Patrick Awuah, MBA 99, University Founder in Ghana, Receives Aspen Institute Award

Patrick Awuah, MBA 99, founder of Ashesi University in Ghana, was awarded the Aspen Institute's second annual John P. McNulty Prize, which recognizes extraordinary young leaders who are making creative, effective, and lasting contributions to their communities.

Awuah was awarded the $100,000 prize Nov. 5 in New York by a jury that included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Bill Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The prize is given annually to a fellow of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, a worldwide community of entrepreneurial business, government, and civil society leaders committed to values-based leadership. Awuah was selected among a pool of five finalists.

“In Patrick Awuah we have found not only immense personal leadership in founding Ashesi, one of the African continent’s first liberal arts universities, but in the school’s commitment to ethics and civics as a central part of education, he has guaranteed future generations of leaders for Ghana, Africa, and the world," said Anne Welsh McNulty, wife of the late John P. McNulty.

Awuah, who was born in Ghana, left a lucrative career at Microsoft to enroll at the Haas School because he believed a business education would bring him closer toward realizing his dream of founding a university in his native country. While at Haas, Awuah's idea for the university became a student project in the school's International Business Development Program, and so captivated classmate Nina Marini, MBA 99, that she jumped on board and went on to change her career goals to join Awuah in founding the university in 2002. She is currently a member of Ashesi’s board of trustees.

Awuah's mission was to create a new kind of liberal arts university that focuses on quality, ethics, and personal empowerment to be the spark of a revitalized Africa and a catalyst for new enterprises, new solutions, and a model for other universities in Africa.

"Ashesi University is training the next generation of leaders in this country, not just political leaders but business leaders and social leaders, and it's training them in a way that helps them fulfill their full potential, that really encourages them to shine," Awuah said in a video about the university.

Ashesi (which means “beginning” in Akan, one of Ghana’s native languages) offers a four-year undergraduate liberal arts education with a focus on business, technology, and leadership. The rigorous liberal arts education promotes critical thinking skills that give students the confidence to tackle complex problems and make positive contributions in any setting.

Ashesi students participate in a required four-year leadership seminar series, which challenges them to discuss issues critical to building a better society. Students volunteer their time, knowledge, and skills in such projects as teaching basic business skills to former child soldiers from Liberia, volunteering at orphanages, and working with NGOs to provide micro-financing to women.

The university has graduated 173 students and currently has 424 students from 14 different African countries enrolled. Awuah aims to broaden Ashesi's impact within Africa by growing the university to 2,000 students and has recently broken ground on a new campus outside of Accra.

In addition to winning the McNulty Prize, Awuah is one of six finalists for the Microsoft Alumni Foundation's Integral Fellows Award to be awarded later this month. Judges for that award include including former President Jimmy Carter, Gates Sr., social entrepreneur Bill Drayton, eBay founder and chairman Pierre Omidyar, and nonprofit leader and former Bain & Company CEO Tom Tierney.

To watch a video about Awuah and his work, visit