech Africa has become so successful that we are now spread over thirty (30) African countries around the world and our vision is to empower women with the skills in technology to grow their businesses and ideas. We hope to create opportunities for women and help them make the best of it and above all, show the world, what an African woman is capable of achieving. For this work, i have been featured on CNN and BBC and in the we will be opening offices in Zambia, Nigeria, Canada, DRC and Benin in the coming months.
I have also handled many projects and of all of these projects, the most interesting was the project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Mobile Technology for Health Project. This project was targeted towards illiterate and pregnant mothers; how to be able to provide them with information and also work with the National Health Service to provide them with health information. I saw this as an opportunity and could see clearly we were saving lives. It wasn’t a commercial or business system and it taught me how to build technology for people who do not understand technology. Whiles doing that, i had a lot of jobs in between and all these taught me a number of skills: How to sell myself, how to sell an idea and how to sell a product. These are skills which i believe can help you handle some of the challenges that you may face as you go out and also, help light your path.
To round up my speech, i would like to emphasise again, that as you journey out to build careers for yourselves, all will not be rosy and life will not give you what you deserve but what you negotiate and fight for. The challenges are many but when you believe in yourself and what you are capable of, and do not get discouraged, then only, will you make it to the top as a proud winner and have “that Moment” in life, when all you have ever worked hard for, all you have to go through, makes sense and is worth it. I had my very “moment” a few years back when Michelle Obama hugged me. I found myself in tears and found some peace wash over me. You have that “moment” too, awaiting to be grabbed!
Again, Congratulations and all the best in your real life experience!!