The year was 2006, when few people had computers at home, smartphones were non-existent and many still use “com centers.”  A Ghanaian student at the end of her first master’s degree studies in the US was contemplating a PhD or LLM, while keeping in mind her promise to return home after her studies, coupled with the constant hounding from family, friends, and political leaders to “come back and help us develop Ghana… there are many opportunities for you at home…. remember home ooo,” and on, and on.


With all those factors at the back of her mind, she decided to establish a non-profit that helps people while operating like a business, and out pops Synergy Concept as an organization where young graduates (both Senior High School  and university) would go to use facilities such as internet and newspapers to search for jobs, be assisted to write and print their CVs and applications, be trained in all aspects of job search, interview techniques and maintaining a job.  The business model was to provide free services to the graduates, place some of the clients with businesses that will then pay a fee for their placement.


A board of directors was formed, and the organization registered with the Registrar General’s Department in 2007.  The owner (sole proprietor) came to Ghana for these activities during the 2006 Christmas and again during Spring break (March) 2007, then returned to officially launch the organization during the summer vacation of 2007.  By then a lot of work had gone in.  The logo was on point. The colors were on point.  Half of a full office building floor consisting of 1 large, shared space, 2 smaller offices and one large open space for training and client use was rented with the usual 2 years advance payment made in full.  Furniture was purchased for all the spaces, 10 desktop computers and 3 printer combos were purchased for clients’ use with an additional 3 laptops for staff, not to mention all the other items such as fridge, microwave, etc., 6 staff members were recruited.  The media was out in full force to cover the launch event – receiving the expected “t&t”.   Banners and flyers were printed.  Food and drinks were in abundance and at the end of the event participants, staff and the sole proprietor were happy, excited, and proclaimed the event and the organization a resounding success!  Oh, least I forget, all the above were paid for with loans the proprietor took in the US (against the advice of a number of experienced friends and mentors).


Then came September 2007 and having trained and mentored staff (now numbering 11), conducted and recorded about 6 different seminars for clients, and established 4 main departments including client services, marketing, administration, and finance, it was time for the proprietor to return to her life/school.  So off she went, with the full assurance from the general manager and staff that “oh, no problem madam, don’t worry at all, leave everything to us, we will take care of it.” Mind you some of the staff were trusted family members and friends from church.


By the end of 2007, it was becoming worryingly apparent that staff didn’t seem or couldn’t “take care of it.”  First, during the weekly staff meeting via conference calls, staff would say “madam we went oo, but he or she said they want to see you yourself…”  Then a call came one dawn (US time) in November 2007 saying “madam, please this morning when we got to the office, thieves had broken in and stolen all the computers, and the ‘office boy’ is at the police station.”  Considering the extra funds, she would eventually have to spend pursuing the issue, she simply gave up and purchased replacement computers. By March 2008, staff were suddenly requesting time off every week, including to bury relatives they initially declared dead.  Others (church members) who were in charge of accounting for monies collected became non-responsive – some eventual justification was that they had to pay school fees (even though they were paid salaries in full).  Some (relatives) who were entrusted with funds for expenses short-changed the landlord, delayed staff salaries, etc., etc.  Others (relatives) who were entrusted with the vehicle took sole possession and disappeared with it.  By mid-2008 the effect of the recession was so bad in the US that the proprietor could no longer keep the organization afloat.


By late 2008, she had no option but to inform staff of the organization’s dire circumstances.  Staff were laid off, equipment and furniture shared in lieu of final salaries (no money for that), while relatives took possession of the rest for their own use in the name of… “oh, you see, your children (actually theirs) are using the computers for studies and the furniture is good for them…”  The proprietor will later say that above all else, laying off the staff was the most difficult thing she had ever done.


For life after failure (or was it?) and the lessons learned, please read the next blog.


The above is a real-life case study that we hope/believe most start-ups in Ghana will/can relate to.  Charlie… starting a business in Ghana is not for the faint hearted oo! 😊


Written by: Phylicia Mortey and DevAfric Team. 




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