At 25 years of age, Esther Yap packed her bags and embarked on a year-long AIESEC management training internship in Ghana. She had planned to stay in Ghana for only a year, but was soon offered a full-time job as a marketing manager of a beverage distributor. We chat with Esther to learn more about her adventure in the West African country, and what made her stay on in Ghana after her internship.
What was the internship programme that you interned at?
After graduating from Nanyang Technological University, I embarked on a year-long AIESEC management trainingship to work as a training officer in a small Ghanaian consultancy firm based in Accra. As a training officer, I was responsible for assisting the training manager to develop and conduct corporate training courses in performance assessment, teambuilding, and organisational skills among others. We got to travel rather frequently to the gold mines in a town called Tarkwa in the western region southwest of South Ghana to conduct our corporate training courses. I terminated my internship after 10 months when I was offered a job by my current employer.
Why Ghana amongst all the other countries and African countries?
The opportunity to work in Ghana was among the first options offered to me on the AIESEC database. I had considered job opportunities in China and the Middle East but I remembered feeling really adventurous when I was selecting my internship country. I was advised by my AIESEC exchange programme manager to ‘try working somewhere I’ll never go again after in my life’.
At that time, I knew little about Ghana or the African Continent, except for the usual (and mostly negative) stereotypes. It is so ironic that given our global mindset, most of the Singaporeans that I’ve met (myself included) seem to associate Africa primarily with South Africa and Egypt. I chose Ghana out of all the African countries because it was English speaking and relatively safer. Ghana was also predominantly Christian, which gave assurance to my family that I will continue to practice my faith there. At 25 years old, I felt it was the right time for me to try something completely unconventional.
How would you describe Ghana to a first-timer?
I think Ghana is an exciting emerging market that is more promising than the other West African countries. It is English-speaking and relatively safe, with friendly people. Its sub-tropical climate means that the weather is drier as compared to Singapore’s humidity; meaning we’re less susceptible to perspiring outdoors. Ghana is a place for free-spirited, adventurous people who know how to have a good time and love experiencing new things. It is also an ideal place for entrepreneurs who already have substantial capital to invest.
There are actually many Chinese and Indians here who had established big construction companies that built roads and telecommunication structures in cities such as Tema and Takoradi. In fact, the first meal I had when I landed was stir-fried Chinese noodles at the airport. Also, one of the largest supermarket chains in Ghana called Melcom, is owned by a rich Indian family.
Why did you decide to continue working in Ghana after the internship?
I was not ready to leave Ghana for Singapore as I felt that I could do more in Ghana if I worked in an industry that I found to be more interesting. I was referred by one of my friends to work for my current company, and I accepted the job because it offered me a lot of room to grow and develop my work experience with an international community.
There is one thing that continues to attract foreigners and expatriates to stay on in Ghana – it is the sense of freedom to carve out a niche for oneself. The management training interns like me who come to Ghana are not pressured by a sense of identity and responsibility from ‘back home’ and know how to enjoy a good work and social life balance. I was able to build up a wide network of friends and business contacts in a short span of time quickly.
Where are you working currently in Ghana?
I am working as a marketing manager of a beverage distributor called Imexco Ghana Limited in Accra, Ghana. My office is primarily based in the capital, Accra. I get to travel to other city like Kumasi and small towns like Akosombo in the southern part of the Eastern region of Ghana to visit customers. I also had the opportunity to attend a regional marketing meeting (RMM) organised by Moet-Hennessy last June in France.
What is your job scope?
As a marketing manager of beverage brands, the primary focus of my job is to develop and establish the presence and visibility of beverage brands across all customer sectors (hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, supermarkets, liquor shops, filling stations and the open market – which are the mass street markets in Ghana) with the ultimate aim of increasing sales in the long run.
Being given the opportunity to be a brands spokesperson at times by appearing on television can be quite surreal as I do feel a little like a ‘mini-celebrity’ at times. Naturally, being a foreigner makes me stand out even more in the media. I find it quite amusing and heartening that I get shouts of ‘Madam Hennessy’ or ‘Moët’ in the streets by local Ghanaians. To me, it’s a good sign that brand awareness is very present in the market.
What are your colleagues and friends like?
Most of the sales and marketing team is made up of local Ghanaians except for a few of us; namely myself, one Ivorian sales representative, my brand officer/design intern who is English and my country sales manager who is French. Being in this country for close to four years gave me the opportunity to make friends from around the world. As the expatriate community in Accra is relatively small compared to other countries, it is very easy to make friends and build up a good and diverse network. My current core group of close friends all come from different countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Ukraine, France and Lebanon. I think I’m very blessed to be able to have such a diverse and colourful bunch of friends who know how to live life to the fullest. Even though we all came from different backgrounds, we are all like-minded people who were drawn to this country by our love for adventure and ambition to seek out money making opportunities.
If you were to compare your initial apprehensions about Ghana, how has that evolved since working and living there for some years now?
My initial apprehension was whether I could survive, let alone enjoy and carve a niche in my career, especially in an environment that was so foreign to me. However, thanks to the exciting nature of my job, I get to meet people from diverse cultures. In terms of my career progression, I’m blessed to have accomplished and learnt so much about management skills within such a short period of time from an unpredictable, competitive and hands-on work environment.
How has Accra developed and changed during the time that you have spent there?
Accra is definitely more developed now than it was four years ago when I first arrived. Major roads and highways have been built. Three years ago, it was a complete nightmare travelling on what is now called the George W. Bush Highway. Previously, it was nothing but a huge dirt terrain with dust flying about, that stretched over 5km. To travel by car from the start of that road to the other end would take approximately 2 hours in peak traffic. Now it takes less than 10 minutes. There is an influx of property developers rushing to build hotels and condominiums in the airport residential areas, which is one of the most expensive areas to live in Accra. More hotels like the Movënpick Ambassadors Hotel, restaurants and nightclubs have also sprung up. Expatriates like me get to enjoy a wider selection of continental food.
We have a lot more to share about Esther’s amazing journey in Ghana! Stay tune to read more about Esther and her work experiences in part2 of her story!