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Time With John Armah


John Armah is the Executive Director of the Ghana Centre of Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation. The youngest contributor to the Budget of Ghana, a graduate of SDA Senior High School and the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School, Germany.


In mid-2014 that I had this interaction with John Armah, he was 22 (now 23) and was flying in his career as an entrepreneur and consultant. After that encounter he has continued to break barriers to create more opportunities for other young people across the country and beyond. He has received numerous awards, organised events, launched new businesses and a radio show, and sharedplatforms with other influential personalities and still supporting young people to grow their businesses.
His policy which he presented to government was launch and named the Youth Enterprise Support which will provide fund for Start-Ups across the country.
And in 2014, I deem it a privilege to regard this interview as the most inspiring I?ve done with an inspiring young change maker I am privileged to be associated with.
Kindly enjoy the conversation we had and BE INSPIRED.

PRINCE:Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to have you on the Journey So Far. You are JohnArmah, 22years of age, where were you born in Ghana?
JOHN: Yes, I was born in Korle Bu Hospital, but I grew up in Kaneshie from there I moved around the country, stayed in South Odorkor, Cape Coast, Kumasi, Takoradi, Dabala (Volta Region) and finally moved to Achimota, where I am resident.
PRINCE:Before we go to yourentrepreneurship endeavours, can you give us the history of the schools you?ve attended?
JOHN: I started with St. Anthony Preparatory School, which was my primary and JHS education; from there I went to the SDA SHS.After that I worked at Ghana International School (GIS), Wangara Hotel then I went to Zenith University College, did a year in Business Administration, I didn?t finish that because I travelled to a UN Conference. When I came back I had a scholarship to study Law, so I did law for three years and had another opportunity to study entrepreneurship with the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School and I did the CommonwealthLeadershipForum. Though three years in Law, hopefully, I will fly out and finish the law but my main concentration now is entrepreneurship.
PRINCE:During your schooling days, even up to date, can you share with us those academic achievements that you?ve scored?
JOHN: I won awards in JHS but memorable were in SHS. I won both best and overall best student in government, literature, social studies, English and a couple of others. One time too I topped my class in geography. I was the firstStudents Representative Council (SRC) president, assistant boys? prefect and currently in one of the entrepreneurship courses, I was ranked one ofthe youngest enterprising youths in the world.

PRINCE:Moving into what you currently doing, you did General Arts in school, why the move into entrepreneurship?
JOHN:I think entrepreneurship is the experience that shaped me. I come from a family that have being very entrepreneurial and relating to my dad and mum?s background, most of the things I?mdoing today are because of them.My daddy is a goal getter and most of the things I?m doing were started by him.My mom too is someone who doesn?t quit, she likes to do things so quick, so going to a school that doesn?t have an SRC, naturally coming from a background of people who will never sit down, I started the school?s SRC, a school that doesn?t have clubs, and I set up clubs.In fact in form one, we were beaten as freshers, what do you think I will do?Weformed?Form One Students Association? and I was the leader and we were championing the rights of young people and from there. I got pushed by a firm to work, after I moved to Ghana International School and the journey began.

Entrepreneurshipstarted for me at bus stop, formally infront of Trade Fair, where I was standing with a friend and was like, our mates are not looking for work, they are just partying, what should we do? Then we agreed that we would set up a recruitment agency, so my first firm was a recruitment agency and we did the community development fund, set up a fund for my communities, areas where I grew up, then along the way I thought that the whole system was a bit clumsy, why don?t I set up a grand body that would really look up topromoting entrepreneurship in Ghana, bringing people together so the story continues.
PRINCE:What has being that prime inspiration?

JOHN: I guess my background, also it?s a calling from God because sometimes people tell me I amahead of my timebut it?s God. I don?t come from a rich family and eventhough the extended family is rich, my nuclear family lived in a community where the negativism was toomuch that you can?t have somebody. You have kids who were not going to school, so what do you expect from me. I was challenged to do something for myself and my community, so I got an opportunity to stay at a very formative year of my life in East Legon, and the environment in East Legon Challenged me, that I could also do something and leave Kaneshie. So it?s a calling, my background and my desire to help people. When I realized what I could do for myself, I set up the Community Development Fund in Kaneshie with the Head of Vehicle and Asset Finance at Stanbic Bank, Herbert Aidoo. We were mobilizing fund to pay school fees, organize seminars, teach them how to use computers, getting them books and all others.
PRINCE:We would like you to share with us the strategies, those things you have being using to get to this stage?
JOHN: Which business man shares his strategies (laughter)?

PRINCE:But basically, you discovered something, can you share with us how you explored to get to this stage?
JOHN: For me,it?s always being that, I am always looking at helping others, so that?s the inspiration. I?m always sitting down thinking, how do I help somebody, not myself, because I didn?t want to help myself, I guess now I should have being one of the rich young men in Ghana because I have an Audi A4 parked in my house, the first car I bought was Audi A4 at the age of 18. So I didn?t know, just sitting down thinking what I can do for others, I started radio at age 18; I was thinking how can I project the visions of Africa, I started Africa talks, Community Development Fund; I was thinking how do I help somebody, recruitment agency; I was thinking how do I get my mates to start working and get something, Ghana Center For Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation; we were thinking how would we help grow business ideas, get them funding. It takes sacrifice to help people; I turned down about 4 scholarships, University of Leicester, a Japanese scholarship, onein Malaysiafor a law degree, I got to the immigration and I turned back and said I am coming to Ghana to help my country so really that?s my strategy, having the GCEEI Business finance workshop, pioneering the Africa Union Model summit, African Youth Economic Forum all inspired by how do I bring people together to drive change.
PRINCE:How has the journey being so far?

JOHN: It?s being very challenging and rewarding. In fact sometimes, I cry in my small room. I do say, do people appreciate what I do, am I affecting people the way I am supposed to, can I be better each day and every day and I keep challenging myself saying can I, can I, can I, and the next one is, I will, I will, I will and for me the successesare inspiring to some extent, 27thmost influential Ghanaian, was okay, I was at home when I got the message, being part of about 60 entrepreneurs across the world chosen to study entrepreneurship, inspiring for me, winning 2012 Ideas Award by Legacy and Legacy, inspiring for me, being identified by the world bank to work with them, to participate In their workshops, inspiring for me, buy my first car at age 18, inspiring for me, but what inspires me so much is the lives we have impacted, not me, my firm, my team over 2000 people, because if my events alone number between 800 to 1000 and the number of speaking engagements I have done since we started this journey and practically the number of firms that we?ve helped and our clients, the increasing portfolio, in fact, I was going to wear Samini?s (Musician) shirt, because he is one of our clients, it?s amazing, I?m a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Accra Hub, member of Africa 2.0 which is a global organisation, on the advisory board of Next Wave Arica Women Empowerment Program in Africa, member of the national committee for Foreign Affairs for AU day in Ghana, sometimes I forget the things, because those things don?t move me. Those things that move me are the lives we?ve imparted.

PRINCE:Could you share with us those challenges?
JOHN: I?vechanged about 5 partners for now; we moved offices three times alone in this journey, I?ve being through the mill like any other entrepreneur, what inspires us is that we are a typical firm that reflects the challenges ofevery growing young Africa entrepreneur who want to start a business. We?ve faced the challenges that people face, that?s why we are positioned to help people. We?ve being through and we are still in it. How do you get funding to start your business, we were there, we know how to go around it, how do you get clients, in fact to work with Obrafour, Hammer, Samini, John Dumelo, all these people as your clients, a young man like me, really its inspiring so we?ve being through the mill, I started my business from my bedroom, so the challenges inspireus. Because we are always thinking how do we help people to make their dream come true?

PRINCE:You?ve shared lots of achievements with us, but I think you should be remembering some by now?
JOHN: In fact, 2012 Ideas Award by Legacy and Legacy was amazing, it came with a GH?2000 and a Citation, 27th Most Influential Ghanaian by ETV Ghana, the Global Entrepreneurship Sumer School ranking, being featured on Konnect Africa, Inspire Africa, various international magazine, having address the Africa Community of Practice, an amazing network of experts, technocrats across Africa, we met in Harare in Zimbabwe. I?ve addressed the World Bank Forum on employment in Abuja, addressing the ministers of Youth and Sports on the whole Asean region and still young people looking at me and say this guy is here for the sacrifices. It?s an achievement and buying my first car Audi A4 at age 18. (Editors Addition: youngest contributor to the budget of Ghana, and business meetings with the US ambassador to Ghana among others).
PRINCE:What have being the response from young people you?ve impacted so far?

JOHN:I think for me, waking up every morning and hearing someone saying you inspire me, I like it. I just shared a message on social media and Bernard Kevin Clive says thanks boss, someone also says you are the best and all that. I was chatting with Diesel, a motivational speaker in South Africa who was telling me that, you give me hope; people say I share in your dream, your sacrifices move me and just people recognizing the sacrifices that I made, it?s inspiring for me. If someone sits there and say this boy is making money, no,how much do we charge startups, I can decide to stay at home and use the money I have, but we give bursaries out to young people because they come to us that they don?t have money to start this business, so you give them money to start, some people want to launch something and you take money and give to them. That?s why we?vedecided to start our microfinance venture. So it?s a sacrifice, I could use this money to buy a car but I said no I need to sacrifice.

PRINCE:You?ve already addressed the social impacts you are passionate about, could you redress it for us?
JOHN: I?m very passionate about people who want to start something, I?m very passionate about change, I?m very passionate about discovering one self, and I?m very passionate about strategy for every firm and individual. How do you make things work? These are the things that drive me and I?m passionate about what we do each day to help a disadvantaged person out there. Those are the things that I?m passionate about. I?m passionate about policies, policies that we can put in place to change the next generation of leaders, to change the mindset of young people who begin to think that there is a world out there that holds a possibility for them.
PRINCE:Do you believe that Africa can be rebuilt in terms of the stage we are now?

JOHN:Yes, Africa is being rebuilt, the story is being retold. Komla Dumor presented Africa?s story in Africa?s own way, young people in Africa like William Teteh Senyo, FredDeegbe, Esi Cleland, Gary Al-Smith, Regina Agyare, Debora Ahenkorah, Bernard Kevin Clive, Jeremiah Buabeng, Ekow Mensah, Wilson Senya etc all these people are telling Africa?s Story so this is in Ghana, in South Africa you have people like Diesel, you hear the pointI?m trying to make, in Zimbabwe, you have Krieg, an amazing young man. The level of activities of young people trying to start something is increasing. You have a young man starting a paper bag with just about $14 in his hand, in Uganda. What he saw was that there was a ban on plastic bags, so he took $14 to start a company to do paper bags for companies, he won $30000 from a prize, he was featured on CNN few days ago, he employs 16 people and he has so many clients including Coca-Cola and Samsung in Uganda. The story is being retold, Africa has now made billionaires, Aliko Dangote, the Iroko guys in Nigeria, Uganda etc. the story of Africa, there is thislady from Ghana who just topped her class in the London School of Economics, and there is Sangu Delle in Harvard. The story is being changed in education, Agric, almost in every sector. Africa is the new frontier. 7 out of 10 fastest growing economies in the world today are in Africa. Bill Gate just said by 2016 poverty will be alleviated in poor countries in the world. Amazing, today we are seeingthe number of children dying go down, in fact mortality rate is going down, we are seeing a new level of entrepreneurial activities in Africa that we have never seen before, the story is changing, and todayAfrica?s major class isclassified as people who live on $2 to $20 a day. So it means Africa is rising.
PRINCE:Would you in the near future be entering into politics?

JOHN:(laughter) I am a politician. If you do not know, I havebeing in the front fore of politic as a young man. And I?m not bias as a young man. I am politically neutral and I work with any mind that is willing to change this country. If you are very partisan I don?t work with you. So I?ve being there, in fact let me tell you this, I turned down an opportunity to introduce a certain presidential candidate during the IEA debate, that?s how deep I?ve being. The former president Mills?s son was my friend. We consulted a lot on how we could help change Ghana. But in future, let?s see what God has for us.

PRINCE:In future what are we seeing do aside politics?
JOHN:You will see me more venturing into Africa and establishing a network of entrepreneurs that think to true core issues on entrepreneurship. You will see us roll out amazing programs. They would cut across mentorship, training, Agric, events, 3 businesses, new additions to our businesses, the microfinance, we have the Model Africa Union Summit, Africa youth Economic Forum, AgriFair, Start-up News, GCEEI Business and Finance Workshop. In the near future, you are going to see someone who has a field in policy, in fact I forgot to mention, the youngest contributor to the budget of Ghana, I think that is inspiring as well for any young person. Contributing to Ghana?s budget and having it read by the minister of finance and saying that government will support the establishment of the GCEEI and putting together a policy that would change entrepreneurshipin the way the system is changing and being considered as the youngest contributor to a country?s budget to me is also great. So in future we would be intopolicy, startups, and leadership.
PRINCE:What?s your biggest failure in GCEEI?

JOHN:Failure! There?s never being a failure, this is what I say, we?ve never failed, surprisingly, we have challenges, for example moving offices 3 times, changing partners 5 times, sitting down thinking from points at which we were looking at how do we get clients, now we are thinking how do we diversify our clients and how do we create a bigger business out of what we are doing now, so it?s never being a failure. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I share this, sometimes we win, sometimes we learn and you never lose. And Indeed failure is not a bus stop for anyone. Failure helps you become bigger, it helps you win. The next time you want to do something, you have to win bigger, so for any of us out there; failure has never being a bus stop for us. Weonly keep winning and never give up.

PRINCE:Could you share with us those who have inspired and helped you to get to this stage in life?
JOHN:Some of them prefer to be anonymous but, I?m inspired by people like Denzel Washington, in Ghana; Hon. Fifi Kwetey, Mr. Kofi Kafui Tsikata of the World Bank, grateful to so many people especially my parents, Mr. Nana Yaw Preku for giving me an opportunity to serve in management, Mrs. Freda Adablah, the mum of EL (musician), I?m grateful to EL himself, they shaped me towards radio, my cook at LIVE FM formerly Vibe FM, my close companion, Nana Boatemaa, who is shaping me to be a man, my friends, family and my network, I?m very grateful.
PRINCE:What would you have lost if not this path you?ve chosen?

JOHN:Nothing, if I?d hasn?t chosen this path, well I would have lost a chance to defy odds and present the statement that, we need to help others and we can be better, I would have lost a chance to impact lives we have imparted so far, and I would be doing a similar old things that everybody does. I would read Business Administration would have finished by now. I would have finished my lawand practicing as one of the youngest lawyers in the country. Or probably cruising in Malaysiawith free government things, so if I hadn?t chosen it, I wouldn?t have being doing what I want to do. My law was to help the vulnerable, and what I?m doing now is stronger.
PRINCE:In the near future, we are seeing you being ranked definitely by Forbes/times magazine, what do you think they will recognize John Armah for?

JOHN:I?m humbled to be recognised that God gave me a talent. God is the one doing what he is doing with me and Africa will hear the story and they will see a man who dared, who didn?t care about people said, didn?t care about the challenges around, who just walked around and his mind is full of ideas and implementing them and being able to change a life each and every day. If I get recognize by Forbes or any other body, but if I don?t get recognised, that won?t be my worry; my worryis not affecting a life out there.

PRINCE:Your final words to young people
JOHN:Young people out there, be who you want to be, don?t give up, examine your environment and see what you can do that makes you propelled As a young person that wants to help you change the society in which you are in, be that young person who is ready to tell that Africa. We are rising together in unity and we would present a strong case that this is the land to be in and it?s who you want to be and you will go for it.
PRINCE: Thank you very Much for your time.

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