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W. E. DA'CRUZ
AFRICAN SCHOLAR

AGE: 25
ETHNICITY: Ghanaian
EDUCATION: Masters of Art in Public Administration and Masters in Diplomacy and Intl Relations | Seton Hall Uni
WORK: Executive Director of SPLiT (Strategically Positioning Lives in Technology)

My unyielding pursuit of a career in social entrepreneurship reflects the influence my Ghanaian culture has had on me, even prior to birth. Ghana, women are visible. They walk on the streets, ride public transportation, work on farms, and sell produce in the marketplace. As produce sellers, women walk effortlessly in the heat, balancing a large metal tray covered with tomatoes and peppers on their heads or carrying cartons of plantains and yams. They go about their daily activities with infants, swaddled in homemade Kente cloth, tied to their backs. Women take on intense social interactions in loud and competitive environments. They establish relations with traders, negotiate, create value, and earn money in the midst of unbearable weather conditions. As in many other parts of Africa, they face the spread of diseases like malaria and AIDS, but they remain strong, wise, independent and resourceful. However, while women in Ghana perform these highly visible economic roles, positions of political power are closed to them.

Traditionally, women have played a subordinate role. In fact, a woman’s place in social and economic life depends entirely upon her husband’s ability to advance up the social and economic ladder. Some men are paid relatively well, and thus there is no need for their wives to participate in the economy. As a result, many women obligingly devote themselves to domestic activities such as housework and child care, while men predominate in positions like bank manager and restaurant owner. Fortunately, such stringent traditional barriers are slowly vanishing. Ghanaian women are increasingly being recognized for their functions in society, and as a result new opportunities are opening for them.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, an entrepreneur is “the owner and manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits.” Ghanaian women take “risks,” pursue “initiatives,” and always create “profit.” Their ability to create profit, which Webster’s defines as an “advantage; benefit; [and] gain,” reflects upon the evolving gender roles in Ghanaian communities. Typically, Ghanaian women who want to pursue careers outside the home are limited to the fields of nursing and teaching. But today, their visibility in the marketplace as natural entrepreneurs illustrates their potential to break social norms and create their own metric of success.

For me, the metric of success will be the ability to build an impactful platform that breaks cultural barriers and fosters the next generation of entrepreneurs. By participating in the AYE Awards Program, I will acquire the necessary tools and network to help break the traditional norms of my culture while manifesting my culture’s strengths.

My entrepreneurial journey began at the tender age of three, when I left New Brunswick, New Jersey for Ghana, Africa. In Ghana, I was taught that my day began at the sound of the rooster and ended after the completion of all my tasks. These tasks included washing clothes with my bare hands in a bucket of water I had fetched; feeding the various animals in the compound; and assisting my grandmother with her corner shop by setting up and shutting down. These tasks taught me the importance of obedience, discipline, and perseverance. I learned that only after completing all the tasks could I go to sleep until the wailing of the rooster the next morning.

After a year and a half, I left Ghana and returned to New Jersey, where I continued my schooling. My transition between the two countries was my biggest challenge. Language was the first obstacle; I had to repeat Kindergarten and enroll in ESL (English as a Second Language). By high school, I had overcome the language barrier, but I still faced social obstacles. In many instances I was called racial slurs and stigmatized because of the color of my skin. My most vivid memory was during a heated argument between a Caucasian boy and my older sister in the cafeteria afterschool. My sister overheard him speaking with his friend about an incident a week earlier that involved an African-American boy snooping around the secretary’s office after hours and decided to bud in. I followed. The Caucasian boy said something to this effect: “That’s why you can’t trust these Negros. None of them are good.” Offended, my sister and I confronted him. He got upset and started pointing his finger and raising his voice, telling us that we did not belong in “his town.” He caused a scene and everyone stared at us. With approximately thirty-two African- Americans in the entire school, we were outnumbered and completely embarrassed. At the same time, I was forced to adjust to my parents’ separation, which also brought financial hardship. To some extent, I attribute my love for communication to my struggle to adjust to these experiences.

I believe that the tongue is the most powerful tool we have, and that our voices through the advancement of technology can be used to break barriers. In each situation I have faced, from my parents’ divorce when I was only nine to learning English and experiencing social differences in high school, speaking up would have made a difference. The AYE Awards Program will provide me with the opportunity to build an impactful socio-economic organization that will strategically position lives in technology, close the digital split, and advance global culture, production, and commerce.

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