Posted by: mhirdyounger | April 15, 2014

Ghana’s National Agribusiness Champions Camp

I recently wrote a post explaining that I think a huge barrier to long term development of Ghana’s agricultural sector is changing the way that agriculture is perceived. Changing perceptions away from agriculture as hardship or poor man’s work towards engaging youth through showcasing agriculture as a business and as an innovative and exciting sector to invest in. 

Last week, we did just that. 

We ran a National Agribusiness Champions Camp during the 33rd Agricultural Colleges Student Union (ACSU) Games and Exhibition. It included an Opportunities Fair which showcased a variety of private sector agricultural stakeholders introducing themselves and interacting with students. This was followed by a National Agribusiness Competition, in which youth from across Ghana pitched their innovative businesses.

What did this program achieve? 

First, it broadened the mindsets and attitudes of the students as to what is available to them in this sector. They were able to see the breadth of the agricultural sector, with a lot of private sector opportunities showcased for them.  It was amazing to see the students engaging with representatives of agribusinesses, asking so many questions and engaging in intense discussions!

Students going through an Opportunities Fair.

Students going through an Opportunities Fair.

Students interacted with private sector. This Abrapo Cocoa representative introduces students to the private sector cocoa extension opportunities.

Students interacted with private sector. This Abrapo Cocoa representative introduces students to the private sector cocoa extension opportunities.

Second, it invested in students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes in business and entrepreneurship. Students’ exhibited their innovative business ideas, pitching them in front of a panel of judges. This competitive arena not only benefited those students that were directly involved, but all those students that were observing and seeing their colleagues’ ideas, presentations and business models.

Students pitching their innovative businesses to a panel of judges and their colleagues.

Students pitching their innovative businesses to a panel of judges and their colleagues.

Third, we highlighted how innovative students can be and their potential to impact the agricultural sector. The agribusinesses that the students pitched were not your basic business, they were innovative and exciting ideas with a strong business model to back them up. The students had already gone through a production cycle to help prove their model.

Students check out the innovative products of their colleagues.

Students check out the innovative products of their colleagues.

2014-04-11 16.03.50

The businesses were: beeswax candles to rival the normal white candles on the market, organic insecticide made from neem, a full scale piggery, a herbal lemon, honey and ginger drink and honey-based bathing soap.  The herbal drink took the first place prize with a dynamic and convincing business pitch.


Finally, it was a collaborative Public Private Partnership. Between EWB, a not-for-profit, CCLEAr, a private sector incubator as well as the colleges and ACSU, public sector bodies. It’s an exciting partnership with industry that we hope to see more of in the future of the colleges! A huge thanks goes out to CCLEAr, ACSU  and each of the colleges for the roles that they played and their support!


Last year we piloted the event at a smaller scale for the first time at the 32nd ACSU Games. Check out what Albert, the winner of that event, had to say about the impact it had on him by reading this post.

Students competing in the National Agribusiness Competition.

Students competing in the National Agribusiness Competition.

This event is just one example of how we can change the attitudes and perceptions of agriculture to engage youth and drive agricultural development in Ghana! 

Posted by: mhirdyounger | March 30, 2014

Time Management Toolbox

How often do you think: Where did the last two hours go? What am I supposed to be working on right now? Oh no, I forgot to do that report! There’s not enough hours in a day…Well, even if there may not be enough hours in a day, there’s not going to be more, so we need to learn to work with what we have! 

One of my own strengths is in organization and time management, and people often ask me how I do it? So I’ve decided to use this blog to share some of my tricks and tools.

images (1)On one hand, I’m naturally an organized, neat, timely, and focused person. But, on the other hand, I’ve built skills, acquired tricks and learned habits that have helped me deal with all the parts of my work in a timely and organized way. I think everyone is capable of building those skills, habits and tricks.

I break time management down into three categories: Organization & Prioritization, Dead time & Focus, and Knowing Yourself.

Planning & Organization

This is all about what you should be working on when. What are your priorities and how should you schedule your time?

1. Plan > It’s a mistake to show up on Monday morning and just start working on the first thing that pops into your head. Instead, you should be working on what needs to be done for Monday morning. You need to know what are your outcomes and outputs for the week and the longer term.

Tool: Workplan. Having a detailed work plan and referring to it each week will help you situate your work that week in your broader goals.

Tool: To do Lists: Yup, lists might be basic, but they keep you on track. And nothing feels better than checking something off the list! Try categorizing your list by the different outcome areas of your work (e.g. XX Project, People Management, XX Partner Management, Professional Development), which will help you see how all the pieces fit together in a week.

Tip: Put even the little things on your list! Even that 2 minute email or that quick conversation. It’ll remind you it needs to happen, allow you to schedule it into your week and it feels great to check off!

Tip: Be realistic with your lists and workplans. Don’t put more than you can handle. For example, having 3 meetings booked at once is setting yourself up for failure at 2 out of 3, if not all 3 meetings.

Tip: Use short and long term lists (e.g. weekly lists and quarterly workplans). It will help you concentrate on this week’s priorities while not losing sight of longer term goals and outcomes.

2. Prioritization> Don’t just have a list with everything on it together, but understand what the level of importance and time required for each item. Understand which are the most important items and which items need your attention urgently. We can often pay attention to the Urgent and Noisy things on our list, to the detriment of those quieter, longer term priorities that are also important.

Tool: Try using a Urgent/Important matrix to categorize your to do list. It will help you see where there are timely items and where there are important items that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Try it – This week, try putting your to do list into this matrix and see if it helps you prioritize your time! 



Tool: In your to do lists, try prioritizing those outcomes that you are actually able to work on, achieve or see progress with. Think of three spheres: the middle is your area of control (where you have full responsibility), the second is your area of influence (where you have some influence but not control) and the last is a  sphere with no control or influence. Don’t spend your time in that outside sphere, but rather prioritize things inside your sphere of control and influence.


Dead Time & Focus

There are so many parts of the day where we lose time and are unproductive, what I call dead time. It’s also easy to lose focus and forget your plan and prioritization. 

1. Focus - When I ask people why they don’t use lists, the answer is often because they don’t ever implement them. Workplans are only useful if you use them! If you have a list for the week and didn’t check anything off, well either your list didn’t include the important things  or you didn’t focus during the week!

16924590_sTip: (This is my favourite tip!) Don’t start your day with email. Email is a time eater. If you start your day at 9am, before you know it, lunch is here and all you have done is email. Although communication is important, it’s not the whole of your job. Try starting with a content-heavy outcome and then booking in thirty minutes or an hour of email before lunch.

yes noTip:
Yes, not now, no. A lot of things come up during the day that take you away from your priorities and plan. It’s important to learn to say “yes, not now or no” to these things that come up. If the matter can wait, schedule a time for it in your week later. If the matter is actually the responsibility of someone else, direct it there. For example, if you have a weekly scheduled meeting with one of your colleagues and they come up to do during the week to talk about something, first ask “is this something that can wait until our meeting on Thursday?” – if it is not, deal  with it earlier (now or later) and if it is not urgent, put it on the agenda for Thursday.

Tip: Blocking 2 hour slots in the morning and afternoon for more content heavy pieces is a great way to concentrate on something but not let is take over your day.

bored student2.   Losing time - If you counted all the hours in a week that you spend in transportation, waiting for your computer to boot up, waiting on something from someone else, etc. I think we would be surprised. Why not use that ‘dead’ time to do something productive? Like check your emails or read interesting articles. Or, if you need a breather, get up and walk or stretch or take some reflection time.

Tool: Pocket – I love reading articles on long taxi/trotro rides with the Pocket App. With this app you save interesting articles to read later and they are stored on your phone. This has saved me from having thirty tabs always open on my browser because I don’t want to exit that article – just save it for later!

Know Yourself

Finally, everyone is different. Everyone works in different ways and is motivated by different things. It’s important that you know how, when, where and why you work best. 

  • Where do you have the most productive meetings?
  • When do you like working on content-heavy outputs, or things that require a lot of concentration?
  • How do you like working on reports?

Tool: Rewards – One way to motivate yourself is to give yourself rewards when you reach an objective. For example, if I need to work on a briefing paper and I’m really not feeling motivated, I will tell myself, if you work on this for 2 hours, you can update our organization’s twitter page (something I find fun to work on). Some ideas of rewards: a walk, stretching, getting a coffee, eating a snack, checking your phone, checking your twitter/facebook, reading that article, etc.

Try it – Write out some rewards that you think would work to get you motivated and try them out this week!

What is your carrot? What motivates you?

What is your carrot? What motivates you?

Where to go from here? 

Today is Sunday, tomorrow starts a new week and a new month is around the corner. Why not pick one of the tools above and commit to really trying it this month. Not starting and then stopping, but allowing yourself to use the month to build the skill, learn and adapt that tool to you. Make your time management commitment today!


Posted by: mhirdyounger | March 16, 2014

Too much head-ucation

`There is too much head-ucation in Ghana, we need to engage hearts and empower hands as well as enlightening heads.`- Dr. William Okyere, HuD Group

I attended an event this weekend put on by Agromindset about Surviving After School, encouraging youth to think about entrepreneurship and their social capital to set themselves up for success after they graduate. Ever since the program, I have been mulling over what Dr. William Okyere from HuD Group shared about too much head-ucation in Ghana. I think `head-ucation` is a critical gap in our education system in Ghana (and globally), one that is an opportunity to really invest in the potential of youth.

Head-ucation, what does it mean? It means an education that only focuses on knowledge, the acquisition of facts and figures. `Chew and pour`as one lecturer at Kwadaso Agricultural College once described to me. It`s a rote-style of teaching, encouraging the memorization of dates and names. It`s an education that is lacking.

As Dr. Okyere rightly states, education needs to also consider the heart and the hands.

With the heart, education needs to inspire youth. It needs to help youth identify their passion, dream about their future and envision their career. There`s a quote that I love that fits here perfectly: Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman. If education helps youth to come alive with their hearts and their passions, they will do great things.

With their hands, youth need to build practical skills. You can have all the knowledge and passion in the world, but if you don`t know how to do something, how to take the first step, how to apply what you know and love, you will go nowhere. Empowering hands builds the capacity of youth to apply knowledge and passion into reality, into practice.

Practical skills are best build through experiential learning. Experiential learning happens outside of the classroom. It is `doing`, it is actually experiencing what you are learning. AgEx`s work at Ghana`s agricultural colleges emphasizes experiential learning to build the skills of Ghana`s future agriculturalists. Our work on the Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship Project, scaled across Ghana, gets students out of the classroom, actually starting their own businesses in order to build their skills in entrepreneurship, business and innovation. By actually running their own businesses, students gain practical and experiential knowledge, skills and attitudes about what it means to be an entrepreneur.

We need to stop limiting youth by having them memorize in the classroom. We need to get them out into the field, applying what they are learning and inspiring them by engaging their passions. As one speaker at this weekend`s conference said, there`s a difference between `schooling`and getting an education. Let`s move away from providing too much `head-ucation`and towards inspiring passion and building practical skills through experiential learning. That is the kind of education that will shape the future leaders and change agents we need to develop.

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