Building a Network across West Africa

Tim Sullivan ’16 and Eric Lockhart YC ’07, ’16 have seen the potential for growth in some of the world’s most troubled areas. Before coming to Yale SOM, Sullivan worked in Afghanistan to help the war-torn country’s citizens fight corruption, and Lockhart worked with the International Rescue Committee to help refugees rebuild their lives. Both wanted to find a way to leverage their SOM experience to use private enterprise for social good in some of the world’s poorest places.

Tim Sullivan ’16 and Eric Lockhart YC ’07, ’16

“I was attracted to SOM for a number of different reasons, but perhaps the strongest differentiator for me was in the school’s dedication to both business and society,” Lockhart says.

Sullivan and Lockhart—who are pursuing joint degrees through the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—enrolled in Professor Mushfiq Mobarak’s class Economic Strategies for Doing Business in Developing Countries, and became inspired. They wanted to explore the topic firsthand.

“Opening the aperture a bit, we decided to create an opportunity for ourselves to better understand the entrepreneurial and investment ecosystem as it is emerging in West Africa,” Sullivan says.

That’s when they turned to a Global Network for Advanced Management partner, the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS), for help in researching entrepreneurship and impact investing opportunities in West Africa. Not only did they find assistance, but they also discovered willing partners in the UGBS faculty and staff, Sullivan says. The UGBS team helped to arrange accommodations and directed the students to on-the-ground resources so they could complete their work. Sullivan and Lockhart were put in touch with professors at UGBS whose research also focused on entrepreneurship. 

The Ghana coast

“In our case it was very much an ‘ask and you shall receive’ scenario, where we had an idea—a starting point—about what we wanted to accomplish, and we thought of the ways the Global Network could provide resources and connections to make that happen,” Sullivan says. “We were enabled to do that by what the Global Network had to offer, every step of the way.”

Sullivan and Lockhart spent six weeks in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire visiting nearly 60 small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), fund managers, and development finance institutions, while taking note of which sectors were flourishing. Their research, facilitated by John Effah, head of UGBS’s Department of Operations and Management Information Systems, will be presented in a series of articles. Sullivan and Lockhart also plan to share their findings with a group of University of Ghana students visiting Yale in early 2016.

Their research revealed to them the potential for growth in two large sectors—agriculture and energy—and the research process allowed them to establish connections with officials, companies, and other key players on the ground.

“This experience was really enabled by the existence of the Global Network, and it demonstrates the opportunities available to students who are willing to take a little bit of an unconventional approach to how they spend their time in business school. 

“It allowed us to build a pretty deep network very quickly in an area that we didn’t have a great deal of exposure to previously,” Lockhart says.

“This experience was really enabled by the existence of the Global Network, and it demonstrates the opportunities available to students who are willing to take a little bit of an unconventional approach to how they spend their time in business school,” Sullivan adds.

They took that connection with energy a step further. While in Accra, the students experienced rolling power outages, a situation that has become common in the Ghanaian capital. While looking into the issue, they connected with Nate Heller ’09, chief operating officer at PEG Ghana Ltd., a company providing solar energy products for off-the-grid regions in Ghana. That connection not only provided insight, but also gave the students an idea of how some organizations were approaching the dilemma, they say.

Eric Lockhart YC ’07 and Tim Sullivan ’16 with staff at University of of Ghana Business School

“Energy is such a big issue. When you’re growing a small business and have to run a generator with expensive fuel three days a week versus using electricity pumped through the grid…that’s a big factor,” Lockhart says. “We were able to get a great outlook on the energy picture from him [Heller] from the macro perspective.”

Now, Sullivan and Lockhart plan to again leverage the Global Network to deepen their research into renewable energy sources. Their experience in Ghana led them to apply for a Global Network Week module hosted by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business in October, titled “Clean Energy and Green Infrastructure – Innovation at the Nexus of Politics and Society.”  

“We realized what a big role that energy is playing in West African growth,” Lockhart says. “When we saw that, we bid for Sauder’s course because we were that much more excited to dig deeper into the role renewables can play in developing countries.”