Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Legend of Inspiration: Ato Ulzen Appiah

You meet him and you see nothing but inspiration. He has got great brainchildren which are fruits of bold initiatives he took. He dared to be different; he chose not to be an ordinary youth but used his brains and abilities to make a difference. 

Around 2005 and at the age of 21, he co-founded the Ghana Think Foundation and through this, he started the Ghanaian music lyrics database. At that time, there was no place to find lyrics to Ghanaian songs and many people wanted to know about Ghanaian music and its messages it contained. It grew in popularity and in demand because correct lyrics and spelling was used, it was also a medium through which people learnt Ghanaian languages. After it had been incubated in Ghana Think for two years and had become a popular service that could be a business, the project was graduated out of the Ghana Think Foundation and became Museke.

Museke was born as an African music website with two main golden goals; firstly, to be the source of African music lyrics and secondly to unite African music lovers. Museke was an African music lyrics website at the start, where people could listen to music, watch videos, find news and blogs, listen to playlists, have discussions and learn about African music in general. It became the biggest contemporary African music site which was nicknamed “the African music Bible”. It had over 4000 lyrics to songs and content from over 45African countries. At that level, he had over 350,000 people visiting the site in one month.

He also organized two online African music awards, each awarding the best African musicians in 2010 and 2011 irrespective of country, genre and style. The second awards was held in New York City and streamed live on Television in the US and online as well. It was the first African music awards ceremony organized in North America.
Barcamp Ghana is another brainchild of his. Via the Ghana Think Foundation, he organised the very first barcamp in Ghana and in West Africa on December23, 2008. It was done to bring together Ghanaians in Ghana and in the Diaspora. Its aim was to showcase young Ghanaian ingenuity, excellence, connect and network Ghanaian youth.

 First event was held at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre and had over 150 attendees, awesome feedback was gotten. It connected many together, drove and inspired many to take action. Dorothy Gordon, the Director General at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre loved the event so much. She encouraged his team to have it in all the regions in Ghana. It’s really been hard to do said the young legend of inspiration. He led the organization of the next event in December 2009, this time with a mostly Ghanaian based Team. The event had 350 attendees. That team has been the core of Barcamp and the Ghana Think Foundation ever since.

The team has organized 28 Barcamps in Ghana now in the following locations; Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Cape Coast, Ho, Sunyani, Tema, Kasoa and Koforidua. Over 3500 have attended these events and a strong network of young change makers, doers and entrepreneurs has been built.
 Barcamp events have created many internship and job opportunities for attendees as well as professional ones. It has led to the formation of many Google groups in Ghana; the Junior Camp Ghana program, Blog camp Ghana and even movie projects. Many people have created companies based on Barcamp Ghana events.

Two Barcamps have been organised by his team in the United States, both in Washington DC. These led to the formation of REACH Ghana and other initiatives. Many connections have been formed that continues to shape our Ghanaian landscape and our entrepreneurial community.
Must be wondering whom this legend of inspiration is I guess? 
Ato Ulzen Appiah is his name. He is a Ghanaian born on 31st December, 1983. He had his primary and  junior high school education at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology primary and Jhs school. He further had his Bachelor degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and master’s degree at Stanford.
In primary school, he found his interest in arts and math. Throughout primary, he usually had the 4th, 5th or 6th position in class. In stage five, he took a major interest in trivia and general knowledge. He .used to read the newspapers and magazines all the time, fished for information and recorded all of that in a book at that tender age. From class six to junior high, he was 1st in class 90% of the time.

When the time was due to choose courses for Senior High School, he almost chose General Arts, where his interest lied but he resorted to General Science due to peer pressure. He attended Presbyterian Boys Senior High School for his senior high school education. There, he topped his class academically. “I started writing poems, stories and articles. I got more interested in debating and literature. It was hard to balance these interests and activities with academics, so my academics got hurt a bit" he said.

Meanwhile, he kept on winning competitions for his school and excelled in debates, writing and quizzes. In SHS 3, he unfortunately couldn’t make the school’s brilliant science and maths team. “I was sad because it was a goal of mine. I understood I wasn’t good enough but wanted to prove I was still great academically” he recounted. He worked and learned very hard for his senior secondary school certificate examination and had one of the best seven results out of over 300 science students in his school. He believes that when one is focused on something and is motivated, he or she can perform.

“In university, I didn’t care about my GPA; I cared much about the whole package; being smart, versatile, experienced, able to solve problems and being able to handle many things at the same time. I learnt to do so by practising proper time management, making smart choices, being skilled at things and leveraging others to learn and study he said”. No wonder he came out to be successful. He has traveled to Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Switzerland for work purposes while working at Google and Rancard in Ghana. He has had personal trips to Togo, United Kingdom and Dominican Republic on his own. He was in the United States for ten years for school and work. 

This is my legend of inspiration. I met him met him at a barcamp, one of his initiatives. Young but so inspiring. I am often fascinated about his initiatives and how he manages them. How he handles so many things at a time is so amazing.Knowing what he has been able to achieve through his efforts and determination so far, I thought he was worth celebrating; others had to hear about him, get inspired and take action. I took action when I got to know about his hard work and brilliant initiatives, hope you do too!