Fellow Q&A with Joyce Danso, Co-Founder of The Agenda Project

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Joyce Okyerewaa Danso. I am 28 years old and I am from the Eastern Region of Ghana. I am the co-founder of The Agenda Project. 

I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Ghana and I pursued my advanced degree at Tsinghua University in China, as part of the Schwarzman Scholars Program, 4th Cohort.  In college, I was the President of the University of Ghana Debate Society and served as the Acting President of the Ghana University Debate Association.

My professional experiences cut across youth development, education, change management, and HR consulting—mainly in the private sector. I have also served as the Youth Program Manager for Busy Ghana and the Assistant Institutional Renewal Manager for Media General Ghana Limited. I have conducted training programs for MTN Ghana’s Women in Technology, Agave Rural Bank, Media General Ghana Limited, and also designed training content for these organizations.

I love fashion and enjoy watching basketball games.

What three adjectives would people use to describe you?

Resilient, thoughtful, and playful.

What is your favorite book and why?

My recent favorite book is The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary D. Burnison. I love this book because I share in the belief that it is easy to become a leader but it is much more difficult to remain a leader if you lack authenticity. As such, this book addresses the concerns I have with leadership and helps me to become my authentic self in all aspects of my life. 

What challenges did you face growing up in Ghana?

As a Millennial who was born and raised in Ghana, I experienced the challenges in my country’s education sector. At my public school, the teacher-to-student ratio was very low and did not address the learning challenges of children nor did it foster any creativity. As such, I grew up with little-to-no help with my learning challenges while in school. With the wealth of learning opportunities available today via e-learning platforms, I always reflect on how much smoother my learning trajectory could have been if I had access to such opportunities. The bigger challenge for me was not just with my academic struggles but also whom to talk to when I was confronted with these challenges. Most of my teachers resorted to caning and chastisement as their strategy to help me improve my performance while my parents resorted to forcing me to solve my academic struggle alone. This continued until I met Gifty, a friend who assisted me in improving my learning style which greatly contributed to my academic excellence over the years. Cognizant of this reality, I have—over the years—started to think outside of the box when it comes to providing transformative education. 

What is the challenge your venture seeks to address?  

I co-founded the Agenda Project in 2012 to provide a holistic approach to education with a specific focus on social and psychological intervention modules for orphaned and repeated students in three public junior high schools in Ghana. This was built on the realization that without the necessary psychological support, students who struggled through school with domestic problems were most likely to fail. 

Have you been personally affected by this issue? If so, how? 

Yes – growing up as a young girl, I struggled at school. I could hardly comprehend lessons, spell simple words, or read simple sentences. This affected my academic performance, my confidence, and my ego; and oftentimes, I found myself avoiding school altogether. Whenever report cards were shared, I often sat close to a football park in my community and waited until evening before going home. I did this because I was scared of being mocked in my community or being chastised at home. It took my friend, Gifty, to inspire me to learn and improve my academic performance. There was something Gifty did that helped to improve my mental health. I was too young to know what it was and what it meant but the impact was—and still is—overwhelming. As a result of this, I began to perform well in junior high school and I even started to win academic awards. Today, I receive opportunities I could never have dreamt of when I was twelve years old. Knowing that other students may be going through the same struggles I did, I decided to be the “Gifty” in their lives and focus on providing them with the psycho-social support they need to positively transform their academic performance.

How is your venture addressing these challenges?

We provide textbooks, stationery, and tuition support for repeated students and orphans in public schools. We also provide mental health support through counseling and motivational sessions that help to boost the students’ self-esteem, and build their confidence.

In the near future, we plan on providing social and career interventions which include life skills, career guidance, forums and conferences including local Model United Nations conferences which will provide a platform for these students to engage with others and socialize.

What inspired you to start your venture?

I was my own inspiration. After realizing the opportunities I was able to access and the networks I have formed, I strongly believed that I needed to provide a similar transformational experience to other students whose poor academic performance had negatively impacted their next steps in life.

What excites you about the Resolution Fellowship?

The family I have gained internationally. While I was in China pursuing my master’s degree program, I had a call from Resolution staff member Carly, checking up on me. That gesture meant a lot to me. I found a family and a global home. Also, the opportunity to be connected to other social impact professionals and personal development programs. In addition, having access to mentors who are willing to provide professional and personal advice regarding your goals and social venture is amazing.

What advice would you give other college students who are looking to start their first social venture?

Do not overthink it; rather, be intentional about your approach in addressing social issues. Make sure you provide long-term solutions to existing global challenges and always be aware of your limitations. Do not work alone; form partnerships. Addressing social issues requires collaboration, not competition. Resources are limited and challenges are everpresent – hence, seek more partnerships.

What do you love most about your home community? 

Think of a place where, despite enormous challenges, people strive to achieve their best. Think of a place where children improvise and play a sport of their choice despite limited resources. Think of a community where raising one’s child is a collective effort. Think of a place where food is shared happily by your community. These are just a few ways I can describe my home community and the things I love most about it.

What role do young leaders play in the world today?

Young leaders have a key role in three areas:

  1. Initiating tough conversations that result in sustainable development.
  2. Monitoring and evaluating the work of their local government, international organizations, and holding them accountable to their promises.
  3. As digital natives, utilizing technology to solve global issues. 

Why is it important for young people to focus on social impact?

At the core of leadership is impact! Leadership without impact is inconsistent with the behavior, lifestyle, and duties of a leader. Being young is a privilege, and as such, we are in a better position to form partnerships, seek financial support, and engage key stakeholders to solve societal problems. We owe it to ourselves to create the change we dream of.

What are your goals for the future?

Aside from The Agenda Project, I am currently running a career portal called Career1o1. The portal provides online content and career services for students, graduates, entrepreneurs, entry- and mid-level employees, and senior executives.

Tell more about your work in response to COVID-19

Unfortunately, no work is able to be undertaken on The Agenda Project during COVID-19. Schools are currently on break and this has impacted the continuity of the project. However, in my own small way, I used the opportunity to provide pro-bono HR consulting services to the Malaika School in D.R. Congo.