Personal development for national development – Ghana needs a paradigm shift

Independence ArchIntroduction

Many concerned Ghanaians have raised questions about Ghana’s development strategy.

The questions have ranged from what vision the country has to what the country’s specific development agenda is?

Some have even argued for an agenda or vision that every political party that comes into power would execute irrespective of ideology.

But I am not quite sure that any individual Ghanaian can tell me in three words what this country’s development goals are!

It is not clear what specific path of development the country is pursuing to attain the long-term goals of building an upwardly progressive society.

There is no clear path that the country has chosen in moulding its economy, politics, education, family and so on. The country’s development plans appear as confusing as the confused politicians in the helm of affairs.

Ghana has had different governments with varying ideologies over the years. And each of these governments has raised so much money, both donor funds and internally generated money, which have been sunk into the country towards developing our institutions and people.

There were some good results in some cases, but in other cases, we have had not so good results. In some instances, money was simply wasted in the name of development projects, including corruption and plain and simple thievery.

What in my candid opinion, Ghana as a country should be considering at this crucial era of its development in the 21st Century, is the concept of national development that focuses on the individual – a long term national development strategy that makes a conscious and calculated effort at grooming and developing the individual in order to achieve national development.

This argument is based on the fact that, it is the individual that makes the wider society and therefore, by building a formidable individual, a strong society could be built.

The concept of personal development

Personal development as a concept is the process by which an individual makes a conscious effort at understanding oneself. It is the process of fully discovering one’s potentials, abilities, role and place in the wider society and taking the responsibility to fulfil one’s goals in a way that the individual does not only stand out, but also makes an impact on other lives in a very useful manner.

Generally, we are all groomed, trained and brought up to meet the expectations of the societies we belong to through socialization. And socialization takes various forms, depending on where we are coming from. But one thing runs through every system of socialization, and that is, people are raised and taught to meet the expectations of the bigger, wider society.

In other words a growing individual is taught to behave in a manner that is acceptable to the wider society.


Socialization, either formal, that is, through the school system, or informal, through time tested cultural norms and values that are passed on to us, enable us to acquire the skills necessary for our survival such as communication, dietary manners, dress codes and interpersonal relationship skills.

Through education we are also taught the moral codes and demands of the society, but beyond these there are many more skills for life that we need to acquire on our own.

Indeed, much of what we are taught through upbringing at home are the basics and sometimes the general rules, with some specifics that are required for use within our families, but we acquire the specific details for application in the bigger society on our own, and often we do this through our interaction with our peers, older and more experienced members of the society and through the education system.

When we acquire these skills, we are expected to use them appropriately and extensively in as much as we can. It is when we use these skills that we would be able to derive the full extent of individual as well as societal happiness. We would also achieve our immediate needs as well as the long term goals and requirements of our society including the expectations that society imposes on us.

And we can do these by mastering our specific capabilities as individuals.

Individual capabilities

Each one of us has capabilities, but having abilities alone in itself is not enough, we need to know these capabilities and how we can make them part of our survival skills and way of life.

These capabilities or talents are inborn or learned.

For instance some people are better teachers than others, while others are better footballers than some. It is these individual capabilities that set us apart.

However, to make use of our individual capabilities, we have to make conscious, calculated and practical efforts to enable us to learn to know, understand these capabilities, nurture them to be able to rise up to a level where a mastery of these abilities is brought to bear on our functioning in life to our own benefit as well as the society to which we belong.

Personal development, therefore, is building yourself up to function properly and effectively in society using your natural abilities, the knowledge you have acquired through training and your own experience.

Where the state comes in

The state has a responsibility to provide the platform for individuals to develop themselves.

The school system for a long time has been the means through which the state provides the resources for individual citizens to develop their skills. But the extent to which that has been fully realized in our national development agenda is yet to manifest.

Our school system seems to be geared towards academic achievement only in most cases. To the extent that some of the excellent students from most of our education institutions know more about the subjects they studied and wrote exams on and very little or nothing at all about other subjects.

Often talented but not too bright students are never acknowledged by our education institutions.

I personally know two men who about eight years or so ago graduated in physics from the University of Ghana with Third Class. Obviously, they would not qualify to study for a graduate degree at Legon.

However, when other universities including overseas universities offered these students admission to study for their Masters programmes, these students came out shining.

One of them before he completed his Masters thesis had invented a technology for which world renowned manufacturers went falling over each other to acquire the patent rights.

As I write, he is now an established engineer in aerodynamics! He is into designing aeroplanes somewhere in Europe.

The second man became a consultant for a UN agency before he also completed his Masters programme.

Integration of individual skills

The state institutions were only looking at the academic attainments of these valuable individuals, but they had much more than could be seen in their grades.

Clearly, it is more often the case that skilful individuals are left to fend for themselves, leading to a waste of scarce human resources. This is due to the fact that, the state fails to recognize in a clear and concise manner as a matter of policy the peculiar role the individual could play in achieving the national agenda, when given the opportunity to develop.

Indeed, not only should our education system be left to groom the individual to attain their full potentials for the national good, the state in addition to the education system must evolve a concept through which individual skills can be enhanced in tune with national development goals. As a matter of fact individuals should be trained in such a way that they can stand on their own and contribute to nation building.

As a matter of fact this will not happen by chance, it must be worked at. The counseling departments of our school systems could be equipped to do that. Their role should be to motivate and guide individuals to develop their peculiar skills to become not only competent individuals but also team players, independent thinkers and doers.

And again, the state can establish structures that would identify specific individuals who have the requisite skills to accomplish specific tasks. These would then be assigned mentors, provided with the tools and encouraged to exhibit their innate abilities in accomplishing tasks that enhance national programmes. The state must be purposeful in its development goals.

If the state makes a conscious effort at planning and creating the environment for individuals to be focused and fit within specific long term national objectives, by building the desired skills for specific projects – and there are so many gifted individuals who when given the opportunity could contribute in no small way to the nation’s development – we certainly would move forward.

Square pegs in round holes

Because we do not have a defined concept of creating avenues for individuals with special and specific skills to fill positions in organizations, we have put square pegs in round holes, and the effect is the abysmal results we are getting in our efforts to build a formidable nation.

Sadly, there are people in management positions in this country who are not managers at all. At worst, they are de-motivators of very highly motivated and skilful subordinates.

Indeed, what we seem to be good at as a nation is to destroy or frustrate talented and visionary individuals. There were times in the history of Ghana, when the state has come down heavily on gifted individuals whose only crime was that they used their skills and knowledge to acquire wealth and status.


It is my informed opinion that a well groomed and trained individual who ascribes to acceptable moral conduct and is willing to play by the rules is not only an asset to him or herself, but also to the nation.

And if the state makes a conscious effort at creating the atmosphere to spur individuals to work hard at learning to enhance their individual skills within the wider national orientation, each one could contribute directly and substantially to national development.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]

PS: This piece was written with material from my book – A Practical Handbook on Personal Development, published in 2005.

It was first published elsewhere.

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