Beyond the Frames is a monthly feature highlighting today's movers and shakers in Africa and the diaspora.
Jewel Thompson is an award-winning social impact strategist with over ten years of experience working with NGOs, social enterprises, and start-ups. She has been invited to speak on her work and facilitate trainings and workshops within the United States, Europe, and Ghana.
She is an assistant lecturer of entrepreneurship at Ashesi University and researcher. She is founder of Eco-Launch, a Ghanaian based business advisory firm that supports early growth African social impact startups that seek to expand their offerings globally through business training, strategy development, and access to financial tools. She is passionate about businesses that lead to impact. She is the principal consultant for Efie Consulting Group.
She is also the co-founder of LITH, Africa, a mind health and wellness platform that supports the well-being of African university students. A former World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Acumen West African Fellow, 30 under 30 recipient and Fast Company World Changing Ideas 2021 honoree, she's a woman on a mission.
As a first-generation Ghanaian living in the U.S., what perceptions did you have of Ghana and how did your upbringing influence that?
Ghana always meant home. It was a part of me. However, it was an aspect of myself that I hadn't fully explored so my perception of home was through a curated lens. I knew it to be a place that was rich in culture, big smiles, and beautiful landscapes but this didn't mean it was an oasis. My family immersed me in experiences that kept me connected to my home while growing up in the States, so I had my finger on the pulse of what was happening in Ghana both good and bad. In such, it made me realize even with it's challenges, Ghana was a frontier to be explored and further cultivated, so the world could better understand and accept her splendor.
As you were in the beginning stages of your career, were you aware that your trajectory would lead you to where you are today?
At the beginning stages of my career, I wasn't aware of this particular trajectory. I assumed my career would develop long term in the States. I didn't know that academia would be my pivot. There was a point where I started asking more questions about things I would notice within the businesses I was working with which in turn made me realize there was an opportunity to contribute to the answer, through research. However, I would say my unconventional journey inadvertently did prepare me for a more global career experience.
At what point did you realize you had a passion to bring your talents to Ghana?
I decided to celebrate a milestone birthday in Ghana and invited my friends to travel to Ghana to celebrate it with me. In the process of planning and creating experiences for them, I recognized that Ghana had changed since I last visited ten years prior. There was this new energy being cultivated by the youth. After spending a few weeks home, reconnecting with a few leaders in the ecosystem and hearing the stories of those who were ready to see a change, I knew I had to come back.
Talk to us about your current role as a professor? Why do you think what you teach is valuable to learn on the African continent?
I'm an assistant lecturer of entrepreneurship at Ashesi University. I also serve as the entrepreneurship concentration lead for our business department. These roles require me to collaborate with local and global institutions, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs to build on the entrepreneurial activity on our campus. When it comes to teaching entrepreneurship the academic side requires a blend of theory and practice to ensure our students are learning the fundamental principles that drive entrepreneurship.
The practical side then pushes them to actually build a business and for those that don't envision entrepreneurship as their career choice, we mold them to become entrepreneurial thinkers to help innovate wherever they may find themselves post graduation. This form of education is invaluable. It’s a rather holistic approach to entrepreneurship, one that develops the mindset, provides enough ambiguity for strengthening resilience, and an on-campus ecosystem to help de-risk the journey just slightly.
There’s so much more to learn so the part that excites me most is my own capacity to learn more about the entrepreneurship stories on the continent so that I can continue to add more to that knowledge space and begin to include the case stories of the African entrepreneur as a part of a larger global conversation.
Who have been some key influences for you growing up and who are some now?
My direct influence is my mother, hands down. Indirectly, I’ve been influenced by women and men who have helped to shape my own experience like Dr. Erika Hall at Emory University and Dr. Cynthia Spence at Spelman College, Dr. Ayorkor Korsah, Dr. Sena Agbodjah Ageypong, Dr. Gordon Adomdza and Dr. Heather Beem at Ashesi University (actually the entire community of scholars). Chimamanda Adichie. Bozoma Saint John. The list goes on.
What impact do you plan to bring to Ghana in the next 20 years?
I intend for my work in academia to produce quality knowledge that will shape the way we teach, engage and understand entrepreneurship on the continent. Through my business development programs I intend to have contributed coherently to the current gaps that exist for entrepreneurs with the provisions of relevant tech platforms and programming that can help fill funding gaps and ensure Ghanaian products successfully interplay within the global market.
How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?