As part of Lifestylz GH’s interview series, we bring you our premier interview with Sangu Delle.

Profile: Sangu Delle
Sangu Delle is a senior at Harvard University. He was born and raised in Ghana, and is the youngest of five children in a bi-religious family (his father is Catholic while his mum is Muslim). He attended Christ the King Catholic School (CTK) and went on to study at the Ghana International School (GIS) until his O-Levels when he transferred to the Peddie School (a college preparatory school in NJ) on scholarship. His areas of concentration in academics are Economics and African studies, with a particular focus on development.


To be involved in the development of Ghana and Africa at large in some capacity. In the past, he was more involved in non-profit and development work, but has increasingly become active in entrepreneurial and business ventures; a testament to his belief that there should be “less foundations and more entrepreneurs” in Africa. In his own words “the sustainable development of Africa should be tied to the growth of the private sector.” Consequently, Sangu aims at advancing the economic development of Ghana and Africa through the medium of business and social entrepreneurship.

Key Influences in His Life

His mum
Due to the fact that his father was usually busy, Sangu’s mum practically raised him. “I consider her to be the cornerstone of my success because she imbedded the values of hard work, integrity and an almost crazy standard of excellence.” He recounts an incident as a student at CTK, when he finished first in his class for the academic year and had 100% in practically all of his classes…with the exception of social studies, which was a 92%. When he mentioned it to his mother, she did nothing to hide her disappointment even though he thought he had done okay. “She almost beat me. Her argument was that if I had gotten 40%, then it meant I clearly hadn’t understood what had been taught. A 92% meant I knew the material, but didn’t uphold the highest standards of excellence, for one reason or another.” This experience stuck with him, and since then he has applied really high standards of excellence to everything he does.

Kwame Nkrumah
Sangu considers Kwame Nkrumah a source of inspiration simply because of his vision. He alludes to Europe’s recent advancements with the euro and its regional integration, and then states “Kwame Nkrumah had this vision ages ago. He was a visionary for African integration. Despite certain perceptions on his leadership, I think it would be a unanimous decision that he was a visionary.”

The Real Ghanaian
“In a lot of my work with development projects and traveling to rural areas, I continue to be inspired and encouraged by the ingenuity of people living in rural Ghana. With all the cards dealt them – lack of educational, sanitary, health facilities and so on – they still approach life with an optimistic and hopeful outlook.”

His Main Goal in Life

“Service to Ghana; however that pans out. Creating economic opportunities to employ people; development projects to provide irrigation systems or water. I’ve always felt that God has blessed me in life and that I have a moral responsibility, and particularly because of my love for Ghana, I have a strong desire to give back to my country.”

His Harvard Experience and Development Projects
How It All Began
“I learned to read at 3. At 5 I was looking through my dad’s books and saw some journals he received from the Harvard School of Public Health. I asked him what a university was and he said that was where smart people went. I asked what Harvard was and he told me that was where the smartest people went. In my 5-year old head, I didn’t know where Harvard was, but thought it was in Greece; with a huge man like Socrates towering over all the scholars. I also knew I wanted to go there.”

Young Sangu wrote to the then Harvard President Rudenstine expressing his interest in the school, and surprisingly, the President replied and sent Sangu books, t-shirts and other items. Little Sangu who thought Harvard was in Greece soon established correspondence with the Harvard head and continued that correspondence through to Larry Summers. Harvard had a program that Sangu really wanted to get into, however his father’s friend – the then Ghanaian ambassador to Italy – tried to dissuade him by telling him it was young and foolish for him to dream of going to Harvard. “I was crushed, but remained stubborn because for me, this 5-year old, it was truly my dream to go to this Harvard University in Greece. I worked hard, and soon realized that Harvard was in Cambridge, Massachusetts and that in order to get in, one had to work hard and be the best one could be. And even with all of that, you have to get lucky. I applied, got lucky and got in early action and the rest is history.”

Making Connections
At Harvard, Sangu had a rich experience, both academically and socially. “I always believed that I, and we as Harvard students, have a moral responsibility to our societies.” Consequently, Sangu teamed up with one of his college roommates to establish the Harvard African Development Initiative, which aims at ameliorating situations in Africa. Project Access to Water for Agymenti (a town 25km to the north of Accra), was set up in partnership with WaterAid Ghana, the Akuapem Community Development Program, and the Ministry of Water, Works and Housing to build a water borehole, latrines and other water and sanitation facilities for the 1500 beneficiaries in the community. One of the important elements, which turned out to be a great lesson in development for Sangu and his collegues, was the issue of sustainability. They had planned to embark on the project with qualified people, the best technology and with the best of intentions. However, when relaying their plans to Minta Aboagye of the Ministry of Water, Works and Housing, a question surfaced. After they finished their work and headed back to Harvard, what would happen to the solar panels and other technologies they intended to put in place? “We hadn’t considered the holistic aspect of development, so we had to work with the community and adopt a different technology that was sustainable, and we also trained a mechanic who could fix the pump if it got damaged.” They also came across a contaminated spring, where most of the community sourced its water from, and found a broken solar panel system which was supposed to clean the spring. According to the inhabitants of the town, an “obroni” person had installed it there and left. This not only hammered in the importance of a holistic and sustainable approach to development projects, but also taught them the importance of quality control and monitoring projects. Consistent monitoring of the project soon showed that there were iron ore deposits in the water and called for a water treatment component to the project, which was completed recently. “We wouldn’t have known if we had just left. We would have thought that we’d helped them, when in reality, we’d have only created another problem of iron ore in their water.”

Other Projects
Sangu Delle worked with Evelyn Higginbotham in an amazing new social engagement initiative which links academic studies with practical experience to allow students to understand how and why academic and technological advancement are challenged by different cultures and societies. “I worked with a multi-disciplinary team, and from a personal and academic standpoint I became knowledgeable about poverty and global challenges. This later became the basis for my alternate thesis, and I am writing a policy proposal for increasing attention to water and sanitation. Ghana is currently investing less than 2% in those areas.”

Sangu is also working on a documentary with KSM to show the importance of community involvement in development projects. With the rural irrigation project in Northern Ghana, Sangu interviewed one guy who mentioned that he didn’t understand why Ghana imports food. “Ghanaians have the skill but just lack the technological capabilities. Instead of giving Africans fish, we should teach Africans how to fish.” Consequently, the irrigation project was set up to increase yield per acreage of land and to allow the farmers to make profit from selling excess produce. Other projects that African Development Initiative supports include a malaria project in Sierra Leone; an orphanage in Uganda; and a one child per laptop project, also in Sierra Leone. “As we’re learning from these projects we try to cross-apply; that’s the key benefit of having a great number of students working on different development projects under the same platform.”
[More info on Sangu’s development work here:]

Sangu Delle: Finalist for Bentley University and Time Magazine’s 2005 “Tomorrow25” Award
Sangu was featured in Time Magazine in 2005 as a finalist for the Tomorrow25 award. Sangu recalls how grateful he was for the award, but in some ways he was also terrified. An official ofTime told him and the other finalists that they were counting on them to change the world. “We laughed.” Sangu recalls, “But the guy was like “No, we’re serious about that.” I went back to the hotel that night and his words haunted me. To whom much is given, much is expected in return. Since then, I’ve intensified my efforts at contributing to the world.” Sangu also found the experience quite humbling as he met extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. “I now have a great network of like-minded individuals who support my development initiatives.” With a chuckle, he adds, “I guess it was probably helpful in applying for college. I’ve always been proud of it, but I also remain cognizant of the implications- to contribute to a better world.”
[To see the Time Magazine Spread:]

The Rumor Mill: Presidential Aspirations

According to the rumor mill, Sangu is an aspiring presidential candidate. I decided to find out once and for all if the rumors were true and if he would like to confirm his candidacy. In his own words, “My goals are simply to contribute to a better world and society. At this point in time politics is not my focus. I have academics, development projects, entrepreneurial ventures… and making my mum the happiest woman in the world”

According to Delle: Ghana’s Top Three Priorities
Despite his current non-focus on politics, I was still curious to find out what Sangu thinks Ghana’s top three priorities should be. His answer: Education, the Economy, and Healthcare.


With regards to education Sangu believes that although it might be easier to build infrastructure in Ghana, it is more important to help create the next generation of Ghanaians who can build that infrastructure on their own. “If you look at the trajectory of other countries, in South East Asia for instance, the root of their development is investment in education. Even Obama is focused on that since lack of education takes away a country’s competitive edge. I’m convinced if we invest in education we’ll be halfway to where we want to be.” He advocates a common education and philosophy and notes that, “If your history starts with when the British came to Ghana, then you don’t know anything about your history. We need an educational system that is truly for and by Ghanaians; one that can create the national fabric and interest.” His main criticism of Ghana’s current educational structure is the ‘cut and paste’ approach it uses. “There isn’t a sufficient emphasis on critical thinking. The cut and paste approach doesn’t really prepare Ghanaians for challenges. We need an educational system that is formed for our own needs.”

Sangu advocates building an economy that is sustainable; fueled by private sector growth; and promotes local businesses to succeed. He dreams of an economy where the MTNs, Frankies and other established businesses are owned by Ghanaians. “I get inspired by stories of people like Chinery Hesse (Ghana’s Bill Gates) and his Black Star Line SMS-based application. It fills me with pride because his e-commerce application is truly transforming our lives.” Sangu believes that in order to improve Ghana’s economy, a transition from reliance on donor funding and commodities is key. “Then we can have a sustainable, resilient, innovation-based economy that truly empowers the local African entrepreneur. We don’t have to ‘recreate the wheel.’ Unlike the Europeans who had to move gradually from telephone landlines to mobile phones, we skipped a generation and moved straight to mobile phones.”

Delle notes that healthcare is one of the greatest challenges facing all nations including the US and UK. “Building a health system that is affordable and offers high quality service is one of the most expensive undertakings a government can pursue. It is a challenge in a lot of ways. Politically it might not be the best decision, but it is necessary. Without good health we’re finished. There is no reason why people should be dying from malaria when we have a cure.”

Ultimately, if Sangu Delle ever had the chance to speak to the President of Ghana, he would suggest that the President focuses on these three sectors to create an educated, healthy and productive citizenry contributing to the growth of the economy to usher in the era of true development.

Sangu’s Opinion: The Global Financial Crisis and the Bank of Ghana (BOG)
When asked about his thoughts on the notion that African countries escaped the initial effects of the global financial crisis due to their isolation from the global financial system Sangu responded “It’s false that we’re not integrated. We’re not fully integrated, so we didn’t feel the initial impacts but we’ll feel the impacts.” He went on to add that it was unfair to base the relatively lower impact of the crisis in Ghana on integration. “Just talking about integration is being unfair to Ghana; we’re failing to give credit where credit is due. The Bank of Ghana has the soundest regulatory system I have ever seen. There’s substantial leverage controls and an adequate monitoring system. We definitely need to commend BOG and the governor for their excellence and for promoting a sound banking sector. When I was younger, there were only 4 banks. Now there are 26 and even now, under 20% of the Ghanaian population has bank accounts, so the sector has promising opportunities. We come across very few areas where the West can learn from Africa, and this is one of them. The U.S. is now adopting regulatory methods that are already in place in Ghana’s banking sector.”

Sangu’s Greatest Challenge and Blessing
Sangu sums up his greatest current challenge in one word “balance”. He goes on to add, “In the pursuit of success, hard work is essential. It is important not to get caught up in the trees and miss the forest. Look at the big picture- why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s the point of it all?” He recalls how he would sleep for a few hours each day and would get so busy he wouldn’t be in touch with his family and friends. “My hard work is not just for myself but for my family and country. Sometimes you’ve got to step back, because if you get so caught up you miss out on the most important things in life – your family and friends.”

His greatest challenge is closely linked to his greatest blessing. “My family keeps me grounded and gives me something to live for. It’s a challenge striking a balance between being successful professionally, personally, spiritually and so on. Time becomes the one thing you can’t buy. I grappled with it a lot and realized that the greatest blessing is having family and friends who keep me from going insane. Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible without God. God has been so good to me. I sometimes make promises and slack off, but He’s been amazing.”

Sangu’s Final Words to Ghanaian Youth
Hard Work
“Three things. First, there’s no substitute for hard work. I believe in Aristotle’s quote that you do best what you do the most. Excellence is not an act, but a habit. Be willing to invest the time. I’m a big believer in hard work because it pays off and that applies to everything. Look at Michael Jordan; he worked harder than his team mates; practiced 1000 throws when others practiced 500. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s culturally embedded in our society anymore. Even in Ghanaian schools, where growing up there was a huge emphasis on hard work, that seems to be wavering. .

Dreams & the Power of Imagination
Secondly, never underestimate the power of dreams and imagination. Never let anyone convince you to give these up. One of the greatest American presidents, Abraham Lincoln lost 8 elections, before he finally made it to the White House. My favorite artist, Jay-Z, always jokes about having his MBA from Marcy Projects. He believed in his dreams and today he is a successful entertainment mogul. One of my professors at Harvard who is a former classmate and friend of President Obama told us about Obama’s relentless determination. When Obama run for the House of Representatives in Illinois and lost, he called my professor up and told him he had figured out why he lost; he was going to run for senate instead. It’s like running for assemblyman and losing, and choosing to run for an MP position instead—it sounds crazy, but he won. He didn’t let the skeptics stop him. Hard work is a fuel for dreams which are the x on the map and your vision. Without vision, hard work is pointless.”

Giving Back

Finally, give back. My mum always told me “I don’t care how poor you are, there’s always someone who’s worse off than you.” To whom much is given, much is expected. We must give back.”

This interview was conducted and transcribed by Jemila Abdulai, Chief Editor of Lifestylz GH. []