Akwaaba. You Are Welcome to Ghana

— Chrissy Vaughn and Hanna Williams 

Three weeks in. And still this simple phrase jars me for a microsecond whenever I hear it. You are welcome. That shouldn’t be a confusing phrase, right? It’s the same one we use at home all the time— “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” We’re all technically speaking the same language, but this phrase means something entirely different in Ghana.

Here we hear it the moment we meet someone new. You are welcome. As we enter someone’s office. You are welcome. As we arrive at a restaurant. You are welcome. As we walk through a village. You are welcome.

And that’s Ghana. In three words. We are welcome…everywhere.

As an obrouni (aka foreign) consultant being brought in to “fix a problem” in a country I’ve never been to, I was prepared to encounter some defensiveness, some resistance. I also admittedly questioned my ability to effect positive change in such an unfamiliar environment. But three weeks in to our pro bono assignment, none of those expectations have turned into reality.

Ghana Registered Midwives AssociationHere we haven’t felt like outsiders coming in to fix a problem. We’ve been made part of the team. When my team of four talks about the Ghana Registered Midwives Association (GRMA), the organization we’re working with, we don’t say “you,” we say “us.” Our clients have made us custom GRMA-branded clothes because we’re honorary midwives now. They included us in a very special sit-down with the First Lady of Ghana (pictured). Other teams have clients who have gifted them handmade jewelry, and others have been housed in their clients’ homes when traveling in the field.

At the same time though, we’re also greatly respected and welcomed as professionals trained in specialties our clients don’t have, be it business strategy, communications, supply chain, finance, or data management. Skills our clients and their organizations desperately need to develop to achieve sustainable future success. And for that we are very welcomed.

WE Comms in GhanaThis past week, we moved from research and information gathering to strategy and recommendation planning. And my team actually slipped momentarily back into our “outsider” mindset as we discussed how to soften up our recommendations so our clients wouldn’t get defensive about our plans to implement change within their walls. But after a dry-run with a few stakeholders, we were coached to be bolder. More dramatic. Turns out they trust and listen to us more because we are unbiased third-party outsiders who can tell them what we think without bringing history, insider politics, or group think with us. Not unlike most of our clients at home where we find the most success at transformation when we work together as partners who bring a valuable outside perspective.

So, as we go into our final week in Ghana with bold, strong recommendations presented with the best of intentions for positive change, I feel confident that they will be welcomed just like we have.

And now that we’re nearing the end of our stay here, we’ve begun to hear a new phrase: “When will you be back?”  Soon I hope. Soon.


This is the third blog in our Global Pro Bono Series. For the other blogs by Hugh Adams and Stephanie Miceli, please click here and here.