Target: Design Thinking in Local High Schools

A “lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills among students in deprived Senior High Schools” contrasted with “the students’ passion to solve problems in their communities” helped me realise what I needed to do. 

Janet Fuah, an AVI 2020 fellow is a Business Administration graduate of Ashesi University and the co-founder of Divergent. Divergent facilitates creativity and innovation by teaching Design Thinking in high schools across rural communities in Ghana.

Having lived in communities that are predominantly impoverished with high levels of teenage pregnancy and poverty, Janet is most aligned with the eighth Sustainable Development Goal, “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. She believes everyone should be economically sound and this can only be achieved if everyone has a decent job that can sustain them financially. When people in the economy have sustainable jobs, they are not only financially sound, but can afford a decent life for their families, and education for their children, which leads to a higher per capita income, boosting the economic growth of the country. 

Studies have proved that communities with higher levels of education and job opportunities have lower levels of teenage pregnancy. The core business of Divergent is to “empower people to solve problems in their communities”. Divergent seeks to develop the capabilities of people in communities such that in developing solutions to communal problems, they build up businesses that will provide them with decent jobs.

For Janet, the path of  entrepreneurship called out to her: 

“I chose entrepreneurship because I am passionate about solving problems. I want to go beyond thinking about something exciting and leaving it there, but taking the step to actually do it. There are a lot of problems around us, and the solution to those problems are in our collective minds. My ability to effectively collaborate with others and lead team effort, can achieve success in this field. Being a vibrant person who has a strong drive to just do things no matter where I go, I believe entrepreneurship is the best path that can handle my kind of energy. As much as entrepreneurship involves a lot of complexities, entrepreneurs are risk takers, and my willingness to take on activities that challenge me has prepared me to tread on the entrepreneurship path. My risk tolerance will help me achieve success in my endeavors. Not only this, but I am also passion driven. Due to the fact that I am passionate about solving problems, I can succeed in the field of entrepreneurship.”

Her startup Divergent “seeks to push clients within educational, business and government institutions to be unsatisfied with the realities of their communities”, creating an ecosystem of brutal innovation that seeks to empower millions of Africans to break out of their poverty cycle through creativity and the audacity to act.” This is achieved by “guiding” their “clients through the Design Thinking process to create sustainable solutions to problems in their communities”. 

Some feats Divergent has achieved include being able to show 60 JHS students in the Mampong School for the deaf how to use Design Thinking frameworks to visualize problems they face. This was very useful because it enabled the students to have a moment to zone out of their academics to address problems they shared with a group of other students they had been teamed up with. They were given the opportunity to break down their problems and think about some of the reasons why they existed in the first place. 

A notable example of Divergent’s end products is their “Kutopia’” odour absorbers. Janet and her team first  identified a littering and pollution problem. i.e that a lot of pollution is caused by coconut waste in landfill sites in Ghana (over 30,000 tonnes of coconut waste is generated annually). From this came their solution of turning coconut waste into activated charcoal for manufacturing odour removal products. 

Her plan moving forward is to reach out to her target audience, which includes home and car owners, highlighting the uniqueness of her sustainable and eco-friendly product which uses absorption technology to remove odour without leaving behind a “refreshing fragrance.”

Janet’s “disciplined” mentor, Emmanuel Anni Acquah is a chartered accountant with years of senior finance and operations management experience spanning multi-national and expatriate roles within the Logistics and Oil & Gas industries. Startups and communities are his passion; distilling corporate lessons to give young entrepreneurs a chance to succeed. He is currently coaching Janet on how to make her business model more scalable. 

Emmanuel believes that real impact can be made in the world through the “regular and consistent semi-formal discussions” that take place “between a mentor and a protégé”.

“My collaboration with my mentee has been rather productive and fruitful. I have seen feedback being implemented in her work and the progress that is clearly being made. We are confident that we will achieve all our objectives by the end of the incubation.”

According to the fellow, her mentor provides her with feedback on her key tasks and connects her with people in his network who can be instrumental for Divergent. 

“The collaboration has been very useful. My mentor is very supportive and genuinely wants to see me succeed.”

When asked, she described the AVI as “profound” and  claimed that the biggest challenge she has faced during her time in the incubator is “time management” issues.