“Your contributions to Ghana exemplify Berkeley’s highest values,” Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks wrote in a March 16 letter to Awuah. “Your work to bring international recognition to Ghana by founding Ashesi University has made you one of the most renowned citizens of Ghana. The range of impact is extensive and has significantly impacted the well-being of the Ghanaian people.”
In the same month, Awuah was also named to Fortune’s list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders in 2015—joining Pope Francis, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. The list honors “extraordinary men and women who are transforming business, government, philanthropy, and so much more.”
Awuah founded Ashesi University in 2002, after graduating from Haas. While at Haas, he came up with the idea to build a university in Ghana and turned it into a project in the school’s International Business Development (IBD) Program. Ashesi means “beginnings” in the African language Twi, and the name embodies the school’s ambitions. “We’re trying to train leaders of exceptional integrity, who can lead a renaissance in Africa,” Awuah said in a 2012 article in Berkeley-Haas magazine. “There have been times when it has seemed like Mission Impossible, but magic is happening.”
In 2009, Awuah won the Aspen Institute’s John P. McNulty Prize, a $100,000 grant that recognizes the most outstanding, innovative, replicable, and self-sustainable projects to address social problems. In 2012, Haas honored Awauah with the school’s Leading Through Innovation Award, established to celebrate Haas alumni who embody the school’s emphasis on innovative leadership and serve as exemplars to others in the Berkeley-Haas community.
Awuah grew up in Ghana, leaving home in 1985 with $50 in his pocket and a full scholarship to Swarthmore College. He rose through the ranks at Microsoft from engineer to program manager. The birth of his first child inspired him to shift his focus back to Africa and consider how he could make a difference there.
With Ashesi, Awuah aimed to create a new kind of liberal arts university focused on quality, ethics, and personal empowerment; a university that would spark new enterprises, new solutions, and a model for other universities in Africa. Since its founding, the university has built a 100-acre hillside campus and graduated hundreds of students. Under a 10-year plan, Ashesi’s goals included recruiting more students from Africa beyond Ghana; expanding academic programs to include engineering and applied sciences, management and economics, and law and society; and planning for succession.
The Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award includes a cash prize of $15,000, an engraved medallion, and paid travel expenses to the awards presentation, to be held at University Commencement May 16, 2015. Established in 1964 by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Haas, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Peter E. Haas and Mr. and Mrs. Richard N. Goldman, the award acknowledges their parents’ devotion to the university and their interest in international affairs.