Each year, the Washington-based, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation provides scholarships to young people around the world. The foundation says the goal is “to help young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education.” Among this year’s recipients is a 28-year-old Ghanaian, who has very high hopes and aspirations.
Eric Nana Otoo is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, with a double major in economics and computer science. After getting his diploma in 2000, he worked as a financial consultant for Chicago and Los Angeles based firms with Fortune 500 clients. Now, Mr. Otoo is going back to school. Thanks to a scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, he’ll soon attend Harvard Business School.
However, his plans go well beyond getting his MBA. His thoughts are always on his home, Ghana.
"My plan was to be able to get enough experience here so I would be able to go back home and help in a very meaningful way. I believe that helping the economy move forward would have to do with the new changes going on in the country. And those are mainly a move towards democracy and privatization," he says.
Once he has his degree from Harvard, Mr. Otoo plans to open a financial consulting company in Ghana.
He says, Ghana has established sort of an emerging financial market. And there’s been a lot of implementation with respect to economic recovery policies that are shaping the economy. And I believe that if I can help the privatized companies to become more effective, help them raise more investments from the global financial markets, help them to streamline operations to become better so that they can compete more effectively on the global market. I believe that would improve living standards for general Ghanaians, create more jobs and lead to more profitability."
He praises the Ghana’s leaders for working to reduce the country’s debt. And says Ghana’s political stability should be attractive to investors.
"Once the capital begins to flow I believe that the investors are going to make a good profit and it’s going to lead to a lot of resources in Ghana that would improve privatization, promote free enterprise. And everything would be able to move forward that much," he says.
Ghana is known for its cocoa and gold production, but Mr. Otoo believes economic expansion will come elsewhere.
"I think the next phase of growth is actually going to come from manufacturing, making the good use of labor that we have. Because in terms of economics, we do have labor and we do have the land or the natural resources. The two missing components we have are the managerial talents or the entrepreneurship; the other component will be the capital or the investments," he says.
After listening to Eric Nana Otoo’s ideas and plans, one might think a mere consulting company in Ghana would not be enough. So when asked whether he’d like to be Ghana’s finance minister someday, he said he was very open to that possibility. Taking it a step further, would be like to be Ghana’s president someday?
"Ah! It’s going to be a noble pursuit. I have strong interest in the economics and entrepreneurship and all that in business in general. If that is the way I can help the country move forward that’s what I’m going to do. If being the president is going to offer me more leverage to do that I wouldn’t mind considering it," he says.
He says, “It’s going to be an exciting time, a good adventure.”
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation was established in the name of the former owner of the Washington Redskins gridiron football team. When Mr. Cooke died in 1997, he left most of his estate to the private, independent foundation. It expects to provide scholarships to about 650 people a year when fully operational. Each scholarship is worth up to $50,000.