Tell us about yourself
I am a Development Professional, a term coined to describe working with governments and non-governmental organizations to promote and introduce opportunities to vulnerable populations and improve sectors that require support to catalyze growth. In my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a 3rd and important partner – the Private sector. Introducing individual companies and Private sector associations into this environment ensures sustainability of the interventions that are implemented and new opportunities and partners for the private sector. It’s a win-win! It also allows for a discussion with the government on developing policies that facilitate widespread economic growth. Ghana is still mainly an agricultural economy and my work has focused on improving this sector to ensure all the participants, especially the many smallholder farmers, reap economic benefits.
I am a proud Gey Hey girl (Wesley Girls High School) following in the legacy of my mother and sister, a place that shaped me into the woman I am today. I am also president of my year group, a role that helps me give back to a school that gave me so much and ensures students of today get the same if not better benefits and experiences I enjoyed and treasured.
I have a Bachelors’ in Economics and Psychology from University of Ghana, Legon, (the Psych kept me sane through the intensity of the Econ class). I later went back for a Masters in Economic Policy Management.
In my other 24/7 career, I am a wife and proud mum of three. Creating opportunities for the youth and bringing up the next generation is my passion. I get the opportunity to serve as mentor/ coach on a number of incubation programs for startups. My love for God and growing His kingdom drives me to be part of the lay personnel providing support to church activities.
Walk us through your early career journey (first 5 years)
As a fresh graduate from University of Ghana, I was lucky to land a job with Unilever as a management trainee. In my day, the large cooperation’s used to advertise for management trainees from all the universities. These were jobs targeted at fresh graduates. Today I hear various graduates complain about the lack of opportunities for new graduates and I hope industry will bring back some of these opportunities.
Till this day, that was the most rigorous interview process I have experienced, and I was so grateful to be selected and posted to GTP which at the time was part of the Unilever group. I then spent the next 3 years living and working in every region in Ghana in the role of Regional Sales Manager after an intensive 6-month training session in Accra, their biggest market. This was my introduction to supply chain, logistics and the retail sector in Ghana. I also got to know my country and the people very well and the nuances of each region. This extensive knowledge and experience led to my first job in the developmental sector and the start of my career as a developmental professional.
What values/skills would you say you demonstrated in your early career journey that have contributed to your career success?
As I said earlier, my first role was management trainee. This meant I had a lot to learn and I had to avail myself for opportunities to learn and be humble enough to be taught.
GTP at the time was a big factory with various levels of staff. Though I came in as “Manager”, I had been raised by my parents to respect everyone, no matter their station in life. This lesson was very useful in this first job as I got the opportunity to learn the industry from various roles from – the wholesale “boys”, factory hands, and canteen staff to senior management. Being approachable and respectful provided the conversations that really taught the nuances and intricacies of the sector.
Though this was a textile industry, I was one of less than five female management level staff. It was a male-dominated world. As a young and single female, I had to learn to be pleasant and affable but also cautious and courteous. (Female empowerment is not gained by being abrasive and rude)
In a work environment, everyone is busy, it’s important to be dedicated, diligent and Pro-active and offer your skills to assist. This is how you get the opportunity to learn and get trained. No job was too menial, from running photocopies to helping with stock-taking, going above and beyond in every role to deliver quality. This is how you build the confidence and trust in senior management to gain access to new roles and responsibilities.
Learning the different roles from the bottom up, is the best way to learn how to manage these roles effectively.
These were life lessons that still use today. I am very conscious of the fact that I have had many mentors and coaches who invested time and effort to train and guide me and this is why I love mentoring and supporting the youth. I make a conscious effort to seek out these opportunities.
Did you always know you wanted to do what you are doing now?
My career now is so complex and multifaceted, I couldn’t have imagined it in my wildest dreams. The summary of my role – giving back and helping to improve the lives of people and the country – development – is a passion I discovered in early my days in Wesley Girls. We had a program called village outreach, which meant on Sundays we were divided into groups and visited the various villages including Kakumdo where the school was located. These trips first introduced me to stark poverty. I was surprised to learn as a young teen of the marginalized and vulnerable who lived with no access to basic amenities and the source of their next meal. On our visits, we carried provisions and soap from our chop boxes to share. My young brain was very concerned and worried. I believed there had to be a more formal way to help. At the time, I didn’t know it could be a career, I thought it was something I could do in addition to being a lawyer which was my plan then.
I count it a great blessing that on a daily basis I get to be part of processes and decisions that bring opportunities and relief to people who live in communities like the villages I used to visit.
What were some of the mistakes you made on the career journey?
In my career path, I have had many opportunities that have led to rich experiences and growth. As I look back, I would not call these mistakes but more like missed opportunities.
There were times I could have spoken up, sometimes I felt too young to speak up, and sometimes I must have felt the idea was so simple it couldn’t possibly be the required solution. My advice speak up! When you have something to offer it’s important to speak up – be polite but develop your point well with the evidence required and speak up.
That idea or contribution could be the game changer.
It is also important to set career goals, have a pathway to success. Then set targets and find champions and coaches that can help you achieve them.
If you had the opportunity to change one thing in your early career/work experience days what will it be?
Hindsight is 2020 and I know now, that all my experiences were important building blocks in shaping my career path. I have also been very blessed to actually end up working in a career I am passionate about. I have had great colleagues who are still friends till this day.
My one change would be – to have had more experiences – More field work, More trainings and More stakeholder engagements!! In my world, when I already did and still do a lot of this, this is asking for a lot. But with growing-up and additional, responsibilities of family and children you realize those early days, sometimes spending weeks or a month out in the field were the best experiences.
Any advice to someone who is confused about their career planning?
In this new era, the career opportunities are endless. I grew up in a world that seemed to have a handful of career options. That is not the case today.
My advice: ask yourself what you are truly passionate about. What are you good at? Any Talents or skills? What do your friends and family usually rely on you for?
Most careers are built with a combination of these.
In the meantime, while you study hard and find a job, any job; internships, office support, work in a cafe – just get yourself engaged. Every job is an opportunity to learn some skill – from customer service to the way an office functions. These are all skills that will be useful in your career path or your own business.
If you had a minute to coach/advice a tertiary student about work readiness, what would it be?
Be diligent, versatile trustworthy and ready to learn. In today’s fast-paced ever-changing world, the ability to change is the key skill that is required as change is the only constant factor. Dynamism and versatility are the skills of the future. Develop positive and good interpersonal skills. These will be required throughout your career and can be a catalyst to new opportunities.
Knowing what you know now as a high-profile professional, what would be your advice to a rising young professional you are mentoring?
Follow your ABC:
Adjust your expectations! No matter the sector or profession you are in and your job title or role, it is important to adjust your expectations. This will help maintain a positive attitude, make you open to learning and new experiences. These are tools to help you develop and grow. Remember everything has a starting point and some roles are meant to launch your career.
Be – Proactive! Do not assume it is someone else’s responsibility to teach you or train you. Own your development path! You need to offer your services and skills. This will provide the opportunity to learn and grow. Accept the challenges and difficult tasks when they come your way, it is through these experiences that you grow.
Communication skills – Learn to present yourself well: in person, via email or on the phone. Good communication skills is an important tool. This has nothing to do with your personality, it is a skill that can and should be acquired. When all is said and done, this and your interpersonal skills could be the game changer in your career path. Be respectful, polite, trustworthy, and have integrity. These will open many doors for you. Do not be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, but rather wisdom.
Pearl Coleman Ackah is the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Private Sector Team Leader in Ghana. With almost 20 years of experience in managing, designing, and implementing developmental projects, mainly those associated with agricultural value chains, Ms. Ackah advises USAID staff and partners on how to expand market access, build stronger business linkages, improve management, implement effective communication and innovative technological tools, and orient their business activities to achieve broad-based economic development. She also works in the policy environment with the government of Ghana in the private sector, trade, agriculture, and finance ministries supporting the development of sector strategies and assisting in their implementation. She is presently the DP Co-chair for the government and development partner private sector working group. Ms. Ackah applies her expert experience to the strategy development and implementation of U.S. government policies and initiatives agreed with the government of Ghana.