GDP Alone, Cannot Be The Blanket Measure Of Well Being – Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings

25 11 2013

Nana Konadu presented traditional kente fabric to Dr Larry Penley President of the Thunderbird School of Management

Former First Lady and President of the 31st December Women’s Movement, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, has in a lecture at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in the United States stated that GDP should not be the only source of measurement of well being.

Nana Konadu who spoke on the topic ‘Development, Politics and National Government – Impact on African Women’, said GDP, which is a measure of economic growth and progress, does not reflect the life and well being of our people. While the economic boom in African countries is a very true and accurate picture, we would be remiss if we said it represents the whole picture.

The former First Lady who delivered the address at the number one ranked school of international business based in Arizona, United States last Tuesday, said education is the most important means of equipping individuals with the necessary nation-building knowledge and skills hence the need for African countries to accord it priority.

The Thunderbird School of Global Management – commonly referred to as “Thunderbird” – offers graduate coursework for executives, full and part time students as well as for distance learners. It is considered the oldest graduate programme specializing in international business.

Located in Glendale, Arizona, the Thunderbird School of Global Management was founded in 1946. The school is consistently ranked as a top ten school for International Management studies.

Please find below the full text of Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings’s address.


  • President of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Dr. Larry Penley
  • Assistant Vice President of Thunderbird for Good, Madame Kellie Kreiser
  • Distinguished Guests,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen:

I bring you warm greetings from my home country Ghana and from the former President of the Republic of Ghana, my husband President Jerry John Rawlings.

It is a tremendous honor to be here today and to be a guest in this distinguished institution. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Thunderbird School of Global Management and to Thunderbird for Good for hosting me on this special occasion. I am also delighted to be here in Arizona.

Ladies and Gentlemen: As you may have heard, over the last decade, the global narrative on Africa has slowly been changing — from the negative view of war, disease, poverty, starvation and corruption to the NEW, good news story, that:

Africa is Rising!

In fact, if you look at economic indicators or investor news, you will see evidence of this. Analysts say that:

There is a rising middle class;

That 7 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa

And that in 2013, 12 African countries will see a GDP growth rate above 7%;

This is all very encouraging. It shows a continent that is rapidly growing in spite of the downward trends of the rest of the world – including right here in the U.S.

But let me pause here and pose a question:

Do these numbers of Africa’s growth story tell or give us the full picture?In my experience and opinion, I would argue: no, they do not. GDP, which is a measure of economic growth and progress, does not reflect the life and well being of our people. While the economic boom in African countries is a very true and accurate picture, we would be remiss if we said it represents the WHOLE picture.

Let’s look at Democracy. In Ghana, for instance, as an emerging democracy with an emerging economy, we should look at the complex definition of democracy and see if it is indeed a government of the people by the people and for the people. In many parts of Africa, that definition goes a long way to justify the election of political leaders where every citizen is expected to have an equal right in the selection of political leaders and legislature who then become the voice of the people for a defined period. Simply put, the right of the people to have a voice in the management of their countries and societies is rested in a few selected individuals who are expected to protect the interests of the people.

We can juggle definitions of democracy but true democracy is the process where every individual is involved and convinced that his or her opinion has been factored into the decision-making as far as the management of his or her society is concerned.

A government, irrespective of its mode of appointment, which gives ear to the people and approaches decision-making and policy implementation from a human-centered and continuous consultative process, is closer to democracy than a duly elected government that fails to consult and or treat the opinion of the people with little value.

Emerging democracies or economies are defined as countries with governments that have emanated out of the perceived legitimate democratic electoral process but are still saddled with the complexities of dominant political parties and poorly applied rule of law.

Ladies and gentlemen, many scholars on the subject have listed a few African countries as emerging economic democracies, but I find it difficult not to refer to the whole continent as one that is emerging.

This is because ladies and gentlemen, no true democratic arrangement can slip back into a democratically embryotic state where institutions of the state do not perform effectively or cease to perform, leading to their disempowerment and a weakening of the rule of law.

Again, no true democratic arrangement can be successful if the institutions that are meant to serve as checks and balances are not properly structured and equipped to operate at optimum.

We are indeed grappling with problems of incoherent constitutions and week institutions. There is no doubt that when our democratic structures are instituted in a manner that recognizes the socio-cultural and socio-political context of individual countries and people, it will have a better chance of survival and success.

Management of African countries and societies are still dependent on a system that needs strengthening. We need capacity building, dedicated patriotic governments who will provide leadership of integrity and efficiency to help grow our continent.

As an African woman who has spent her last 30 years working tirelessly with, and on behalf, of our nation’s women and children at the grassroots, I can confidently tell you that this is only half of the story. WHY?

Because . . .. Women are 51% of Africa’s 1 billion people, and they still make up the majority of its poor. Those living in isolated rural communities are not yet part of the good news story.

Together with children, these women often suffer the most, especially in times of crisis and unrest. For the masses of women, Africa is Rising – but slowly and unevenly – and, unfortunately, many women are not rising with it.

In some African countries, poverty has increased in spite of GDP growth. According to the African Development Bank, 61% of Africans still live below the $2 poverty line—and the majority of these people are women. So, yes, Africa is rising, but major challenges still abound: the need for inclusion and opportunity; the need for jobs; the need for equal access to healthcare and education.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I firmly believe the transformation of Africa rests largely on inclusive development—and that is why Empowerment and the Sustainable Well-being of the African Woman is at the heart of my mission.

Over the years, we have made tremendous gains to this end in Ghana. In 1982, when the nation was in a very fragile state, my organization, the 31st December Women’s Movement, was founded on the belief that when you empower a woman, you empower a nation. We have come a long way since then. And today Ghana is considered a shining star in Africa and we are proud of the progresses made. But in order to appreciate where we – as a nation and as a continent – are going (and to ensure we don’t slide back), we mustn’t forget where we came from, especially with regards to our development.

We need to focus on human-centered development that will produce economic growth and prosperity in a country. Let us start with education. It is an accepted fact that no country can grow without an educated population; and modern development requires not just basic traditional education, but specialized education that keeps pace with technological change.

One of the important human rights entrenched in national constitutions and international conventions, is the right of every human being to education; for the acquisition of knowledge and occupational skills.

In the practical manifestation of this “Right to Education”, the universal fact is that women – who constitute more than 50% of the population in several countries – have always lagged behind men by sometimes as much as 25% – 30% in education. The moral need for all countries to correct this imbalance between male and female education is one factor that predisposes the priority on female/women’s education.

The development and effective utilization of a country’s human resource requires that all social groups have equal opportunity for meaningful participation in the country’s economic production and nation-building efforts.

Education is obviously the most vital means of equipping individuals with the necessary nation-building knowledge and skills. It is therefore imperative and a moral need for all African countries to prioritize education for both male and female children.

Where a substantial proportion of the country’s population, especially women, is excluded from such participation, the inevitable negative result is the drastic loss of Human capital.

The conventional wisdom by an African educationist – in fact a Ghanaian who was a teacher in my old school that “one educates a nation by the education of a woman” is not a fable or just a saying.

In both theory and practice, the social benefits of this saying have been amply demonstrated. In the social sciences, the “Demographic Transition Theory” was advanced as far back as the 1960’s to show that, as more women of a society became educated it is not only their economic and political integration into the modernized areas of society that is enhanced, but also the beliefs, practices and attitudes, which constitute a fundamental impediment to modernization, is removed. For instance, an educated woman is more likely to resist the influence of negative traditionalism in any way.

We can say that the position of the African woman in education has improved significantly in the years following African independence.

Today, we take it for granted when we find African women as university professors,leading doctors in national hospitals and prominent professional businesswomen. That is good. But educational development in Africa is not impacting on women as effectively as it does on men.

Girls are taken out of school to help in economic activities such as helping mothers sell in the market or work on farms

Marrying girls off at an early age is still a common practice.

The rationale? Choosing to educate boys rather than girls is done on the assumption that it is more economically profitable to do so because the boy will become a breadwinner while the girl is married off.

Even when women were able to advance beyond the sixth year in school, in many African countries including Ghana, old practices restricted the advancement of women.

In addition to these restrictions, the traditional beliefs that certain professions are not for women persist so that in spite of all the progress made, most women are discouraged from entering into higher institutions for engineering, medicine and science and mathematics related disciplines.

A survey of these departments in African universities will confirm the imbalances.

In Ghana, we are encouraging more girls to study science and mathematics and to pursue higher academic studies. Our experience suggests that because the barriers to women’s progress include deep-seated prejudices and long-standing practices, it is only where there is strong, high-level political commitment and involvement that real progress is possible.

Again, in Ghana, serious educational reform programs were initiated where the government from 1987 sought to reinforce its commitment to female education by:

  • Stating unequivocally that the target for admission and retention throughout the educational system should be 50% male and 50% female. This was made explicitly by a law that also made proposals for the tertiary levels as well
  • And secondly, that all pupils, whether boys or girls, were obliged to study all subjects, whether it was science or arts.

So, indeed, an important step had been taken towards the achievement of gender balance in the curriculum. For us in Africa, the girl child is of special concern….hers is the future that is often negated right from birth; and hers is, therefore, the life that must be salvaged.

Through Ghana’s example and insistence in getting the girl child’s issue into the critical areas of the “Beijing Women’s Conference of 1995” to be accepted by the whole world is a major step in addressing gender imbalances in several sectors.

This special emphasis on girls’ education meant that a strategy had to be adopted to make implementation smoother.

Some of the strategies implemented at the moment in Ghana are;

  • Promoting advocacy and social mobilization
  • Training and recruiting more female teachers to serve as role models to the girl child.
  • Making teachers more gender sensitive
  • Making the curriculum relevant to girls’ aspiration
  • Increasing community participation
  • Lowering cost to parents

To ensure the effective implementation of the above strategies, the girl child’s educational unit has been established within the Basic Education Division of the Ghana Educational Service. (For Example)

Ghana, like other African countries, recognizes the vital role that science and technology can and does play in our socio-economic development.

Education in all societies has been mainly relied on to ensure that they not only survive but seek higher goals. From our experience in Africa, we have been more aware than ever that education can be a tool for subjugation as well.

Indeed our dilemma has been that formal western education, while containing crucial elements for keeping us in touch with rapid technological and economic developments, which control the shape of international relationships, also bears the seeds of disempowerment and dependency. This challenge should tell us in Africa that the assessment of the impact of education on the African continent must always take issues of relevance, as being important as numbers of students enrolled.

Wherever education is discussed, its linkage to development through relevance and empowerment is very crucial because, depending on its content and orientation, it can be harmful or extremely favourable.

A decade later, in a climate of restored hope, confidence, and economic buoyancy, our nation Ghana, certainly made tremendous gains.

But until economic growth and progress is felt by every human being – by every man, woman and child, there’s work to be done. GDP alone, cannot be the blanket measure of overall well being. And, unfortunately, as I continue work with women today in other African countries, I see that some of their struggles are similar, and in some cases, worse, than what we dealt with in Ghana some 30 years ago. This is inexcusable.

With 51%, African Women hold up half the sky, so they are important stakeholders.

So as the continent becomes more prosperous, and more attractive to the outside world, our challenge – and the challenge of our national governments – is to address continuing inequality so that all Africans, including those living in isolated rural communities, fragile states and poor urban areas, are able to benefit from economic prosperity. To reduce inequalities, African governments must actively pursue and prioritize an inclusive and sustainable growth agenda.

And such is one reason I am here today:

Because this is a task too large and too important to be left alone to the government. So it is up to us, the women of Africa, to also bear the responsibility for actions needed to end poverty—first in our homes, then in our communities and, ultimately, throughout our nations, one woman at a time.
I would, therefore, like to end here with a Call to Action for each of you, especially the students. At Thunderbird, the world’s premier international business school:

You are the future global business leaders. As you leave here and go out into the world, you will be making decisions that will impact, not only your business, but also on the people of local communities. Remember GDP alone cannot measure well being. So no matter where you go, please make sure to pay attention to how your business impacts a nation’s people, especially the women and children of local communities.

Thank you!

1119_2072 1119_2111 1119_2132 H.E. Nana Konadu & international Business Consultant Erika Amoako-Agyei IMG_2551 IMG_2574 IMG_2606 Nana Konadu at the lecture Nana Konadu delivers her lecture Nana Konadu presented traditional kente fabric to Dr Larry Penley President of the Thunderbird School of Management



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