Kwadwo Sarpong said he slept three hours a night as a student at Emory University, working to found a nonprofit aiming to bring research opportunities to young African women.
In a lecture in Goldwin Smith Hall Saturday, hosted by Ghanaians at Cornell, Sarpong — who graduated from Emory in 2015 — shared his experiences as the CEO of the African Research Academies for Women. The foundation provides fully funded research experiences for young women, pairing them with mentors and supporting them in their studies and careers.
A native Ghanaian, Sarpong said he became aware of the lack of research opportunities in his homeland — especially for women — while he was studying in the United States.
“There’s no funding institute in Ghana for research, like the NIH,” he said. “And there’s this huge gender gap between male and female scientists.”
Determined to make a change, Sarpong founded ARAW in the winter of 2013 with his friend Shadrack Osei Frimpong. The process was not easy, according to Sarpong, who had to juggle a full courseload, research and a job in addition to his passion project.
“People told me, ‘Oh, this thing is not going to work, you are wasting your time,” he said.
ARAW began gaining momentum in the spring of 2014, receiving $8,000 in funding and an invitation to the Clinton Global Initiative conference. Sarpong also spoke at the White House and raised awareness about the initiative among prominent African political leaders.
However, Sarpong said he recognized that he would not receive much support from the government.
“They have to put food on the table for the ordinary Ghanaian,” he said. “Their priorities are not on science.”
Although ARAW is based primarily in Ghana, Sarpong said he hopes to create a network of research centers across Africa.
“Soon we will be launching the Nigerian academy,” he said. “That way, you can apply to the academy closest to you.”
Bernard Baffoe-Mensah ’20 said Sarpong’s story inspired him to pursue his own initiatives.
“I had an idea to start a foundation, but I didn’t know where to start,” Baffoe-Mensah said. “It showed me that the world that we live in needs us, and we have to go out there and give it all that we have.”
Ida Adjivon ’17 added that she hopes Sarpong’s actions will help change current perceptions of Africa.
“I love having events like this because it just showcases how there is more to the African person than just the stereotypes that you hear all the time,” she said. “We have people on the continent who are doing amazing things.”