Interview with Elizabeth Patterson: Girls’ education advocate and sponsor

Elizabeth Akua-Nyarko Patterson is the Founder and Executive director of the Girls Education Initiative of Ghana (GEIG) with a mission to support girls including those with special needs to access secondary and higher education as well as professional opportunities. Prior to GEIG, she served as Director of Communications and Marketing for The Council of Young African Leaders and Communications and Marketing Associate at Junior Achievement of New York. Elizabeth holds a Masters in Public Administration from NYU Wagner School of Public Service and a BA in Political Science and Business Management from New York University.  Elizabeth’s accolades include ‘2014 ReconnectGH-Education Entrepreneur, 2015 Vlisco Brand Ambassador for Ghana and the 2017 humanitarian of the year (from Ecclesiastical Bishops and Leaders Conference of Africa).  More on Elizabeth’s work at www.girlsedgh.org 

 

The case for the benefits of Girls’ education is clear and sound so where are countries losing the plot on advancing girls’ education? 

There’s slow but steady progress being made to close the gender gap in education. However, the disparity remains high in countries in the Global South. In these countries the gender gap across all sectors and education widens especially regarding urban and rural areas and communities. 

 

In your work on girls’ education, what are some of the results you’re getting that could be scaled up? 

The Girls Education Initiative of Ghana (GEIG) has been operational for five years now. During this time we’ve transitioned 17 young women from class six to senior high school, 15 girls from class six to junior high school, and 5 young women all the way to tertiary. Along each level of education GEIG has provided financial assistance/academic scholarships, leadership development, mentoring programmes, and professional advancement opportunities. In addition to the students who have received direct assistance from GEIG, our leadership development and mentoring programmes and activities have reached approximately 2000 people annually. 

 

Your work also benefits girls with special needs/disability. What do you hear from these children about what support is most useful to them? 

We’ve worked with students with learning differences, specifically dyslexia and difficulty in making mathematical calculations (dyscalculia). The most beneficial intervention we have supported them with is in receiving medical diagnoses. With the right diagnosis they’re able to receive accommodations such as extended time on assignments and exams. GEIG is also better able to advocate on their behalf to their schools and explain to their families why they may be underperforming. 

 

On education more broadly, most people are agreed on its importance for development but then the conversation somewhat gets stuck there. What needs to be happening to sustain the focus on education in a consequential way? 

I believe a more holistic approach needs to be taken when educating students.  Teachers and educators are the biggest asset in ensuring quality education. They need to be equipped with adequate resources and the freedom to do what will promote students’ success including ideally a shift towards practical education as well as technical skills and training. GEIG’s three pronged approach of academic support, leadership development/ mentoring and professional development we are seeing is proving effective in addressing lack of quality education in the communities we work with. 

 

Some say the approaches to date promoting women’s leadership are not nuanced enough to significantly move the needle. What’s your experience? 

My leadership experience has been moulded by the mentors I’ve had in my academic as well as professional life. I’ve adopted the leadership styles of mentors who are effective communicators and personable and who are intentional in achieving quantifiable results and impact. I aspire to be the kind of leader who builds other leaders and not followers. 

 

You’ve indicated that an auto accident you had many years ago changed your life story. How so and how did you handle the aftermath? 

The auto accident changed me physically. I now walk with a noticeable limp, an immobile left arm and cognitive limitations. However, I believe all these have motivated me to do more and better. I see the limitations as motivation to reach my fullest potential. 

 

You lived in the USA and relocated to Ghana some year ago. What would you say is the best of both worlds you’ve enjoyed in your efforts to drive change? 

I’ve gained an appreciation for efficient systems and a deeper appreciation for my culture and people. I’ve become more sympathetic and empathetic towards people’s needs. 

 

How did you learn to lead? 

I’m still learning to lead. I believe the leadership journey is a process and I continually assess and reassess what is working and what is not. I know I’m leading well when I’m able to build/empower another person to lead. I’m often told that I’m open and don’t treat people differently. I share these values with my team and students. 

 

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development please go to http://j.mp/verabooks

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