Prof. Fred McBagonluri
As Journalists, we often fix our attention on politicians for solutions to the country’s numerous problems. Rightly so, because politicians have the people’s mandate and our money to fix these difficulties.
It is also pursuant to, Article 162 (5) of the 1992 Constitution, which states that, “all agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.”
However, in doing so, we tend to lose sight of efforts being made by stakeholders in the private sector. There are few of such persons who are making what I term, country-destiny-changing strides on the quiet.
One of them, who is making waves in Academia and the engineering sub-sector, is Prof. Fred McBagonluri
Our American appetite – music, clothes, cars and education
Ghanaians love things made in America. From music, through clothes to cars, we pride ourselves in owning anything USA. With regards to education, we salivate, literary, at the mention of Harvard and Yale Universities.
But there are the real deals. Context wise. Central State University, Virginia Tech, University of Dayton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They have one thing in common- Prof Fred McBagonluri.
After acquiring all the knowledge, skills and most importantly, the right attitude, from all these eminent institutions in the USA, he proceeded to support ‘Uncle Sam’s (American) economy, in a really impactful manner.
Let’s see how. Dr. McBagonluri worked at senior Management levels for Siemens Healthcare, Becton, Dickinson & Co and Joerns Healthcare.
He pioneered the development of innovative products and manufacturing processes leading to over $250M profit for these companies in new markets.
He led a team at Siemens Healthcare that delivered the first direct consumer product design and manufacture, using digital manufacturing protocols.
He has written over 40 US patents and patent applications with 22 issued patents. Simply put, these are original ideas for various products from and by Prof McBagonluri.
Making him, arguably, the Ghanaian with the most US patents. These patents are all health systems and processes related, including a hearing device. This is critical if one considers the fact that 20 to 30 percent of Ghanaians are hearing impaired.
He was a 2009 NASA Astronaut Candidate Finalist. A highly competitive, highly selective, and highly sought after competition. But he made it to the final list of 47 out of 4,000 applicants.
‘Back to Baatan’- The Returnee
These are titles of two different movies. When I was younger, I watched many American and Chinese Movies at Opera Square, Accra. We referred to the 12:00noon session as ‘Twer’.
One of the movies we watched was titled, ‘Back to Baatan’. This is an American war film that stars, among others, the legendary John Wayne.
The Movie depicts events that took place after the Battle of Bataan (1941–42) on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. We subsequently used ‘Back to Baatan’ to depict situations where people have come full circle.
The returnee is the title of a Ghanaian movie, in which a Ghanaian returned from an above average lifestyle in America to face severe economic challenges in Ghana.
This is however, not the story of Prof Fred McBagonluri. After twenty-five years in America, Prof Fred McBagonluri is back. He is not enjoying the knowledge and skills, by himself, as Americans will put it.
Having seen all that there is in the corporate world, he decided to give back to society. And where else, is best to do this, than in Academia- he is sharing that much sought-after American training with the Ghanaian youth.
And no, he did not join the fray. He went private. First, as an Associate Professor and Founding Dean, of Engineering at Ashesi University (AU), Berekuso, Ghana. Ashesi University is the first liberal arts-based American-style University in Ghana. He served on the Executive Leadership Team of AU, as well as on the Academic Council.
Currently, Dr. McBagonluri is Provost and President of Academic City College (ACC). Whose mission, is to educate future-ready leaders, who can innovatively solve complex problems within an ethical, entrepreneurial and collaborative environment.
Before joining academia, Dr. McBagonluri served as the first Executive Director of the Ghana Climate Innovation Center (GCIC), one of 7 World Bank Climate Innovation Centers with a focus on creating entrepreneurship opportunities for Ghanaian youth through climate change mitigation strategies and technology development.
He serves on a Technical Committee of the Ministry of Environment Science Technology and Innovation (MESTI). Here, he contributes to the development of science technology and innovation policies for the Government of Ghana.
My attention was first drawn to this genius when I watched a documentary on Academic City College on TV.
The gist of the documentary was that upon the emergence of the Corona Virus Disease, 2019 (COVID-19), Prof McBagonluri, selfless as he is, thought it wise to put his skill to use for the good of all Ghanaians.
This is the statement that made me drop that TV remote, “at the beginning of this crisis, my understanding was that there were only 67 ventilators in the country. And as you know, this was a global pandemic and there was uncertainty as to what the outcome of this pandemic was going to be.
So, we just started working on trying to develop a system for ventilation, so that should the crisis actually hit, there will be a way to remedy the situation.
So, I sent a call out on Facebook and had over hundred volunteers. So, it was volunteers and students, putting together resources to make this happen. The initial intent was to come up with something that is assemblable locally. Parts were local.
I think in that regard, we were successful. Overall, what we set up to do was low-cost ventilators, and we achieved that.”
At the end of this ‘national service’, a locally made ventilator was manufactured. Authorities of the Ghana Standards Authority and the Food and Drugs Authority are currently assessing the product for approval and production in commercial quantities.
GIZ is Germany’s leading provider of international cooperation services. They have graciously offered to sponsor the roll out of the ventilators with $200,000.00.
“You need it beyond Covid-19. We have customized it such that it can be used in an ambulance. And we want to make it solar-powered or electricity chargeable. The first product will be called Stella I, named after a former UN Diplomat who donated GHC10,000.00 in support of the project.
Shots of the campus environment, as showed in the documentary looked so beautiful, I wondered if it is in Ghana. You can therefore imagine my pleasure when I found out that it is here. Not in the ‘Ivy League’ locations of Accra though. Right there, in Haatso.
Then on Thursday, July 29, Lexis Bill hosted him on Personality Profile on Joy 99.7 FM. This programme ensures that, if you are doing something phenomenal in Ghana, ‘the world will know your name’.
Continuing from the beginning – from Bawalashie to the world
Fred was born to a middle class family in the 1970. His father, David Bagonluri, who comes from a famous family in the Upper West region, the Bagonluri family, was a Public Servant through and through. His Dagao mother, Patience Mensah, born in Labadi, was a very industrious homemaker.
“I grew up with my Mum’s parents at Bawaleshie, then a village in Accra, very close to the University of Ghana, at a time when there was no electricity. Grandpa, Boye Nuuri, was a security man by night and ‘Samasama’ (Health Inspector) by day. He told Lexis.
Humble beginnings, no doubt. And he is not shy to acknowledge this, “I am a village boy. I have two brothers and two half siblings. I aspired to become a mechanic.”
The desire to work in academia was ingrained on his young mind, when he walked through University of Ghana, Legon, campus as a thoroughfare anytime he went truant- ‘Kob)l)’.
He was inspired by the beauty of the imposing Legon buildings and the serene environment, and he drew aspirations from the street names that reflect honour to the Faculty and Academic Council members- “Prof. Kankam Dacosta, Prof. Ebenezer Neizer-Laing and Prof. Asiedu Yirenkyi”, now Prof McBagonluri recollected these names with ease as he reminisced.
A clear case of if you conceive it, believe it and you will achieve it.
Going to America- If you are studious, the fundamentals will propel you
One lesson that life has taught me is that, in all things, we should let God lead. Thus, when you lose something, consider it as God’s way of taking away what could hinder his next agenda for your life.
Children love their grandparents, sometimes more than the parents. And if you live with your grandparents, the enjoyment goes a notch higher. But disaster struck, young Fred McBagonluri’s grandpa died. He, Grandma Kooma (Kojo Maame) and his brothers had to relocate to Wa, the Upper West Regional capital.
“I went to Senior Secondary School under really bizarre circumstances. I was in Form 3 in a Middle School in Wa, I was chosen by a teacher, Raymond Bayor to represent the school, in a regional quiz competition, and I won.
When we came back, I learnt about a flier. The St. Louis Preparatory School in Wa, was recruiting students to prepare them, through one year of rigour, to write the Common Entrance examination. So I gave it a shot.
Three of us, we walked about five miles to St Agnes, Jirapa for the exam. Two of us passed and we went to St Louis Preparatory School for one year, passed the Common Entrance and went to Nandom Secondary School. Going to secondary school was therefore circumstantial,” Fred intimated.
That, is how Nandom Secondary School authorities welcomed the young man who will soon make them proud with his scholarship prowess. At the end of his secondary education, young Fred got a Distinction- one of only two students who had distinctions in the school that year.
They ended up in St Augustines College, together, for the GCE ‘A’ level programme. “One day, I got an EMS (Expedited Mail Service) letter from my Mum that my name had been announced on radio as a Scholarship recipient under Head of State Award for the distinct performance in the 1991 West African Secondary School Examinations,” Fred related on the Personality Profile programme.
He, therefore left Cape Coast for Accra, the Scholarship Secretariat to the precise. Long story short, it took the intervention of a God Father, so to speak, in Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu, then Minister for Defence, his Dad’s friend, to get the officials of the Scholarship Secretariat to process his documents, in time, for that destiny-fulfilling trip to the US of A, on September 10, 1991.
Not 10th September, 1991, although I can bet, that the latter, was what he wrote on the Disembarkation Form, when he arrived in America. America has a way of changing you in every way, including how to write dates. You can smile to that.
“So, my trip to America was made possible by, ‘little bit of good luck and a little bit of hard work,” that’s how the going to America story ended.
A mechanic in dreamland, Father of Modern Engineering Education in Ghana for real
Back home, the boy who dreamt of becoming a mechanic is now living the reality of impacting the next generation of Engineers in Ghana, as a Mechanical Engineer.
He wants to be known as the father of modern engineering education in Ghana. And he is working earnestly towards that.
At Academic City University College, Prof McBagonluri is leading the charge to introduce courses that would meet the needs of industry.
“We’ve started all these new programmes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We are on the verge of launching a course in Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the undergraduate level. We’ve launched Robotics. We’ve launched Industrial and Systems, Biomedical, we’ve launched Entrepreneurship.”
He also told Lexis that since returning to Ghana, he has been engaging in various activities with the ultimate objective of contributing to the development of the engineering human resource base of the country.
“We are working together with the National Science and Maths team. Before this particular year, most of their activities have been theoretical; it has become necessary for us to bring the experimental component. To make sure that our kids are graduating with degrees, but also with good skills. So we are hosting the first in-lab, experimental hand-on type experience for the participants,” Prof McBagonluri explained.
According to him, among the products that the National Science and Maths Quiz participants are being exposed to is an electric car and the locally manufactured ventilator.
The fact that former students, who are doing well in their career, get back to him for recommendations, is clearly, a vote of confidence in him.
Thankfully, his exploits have caught the attention of the Presidency. Prof McBagonlori was invited to participate in discussions around innovation and sustainability and employment in Ghana.
“In less than five years, I was invited to the President’s conference, which comprises of fifty people around the world to converge to talk about how Ghana can transition from foreign aid to industrialisation.
Recently, I participated as the only representative from the only private university on innovation, engineering education in the sub-region. The attention that my work is beginning to garner is encouraging,” Prof revealed with a tone of voice that depicts modesty but a facial expression that shows satisfaction with what God has used him for, so far.
Prof is a member of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and member of Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
Honours – discerning eyes are watching
He has received a total of seventeen academic and professional awards. Space is not our best ally, otherwise I would have listed all here.
In 2009, he was a Finalist of the US NASA Astronaut Corps. The year before, in 2008, out of all Black engineers in America, they found him suitable for the award of US Black Engineer of Year: Most Promising Scientist. In 2018, Ashesi University adjudged him the Innovator of the Year.
Personal – Wife, Kids, love for the Ultimate Driving Machine et al
If you think that the famous Black American Heavy Weight Boxer, Mike Tyson, is history, please think again.
Prof McBagonluri draws strategic inspiration from a quote attributed to Iron Mike, every day- “You think you have a strategy until the first blow lands on your mouth- Mike Tyson. That’s to underscore the importance of Evaluation, in the Strategy Development process- Planning is different from Implementation, period.
“I love boxing, because it challenges your intellect. I love to drive BMW- the ultimate driving machine for its durability, robustness and reliability. I love to write. I have written 10 novels, 8 have been published. I would go insane if did not write,” is how Prof shared his hobbies and interests.
And he is a Linguist, “I can handle myself very well in French. I don’t know any Ga who can speak Ga better than me. I speak Ga-Adangbe, Dagaare, Twi with an accent, Ewe, I understand and I have a working knowledge of Hausa.”
Prof McBagonluri is married to Mrs. Diana McBagonluri (nee Bamford), who transitioned from a neighbour in Wa, through a chance meeting in the UK, to become his wife. They have three lovely daughters with inspiring Dagaare names; Putiaha (only God’s will prevails) Puyen (Pristine Wisdom) and Zelba (Uplifting).
Political ambition? “I will be happy to”
“I came home to serve. I consider my current capacity as service, not for the resources. If the opportunity arises, where I can be of service to this country, I will be happy to.
Sometimes, it is easier to sit at the sidelines and see all that is wrong with what others are doing,” Prof stated.
So people, now that we have Prof Fred McBagonluri in Ghana, what are we gonna do with him?
I say, we are gonna retrieve every ‘damn’ cent from the scholarship funds by making good use of all the American knowledge, skills and attitude before he decides to relocate.
Kyeng Song- That’s good bye in Dagaare
Let God lead. Follow Him directly, not through any human.