Living On Locust: Africa Trek To Ghana – The Ultimate Leadership Challenge

Wharton students enjoying a wonderful lunch near CapeCoast, by the Gulf of Guinea

Day trips to Capecoast, the beautiful Boti waterfall, and an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party at Sandbox.

Each of these events defined my December alongside 37 Wharton classmates. This special initiative increased their cultural competency and facilitated a deeper understanding of the quality of life in West Africa. For many students, this was their first time on the continent and I was grateful to lead the group and share my experiences.

I started planning the Wharton Africa Student Association’s (WASA) annual trip to West Africa during my summer internship at OZE Limited in Accra, Ghana. I served on a team of seven students to curate a five-day/four-night itinerary of adventure, local eats, and the sobering reality of the transatlantic slave trade. 50 Wharton students signed up for the trip to Ghana and Ivory Coast, but the COVID variant caused many cancellations. The final number was 37 and this was still no easy feat.

Alumni Selorm Adadevoh, Shirley Somuah, and Irina Azu speaking to the trek participants at Buka Restaurant


While I have an aviation and hospitality background, this trip required logistical and leadership coordination at a much higher level. The day before the trip started, the flight from Accra, Ghana to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, was canceled. Everyone on the trek was on this flight and the team was not prepared for this challenge. Effectively, we were students traveling with other students – not a full travel agency that can rebook each person’s flight. Consequently, after contacting the vendors in Abidjan to explain the dilemma, we subsequently cancelled this portion of the trip, and provided a full refund to the trek participants. No one could have foreseen this massive turn of events, and the flight cancellation was out of our control.

The trip took place from December 29 through January 2. When I shared my plans for an African trek, I was met with interesting questions from classmates and other non-Wharton MBA students. They asked me, “Are you from Africa”? “Are you working with someone that knows more about Accra?” and “Why are you leading the trek, shouldn’t a Ghanian be leading this effort?” It is not that others were unsupportive; however, they were shocked that an American woman from Iowa, with no immediate ties to the continent, would be leading this trek. In full transparency, most treks at Wharton are led by someone from the native country or a tour company based in that region. For our trek, the combination of having a Ghanian WASA co-president and spending the summer in Accra, gave me full confidence to push forward with the itinerary planning.

Door of No Return: Door of No Return at CapeCoast. This was the last point for Africans before they were forced on slave ships

The first night of the trek kicked off with an alumni dinner at Buka Restaurant and our group enjoyed traditional food such as banku, groundnut soup, grilled grouper, and kelewele. Three significant alumni at the dinner were Selorm Adadevoh, the CEO of MTN Ghana, the largest telecommunications company in West Africa, Shirley Somuah from CardinalStone Capital Advisors in Nigeria, and Irina Azu from Airbnb, San Francisco. It was great to see Selorm again because he recently gave the keynote address at the Wharton Africa Business Forum, an in-person conference. MTN was a high-level sponsor of the conference, and it was a special moment for WASA to host him during this intimate dinner. Selorm, Shirley, and Irina discussed their professional experiences in Africa post-MBA and gave the group insight into business proceedings and cultural norms that exist working for multinational companies.

Additionally, one of the trek participants is a renowned poet and activist. Emtithal Mahmoud attended the trek as a partner because her significant other is a student at The Wharton School. “Emi”, as we call her, is a Sudanese-American poet who won the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam championship and served as the United Nations Human Rights Council Goodwill Ambassador. She performed a poem that commemorated her strong-willed mother and detailed the atrocities from the genocide in Sudan. Emi left the group speechless with her story, passion, and electric energy.


Treks facilitate global networking and there were other MBA programs such as Columbia, Chicago Booth, Darden, and recently-graduated Wharton Alumni in Ghana for New Years. It was inevitable that everyone would cross paths and this enhanced the social benefits of the trek. On the first night after the welcome dinner, the trek participants went to Bloom Bar, a popular social club, where we became acquainted with five Wharton Alumni and students from Columbia. There is also the extended MBA community of students and their significant others or partners who attend treks. This expanded network can be leveraged to discuss career topics, and also enjoy local music with a diverse group of new friends.

This also contributes to cultural learning in a safe space. When you see something at a social club, you can dialogue with others to contextualize this experience and build an appreciation around these differences. For example, I chatted with someone who was intrigued by locals selling beverages, fruits, and plantain chips on the street. They were apprehensive about buying something because they were confused about the price, but wanted to learn more about this dynamic. Another student stepped in to share that this cultural convenience alleviates the need to stop at a gas station or make a detour for refreshments, but you can bargain for a good price. If you never experienced this level of personal and negotiable commerce, it can be misunderstood as unsafe and illegitimate. However, this is viewed as honest, informal work for locals to provide for their families.

NY Brunch: Celebrating the New Year at East End Bistro

The trek highlights included visiting the Kakum National Park, Capecoast Slave Castle, and the Boti Waterfall. These experiences were a mélange of adventure, history, and picturesque moments, giving everyone a rich view of the Ghanian land diversity. The excursions were outside of Accra and this showcased the contrast between the busy city life and the rural living experience. We saw authentic art, heard historic and local depictions of how climate change and droughts are impacting the water levels at the waterfall, so students could not swim.


The New Year’s Eve Party at Sandbox was also an extravaganza to remember. The décor, fireworks, and DJ set the tone as the group entered the social club. Sandbox is a waterfront venue situated near the beach, so we were able to enjoy the cool night air, ocean breeze, and 30-minute firework show. The city of Accra does not sleep, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. It felt like our party never ended, and the venue was still vibrant at 4 am – well beyond my bedtime.

Another essential component of the trek was to support the local communities that we visited. Our trek leadership team was adamant about including a donation to a charity in Accra to celebrate Ghanian culture and provide a small token of our appreciation. Our group donated over $500 worth of books, food, supplies, cash, and other essentials to the New Life Orphanage Nungua, for underprivileged children. While we were not all able to visit the facility due to COVID precautions, a member of the treks team dropped off our donations and shared pictures with the trek participants.

It was a rewarding experience to lead in uncertainty and plan the trek to Ghana. I gained the trust and confidence of my classmates and more importantly, my leadership changed their perception of Africa. Treks demonstrate how MBA students are learning in action from global hands-on experiences that expand their cultural competencies. Business school is a team sport and regardless of the task, the company you keep is a lifeboat for lifelong learning. As a leadership development tool, I want to encourage everyone to sign up for initiatives that make them uncomfortable and work with diverse teams to accomplish a goal. While my example was planning a trip for 37 students to West Africa during COVID, these experiences can also be leading a fundraising effort, planning a Black History Month event, or leading a consulting project within an unfamiliar industry.

I hope to see you “Living on Locust” with soul, purpose, and a spirit of collaboration!

Azline is from Waterloo, IA, and became a National Gates Millennium Scholar in 2009. She studied International Studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate tenure, she studied abroad in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Geneva, Switzerland, and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting a dual-degree MBA/MA program at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.



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