“You don’t know until you talk to somebody the value that they bring to your life.”
That was the message Adwoa Konadu Perbi, WG’18, conveyed in the 60 Second Lecture she delivered during Wharton’s MBA Pre-term. 60 Second Lectures are an open forum for MBA students to address their classmates on any topic they choose.
Adwoa, who is a dual degree student at Wharton and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, believes in making connections. A social introvert, she prefers to make friends in a smaller, more intimate setting. She decided not get caught in the whirlwind of Pre-term, and that’s what she wanted to talk about in her lecture.
“People are excited to make connections,” she said. “Everybody is going for every event, but I realized pretty quickly even if I missed the event, I didn’t lose out. If you take your time to speak to people in another setting, then they feel that a connection has been made a little bit deeper.”
Adwoa, who most recently worked with the Millennium Development Authority in her home country of Ghana, earned a computer science degree at Cornell and has worked as an application developer at Goldman Sachs in New York and London. She also launched a fashion startup, AfroChic, the first online shop of its kind in Ghana.
Connecting Across Divisions
Making the move to Philadelphia while her husband stayed in Ghana, Adwoa chose to live in a Penn graduate apartment to accommodate her dual degree schedule, which requires her to spend semesters in both Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Moving back to student housing and living in University City, she had a different adjustment than some Wharton students.
“The apartment was furnished, but the first day I moved in, it was so stark! I felt like I was in a dormitory again,” she said.
She soon found her feet in Philadelphia. “I like that it’s laid out in a nice grid so I don’t get lost. I walk a lot so I like the fact that I can look at an address and start walking without referring to a map.”
At first Adwoa found herself gravitating toward other international students.
“Everything is new to us and the kinds of problems we’re facing are different. We’re downloading Venmo [a payment splitting app] and things that the other people take for granted,” she said.
She also sought connections with individuals who shared other aspects of her complex identity — other married students, the Wharton Christian Fellowship, the African American MBA Association, and the Wharton Consulting Club, as well as Wharton African Student Association.
“There’s just so many different ways to identify little groups within this big community,” she said. “You don’t feel alone.”
One of those smaller groups is her learning team.
“We’re a quietish group of very brilliant people,” she said. “When we finished MGMT610 and went through the simulation, it was a shock because that first day we were average in the class. That’s the thing about Wharton culture — everybody’s the best from wherever they came.”
Her team revamped their project, and in the end they finished first in the competition.
“We’re a high-performing learning team, so with lots of adjustments we managed to do it,” she said. “Sometimes I learned to be quiet so other people could talk, and I learned to be OK with decisions I didn’t agree with. At the end of the day, it’s a group thing. We stepped back, we adjusted, and we made it happen.”
Ready to Make Things Happen
Adwoa came to Wharton with clear goals.
“I’m here for the academics,” she said. “I’m searching for answers. I’m searching for practical ways to run a business or an economy … When I go back to Ghana, I want to be somebody who people can ask tough questions of and give solutions, because that’s what we need.”
She answered some of those questions at AfroChic, her manufacturing and retail company, which faced considerable challenges.
“Without cutting corners, paying bribes, or evading taxes, we created Ghana’s first successful online shop, pioneered social media marketing and became a catalyst for the fashion industry,” Adwoa said.
After working at an NGO and her startup, social impact is her bottom line, although consulting may be the next step she takes to achieve it.
“All my choices since I left Goldman have been to contribute in some way to the development of Ghana,” Adwoa said. “I may have been naive to think when I started that a little clothing company could make that big of an impact, but that was my motivation. I’m entrepreneurial because where there are problems, I think there are opportunities. I’m looking to explore the ways in which we can make business profitable and also have a social dimension.”
Until then, Adwoa continues to work toward the human connections she makes here at Wharton and in Philadelphia.
“For me, the value so far has been the people,” Adwoa said. “I do absolutely believe that everybody has a story. I try to be respectful of the people that I meet, whether they’re my colleagues in class or the security people in my building. The world is a better place when we take the perspective that everybody — no matter who they are or what they’ve done — has value.”
— Kelly Andrews
Posted: November 2, 2016