My Life After Uni shares life hacks from some of Ghana’s brightest business professionals about succeeding in your career after the University.
In this edition, we profile the stimulating story of Foster Awuntiti Akugri, an exceptional leader, a smart entrepreneur, a solution oriented individual and an innovator who is blazing the trail for the youth to aspire to reach greater heights.
Foster Awuntiti Akugri is the Manager of Stanbic Bank Incubator Ghana and founder and President of Hacklab Foundation. He is a graduate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology who studied Computer Science. In the University, because of his leadership traits he became the Student Representative Council (SRC) Programmes Director where he championed the development of a standard and operational manual for programmes on campus which has been handed down to almost all programmes Directors. He went on to become a clerk of Parliament. Also, because he is endowed with enormous intelligence and wisdom, he was sought after by the student leaders of whom he supported by giving advice and assisted them in drawing programmes and projects.
- Current role: Manager, Stanbic Bank Incubator Ghana
- Location: Accra, Ghana
- University Attended: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
- Program studied: Computer Science
- One word to describe your experience of Life after Uni: Progressive
How will you briefly describe your university life and its impact on your life currently?
Well, I think going to the University you have the choice of focusing on your academics and building your life. Senior high school prepares you for the University and the University prepares you for life after university. The real world is unlike transitioning from senior high school to the university where academics is the primary focus. It is where you start to focus on personal development and what your value would be to the market when you leave. And that is where subjects like competitive advantage, Unique Selling Proposition (USP) are taught. What work experience have you gathered, what kind of experience or technical expertise do you have that will make me choose you over other candidates? So it’s much more competitive in that it’s more about what’s the package, who you are, how can I leverage you to grow my business or how can I leverage your experience, skills, expertise and network to move the entire organisation to the next level.
For me back in the University I learnt this really fast and learning this is what gave me the opportunity to start. I was involved in several businesses, I was involved in student politics, I was involved in leadership programs, I was involved in entrepreneurship, I had my social life and I still made sure I met my academic requirements. It allowed me to create that balance and understand at least fundamentally what life out there would look like and how I should navigate the storms, what discipline should I develop like time management, email etiquettes, phone conversations, negotiations, being able to draft letters, being able to put together a well thought through proposal, researching and all of that, even been able to advise people in a structured manner through a consulting gig.
So it gave me quite an experience in terms of what I needed to know and prepare myself before I get out there. So that basically is what Uni was like for me.
What influenced your choice of program studied in the university and is the choice still relevant in your career today?
So growing up I wanted to be a medical doctor but then as I evolved through my basic school I was very academically focused. I pursued my grades and I made sure I was a grade A student. When I transitioned to senior high school I started to gain interest in other subject areas around engineering, business and others. By the time I was graduating from senior high school to the University my focus had shifted from wanting to be a medical doctor to wanting to pursue electrical engineering, computer science or business. I had admissions to the University of Ghana business school and I also had admission to KNUST to study Computer Science so my dad asked me to speak with then head of the Economics Department of the University of Ghana, Dr. Gockel. He gave me an advice simply put “you can always study business as a second degree so I would advise you to pursue Computer Science as there’s going to be a scale in demand”. So I took his advice and I chose KNUST and I never regret that decision. That is what informed my decision to study Computer Science.
I was always up for the challenge so when they told me to study Computer Science I read extensively on it and realised it wasn’t too far way from Electrical Engineering which was my first choice. So when I entered into the university in my first year first semester I was very focused on my academics and grades, so in my first year first semester I did really well in my papers and all the courses that I signed up for. When I was going to the university my cousin gave me an advice, he told me that the university is not like senior high school, you can chose to pursue your academics and score good grades and come out loitering about just like everyone else or experience what the university has to offer you; attend personal development programs, seminars, vie for leadership positions. I started to attend seminars and reading and listening to audiobooks. I participated in a seminar called Suviving After School. That was for me the most pivotal moment of my first year.
I joined the KNUST debating club, first the unity hall debate club then the schools debating club; that is where I learnt how to speak. I sold water, run interior decor services on campus as well. I was SRC programmes director; in my directorship we developed a standard and operational manual which has been handed down to almost all programmes directors. I further moved to become clerk of parliament. I continued to pursue my business. I started to build Hacklab. And that is how I got the chance to work closely with Stanbic Bank. By that time I was in my fourth year I had a full time job with Stanbic bank.
Computer Science is still relevant to me, there are certain course models that I took like operations research, accounting, business management and economics and all these courses are still relevant to me today and am applying them.
How was your National Service days, what skills did you learn on the job?
I had a combined national service with actual responsibilities. My national service was at Stanbic Bank. I was already working under a consultant to build the incubator. The consultant was working for a short term so I took over the project and built the entire business scheme, ecosystem mapping, and pitched it to the executive‘s and the leadership. I was working on the incubator and also doubling as a business analyst for the then emerging payment department hence how I got to learn a lot about fintech. I later joined the digital transformation team still as a business analyst and then I transitioned from the role of business analyst and a project manager to the incubator manager and I have been running the incubator full time since then for the last two years.
So I would say that through my national service days working as a project manager for the incubator, I learnt a lot of things. I was engaging directly with executive leadership so I had to learn how to pitch to these people, work on monthly reporting, and was having direct conversations with the then CEO of Vodafone Yolanda Cuba, supporting SMEs and startups as part of the banks proposition to help build their businesses. I had the chance to liaise with other business incubators in countries like Mozambique, South Africa, and a couple of others to work on projects. So by the time I was through with my one year service period, a lot of my colleague national service personnel didn’t know I was doing national service with them because I was never free, I sit in meetings with the highest level of the decision makers in the bank and so you rarely see me idle talking to people.
I couldn’t afford to fail the leadership that gave me the opportunity, I couldn’t afford to fail the two big men who brought me into the organisation when they realised I was doing something good with Hacklab and the fact that they allowed me to still run Hacklab concurrently whilst working for the bank is something I will forever be appreciative of.
It is in managing the Incubator and Hacklab that I learnt the skill of time management and how to prioritise my time for projects and activities and today it is my biggest source of being able to get things done.
How did you transition into the work world after school?
My transition into the work world wasn’t much of a hassle because I was prepared for opportunities, so when the opportunity came I had the skill and experience to get it done.
What are the skills and tools you think matters the most in this current work life?
It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you studied. If you get into the workplace it’s like Ground Zero for you, you have to put everything you’ve learnt aside, learn, unlearn and relearn, that is how you will be able to get things done. You need to listen more than you speak. And when you have the opportunity to speak you make sure that you have an authority on what you are talking about.
When you get the opportunity to work in an organisation you need to learn about the root of the organisation, history, purpose, value, culture, how do I align myself with the organisation, where do I want to get to in this organisation,etc. I always tell people who come to do their service at the bank that the first day you set foot at the organisation your interview starts, so if you are spending one year as a national service person and you intend to be retained your interview starts the very first day you step foot there. Don’t wait three; four; five months later before you get to know everybody in the organisation. It doesn’t work! The first two months everybody likely knows who is going to be retained in the organisation.
You need to up your game every single day as your life within the organisation is your interview. It is a whole years’ interview of demonstrating your capabilities and potential and by the time you are getting to the end of the year everybody sees where you are going.
So that really is what people need to do.
What advice do you have for students/fresh graduates about life after university?
My biggest advice to students’ life after university is preparing before Iife after university. I also say and believe that the uni is a miniature of what life actually is, this is because in senior and junior high school you are told what to do but in uni you are given the chance to decide what you want to do and that means nobody comes to wake you up to go for lectures, nobody tells you when to sleep and wake up.
It is your first time you are being given absolute liberty to decide what you want to do.
And at this stage in as much as it is slightly controlled in a sense that there are rules and regulations that you have to abide by, in the real world the Constitution of the country is the only rule and regulation you are to abide by and if you find yourself in an organisation its values and bylaws; but again it boils down to you.
Every single day’s decision counts where you see yourself in the future and every single thing you are investing your time in determines what the results or outcome will be.
Again what you sow is what you reap! You have the choice to decide to build a career while you are in school before you leave school or to wait to want to build a career where it’s very competitive and the organisation will tell you we need 1 to 2 years working experience. How do you amass that experience? You have to find an internship, participate in as many internship programs, volunteer in as many job roles as you can that may not necessarily pay you. I always feel that volunteering in a role creates value for you for that next person to pay the price of the volunteering you did. And that’s my advice for young people who have graduated or are yet to graduate. If you have graduated and you’re not getting a job stop looking for a job and start looking for internships. You are not getting a job because you have nothing to give.
Life has hacks and we learn these hacks from listening to the experiences of other people. So we need to find a way to learn as much as we can from other peoples past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.
And that is basically the secret source to succeed faster among your peers.
Who will you like to hear their story about life after university?
About Foster Awintiti Akugri
Foster Awintiti Akugri was listed among Top 50 CEOs in Ghana by Avance Media this year, 30 under 30 Future of Ghana Pioneers Class of 2019, Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leader Class of 2019 by Policy Center for the Global South, Morocco, he was also named amongst Top 100 Most Influential Young Ghanaians and Top 4 Most Influential Young Ghanaians in Science & Technology by Avance Media.
He also received the President’s Outstanding Youth Prize in Science and Technology in 2019 by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.
He is a passionate advocate who believes in the advancement of development in Africa by ensuring greater participation by young people.