Tell us about yourself
I am Araba Botchway (née Middleton-Mends) and have almost 20 years of experience in scholarships and grants management. I currently work at Ashesi University as the Director, Admissions and Financial Aid where I lead the Admissions team to recruit brilliant and talented students with leadership potential from across the African continent. I also serve as the Project Lead for the Mastercard Scholars Program at Ashesi with oversight of the project’s implementation and reporting to the Mastercard Foundation
I attended Wesley Girls High School in Cape Coast, where I had both my GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level certificates. I then proceeded to the University of Ghana, studied French, Spanish and Linguistics but majored in French after a year of Study Abroad in Dakar, Senegal. I later had a scholarship to the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands to do a postgraduate program in Marketing of Services. I further went on to the Ghana Institute of Public Administration for their Executive MBA Program.
Walk us through your early career journey (first 5 years)?
Right after university in 1992, I chanced upon a group preparing for the Conference for the Non-Aligned Movement (popularly known as the NAM Conference) in Ghana. I approached the head of the team for a job, any job because I dreaded the idea of sitting at home until National Service. I was given a spot as an usher and so excelled that the head recommended me to do my national service at his office, which was the Protocol Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While there, I became convinced that I would only take jobs that were people focused and would offer the opportunity to meet people from various countries and different backgrounds.
My next job was at the now defunct Shangri-La hotel, where I started the Marketing Department. Knowing nothing about Marketing but talking my way into a job, I enrolled at the Ghana Institute of Journalism and took a certificate course in Public Relations and Marketing. I later joined the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) as a Customer Relations Officer and later became the Marketing Manager at Tema. Truth is that my first 5 years of work was a period where I was trying to “find myself”. Unlike these days, we didn’t have Career Services and structured mentoring. I later joined the Association of Africa Universities where for 12 years I managed the Ford Foundation International Scholarships Program (Ford-IFP) and provided access to higher education for young people from marginalized backgrounds. I later joined Ashesi where for the last 7years I continue to work with youth from diverse backgrounds in the hope of empowering them to effect change in their communities and beyond.
What values/skills would you say you demonstrated in your early career journey that have contributed to your career success?
I’d comfortably say determination, resilience and being pro-active have been my passwords. All I needed was someone to doubt my ability to do anything and I would set out to prove them wrong. I always acknowledged when I didn’t know what to do but was always determined to find out and get it done even if it meant sleepless nights! I also loved meeting new people and that helped widen my network.
Did you always know you wanted to do what you are doing now?
To be fair, although I wasn’t too sure what exactly I wanted to do, I always knew I wanted a job that would allow me to travel the world and work with people. This was my reason for studying French as I believed I needed a second language. I had hoped to work in the UN or a similar organization. Almost 30 years down the lane I can say I have found a work-life integration.
What were some of the mistakes you made on the career journey?
Mistakes? Too many to count! As mentioned earlier, I had neither career coaches nor mentors and so did a lot of things by instinct. However, a few stand out clearly for me; jumping into a project on the assumption that everyone shared my passion and dedication, intolerance for teammates who I felt were not putting in their best. In later years, I learned to question to be sure each teammate was on the same level of understanding and also to cut late bloomers some slack.
If you had the opportunity to change one thing in your early career/work experience days what will it be?
One thing I would change is to clearly define my career path early enough. I may still try as many things as I’ve done but with a little more streamlining.
Any advice to someone who is confused about their career planning?
I’d advice to start with what he/she is passionate about and loves to do. When your passion becomes your job, you hardly feel like you are working because you find fulfillment. It is important to seek advice as there’s not enough time for trial and error these days. As such it’s important to plan one’s career early.
If you had a minute to coach/advice a tertiary student about work readiness, what would it be?
The world of work is different from school. Yes, learn all you can, aim high, but don’t be afraid to start small if possible. Rather, use every opportunity as a building block. Focus on skills and not just a degree.
Knowing what you know now as a high-profile professional, what would be your advice to a rising young professional you are mentoring?
I always look back to the period right after university when I volunteered my services and believe it was a great start to my career journey. Don’t be afraid to start small! Build capacity and integrity and the two will bring you money. A lot of young people start out thinking about making money and lose their integrity in the process. Never stop learning and yes you may have the knowledge, but remember to add value wherever you go.