My name is Kwabena Nketia Addae, usually am called Koby among my fellow colleagues. I started working with the YMCA as the development secretary in August 2002 and then in 2012, I was hired as the Ghana YMCA National General Secretary (NGS). That brings it to about 6 years now as the NGS. I am Married with 2 kids, Cherish 7 years old and Emmanuel 4 years Old. I have 7 siblings, lost one few years ago so we are 6 right now.
What programs are you currently implementing as Ghana YMCA?
We currently are implementing programs in health, education and S2C where we have programs about Civic Competence and some around Transformative Masculinity specifically, we have had a program since 2014 about prevention of teenage pregnancy. We dont only focus on the teenage girls, we also engage with young boys on how to handle girls, educate them on how they can stay with girls and prevent themselves engaging in unprotected sex to avoid early pregnancy until both the girl and boy are ready for a child. We also have technical and vocational training schools and about 13 early childhood centres, what we call Day Care centres in Ghana. These are mostly located in the rural areas, because we realized there was a big gap and as the YMCA we tried to give the support as we always do
As part of our programs, we have a number of partnerships and engagements. For youth power space, we are partnering with Canadian organisation called Equip Hubs. They help us with equipping the YMCA space and giving entrepreneurship training to young people so that we can empower them to either become business owners or seek employment in that field. We also have other projects like community clinics and also community libraries. As the YMCA, we also engage in sports in the regions. The local YMCA use the first Saturday of the month or the last Saturday of the month to do keep fit exercises like aerobics. They have instructors who come to help them each month.
How was your childhood, did it ever occur to you that one time you will be the CEO of an organisation?
I grew in a humble family. My mother was a trader and my father was an auto mechanic and so YMCA work was not part of my plans when growing up. I began to know and understand what profession was later in life. I initially had an interest in the Army but certain things changed that interest, then I also had interest in farming and I also grew up loving cars because my father was a mechanic and so I did a little bit of that before going to the university. I wasn’t sure and had not planned to work for an organisation like the YMCA. And even after joining the YMCA, being a Muslim, it never occurred to me that I can be the NGS. Its a big privilege for me to get the opportunity to serve such a big organisatiion and even to have the opportunity to lead the Ghana YMCA.
Do you have mentors
Within the YMCA, one of the people who have kept me going is the current Ghana YMCA President Kwame Akwaffor. When I joined the YMCA, he was the Chairman, being a young man and having to work with an international organisation sometimes the challenges and expectations were not met but he was somebody who really helped me stay focused though he never told me there’s the opportunity for me to be NGS, he always told me that the YMCA could built my capacity beyond my wildest dreams and I would say I have never regretted it. He has continued to be my mentor till date. He is such a committed and focused human being, having experience in real estate and at his old age he has gone back to school and has now become a full lawyer in Ghana and so he is somebody that I look up to not that I want to be a lawyer but I see him as someone who inspires me. And I must say that, he is one of the YMCA leaders who is always there for the young people. One of the programs we have is the youth camps. every year we bring all the YMCA young people from across the country, we engage them and also share with them what’s happening across the world and the African continent. He is always there to share with young people.
Growing up with a mechanic father from a very humble background most times friends and relatives dont expect so much from you professionally. Do your friends look at you and get surprised at how far you have come?
YES! I am not from a rich family, the good thing is my father loved reading even though he was a mechanic, he did not get higher education but he loved reading alot so he encouraged all his children to love reading because for him he said knowledge can only be acquired when you read the works of people who have been through certain experiences and research captured in books. And also through him, I got to meet elderly people who came at his workshop, it gave me comfort to always try to befriend elderly people so I learnt from them. Most of my friends are surprised especially YMCA being an international organisation and all the kind of partnership networks that we have. The kind of people that we receive in country and even the kind of leaders who have been through the YMCA and through that we have access to them. We have a photograph here(pointing to a picture on the wall) with the former President of Ghana in the middle in the dark dressing and he was a YMCA member. He learnt how to play table tennis growing up so any time we have any program either a fundraising program, he is ready to support us. So the YMCA has opened doors for me and it has made people around me very surprised that coming from my background even being a Muslim and now being a Christian that I can have the opportunity to head such a big organisation like the YMCA.
Following your fathers’ footsteps of reading, which books are you currently reading?
Currently it a little bit of a challenge, I have not been reading novels and all other books lately because of too many responsibilities but now with mobile phones, I have a number of applications like flip and I have saved stories on economics, politics, business, health and football, I am a fan of Arsenal. I read about these topics even when I am on the move. Also through the programs and the networks, I get annual reports from different organisations so I get to read about some of the economic indicators and some of the things that concerns the work that we do so that we know which interventions to put up. like if unemployment is a challenge, you would like to know what is going on in the country, regionally and the world. And sometimes you get to know about the programs that other organisations have implemented and you can learn from their best practises. Or you can even generate an idea from what others have been doing. So I have not been reading novels and the rest but I still do read newspapers, blogs, and other websites for other organisations. Yuahan the Secretary General, World Alliance blogs alot about everything that he is doing for the YMCA and I read all those.
You grew up as a Muslim, what made you change to Christianity?
I did not change from a Muslim immediately I joined the YMCA because I joined the YMCA in 2002 and I converted from Muslim in March 2004 so it was after 2 years. I was accepted by the YMCA when I was still a Muslim and I also respected the norms that YMCA and their different programs like the prayer etc. so it wasn’t a challenge for me. But I would say probably a combination of factors might have led to me changing to Christianity.
Being the NGS must be having many challenges just like any other job. How do you push through your worst times?
My worst times, I usually have conversations with senior people in the YMCA example someone like CHRISTIAN Kamara, NGS Sierra Leone. He became NGS way before I did and I look at the successes he has brought but in general his country has gone through a lot of challenges so he is one person that I talk to in such situations. I also have a habit of taking a walk, because sometimes the work can be lonely and stressful and so in such situations either after close of work I just get myself ready and hit the road for a walk and once I gain some energy, I feel relieved I go back home looking forward to the days ahead.
Would you kindly tell us an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
I would say that, when I joined the YMCA…. I mentioned Kwame Akkafor giving me the encouragement to stay but I think I have seen young people that I have taken them through the different programs e.g. those we recruited and took them through as peer educators. The training did not only focus on HIV education but we even had training on leadership skills, communication skills and community entry. I have seen that some of these young people as a result of this training, have changed their lives. Their assertiveness, their ability to want to take up leadership roles in their communities and I believe as the empowering vision of young people of the YMCA, it’s something that nothing can replace. The fact that, I see a young person and through the YMCA programming the person begins to become more useful in his/her community through the various endeavours that the person is able to go through and somewhere very timid young people probably could not have spoken in front of 2 people but now can speak in front of a crowd. They are there wanting to serve the community and contribute in a positive way towards the development of their communities and especially even towards other young people. Seeing the little I have been able to do through YMCA, has touched young people’s lives for them to be able to contribute positively to their communities is such an achievement. Its one of the things that keeps me going knowing that there’s another young person out there that another YMCA program can change their lives and make them a better person always keeps me going.
What are you hoping to achieve this year as Ghana YMCA?
This year, my key achievement is to ensure that we move on with our lease signing for the headquarters land, an 8.8 Acre land which is prime for development as part of the Africa Alliance, economic renaissance model and the good thing is I have a number of developers who are interested. My key target is before the end of this year, I would have sorted the land issue and begin to roll out the expression of interest for developers to come in and hopefully by the end of the year have an agreement signed with the potential developer who will turn the land into a profitable cash cow to help us get our own funding to do more programs for the young people.
During your free time, what do you usually do?
Sometimes I can watch one of the most painful thing to follow (laughs)Arsenal, I have tried severally to discontinue supporting them but I keep going back because once in a while they give you such a flashy performance but yes I am their fan so during my free time I watch them play. Sometimes, I try to be there for the family because the YMCA work takes us around a lot, even in Ghana the YMCA is in 5 administrative regions and this covers almost half the country so you could travel for two days without coming home and then you come back the following day certain programs keep you in the office till very late so actually you are not seen by your kids and having some quality time with them so when I am free I try to help them do their homework, try to take them to the beach, take them to the mall to buy few things and to let them play with the kids playing stuff and just enjoy time together with them.
What is that one advice that someone ever gave to you that you still hold on to date?
yes, my fathers’ younger brother who took us through sixth form advanced level and university, always advised me to always respect humble beginnings and be very contempt with every little money that I get. He always said, nobody has ever made it big without starting from a small beginning. There’s a development book…. I have forgotten who wrote it but the title is ‘SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL’ and so its something that I hold dearly to. Even if you want to build a big house you need to start digging one corner of the foundation so that will be your small beginning. Just like start-ups now you always have to develop the idea and implement it. Its always good to have the big picture but your appreciation of the small beginnings is what will let you to grow it big and you will always have control of that big picture because if you are given the big picture it can even scare you and you drop it, just like it happens to some of this stars in football, musicians and other celebrities. When the fame hits them at an early age and they are unable to handle it, they forget about their humble beginnings or the small beginnings and sometimes they fall on drugs just to keep them in the bigger picture but once you always hold dear to that humble beginning, no matter how big the portfolio or the responsibility that has been entrusted to you becomes, you will still remember where you are coming from and that you need to always hold dear to it and live up to the same expectation with where you have reached now.
What is your favourite TV Show?
In Ghana, its called TALKING POINT, the show discusses various issues from politics, economics and health. The things that border what goes around and sometimes issues about policy so you learn a lot. They also give opportunity to young people to come and make their inputs and all that.
What worries you about what is ahead?
What worries me is how we can harness the potential of the young people. Because in Africa as we know various issues be it political leaders or traditional authority or whichever group, they can take advantage of the masses of the youth and their energy and then channel it into the wrong endeavour. But I believe that, you look at the growing population in Africa in terms of the youth being such a huge margin compared to the other age category then it becomes a worry. Its a potential, but its also a worry. If various leaders including myself and other leaders in different organisations dont play their role well, then we are killing ourselves. My personal saying is ‘The way we handle young people today, is the kind of insurance that we will receive when we grow up and we are no more in charge.’ And so if we want to have a good insurance passage in terms of how the country, the region, the sub region will be run, that insurance can only be investment that we make in our young people and how we channel their energies into being productive and understanding the processes that relates to governance, economic issues and everything. By also trying to understand and contribute on a positive level, then we are assured of a good insurance no matter what kind of insurance policy your money or investment can build for yourself. The best insurance is the young people collectively. First from the family level where each and every one has to take good care of their kids and possibly as an African extended family whose parents do not have money to do so and then also through policy, through programs how we shape the future of our young people. Thats the general insurance policy for all of us, because if we leave the young people to become people who only knows how to make money through the quick ways, thugs, terrosrists etc, then those are the people who are going to rule us while we dont have the energy, while we dont have the strength to be in charge of affairs. That has always been my worry, how we can harness the energies and enthusiasm and the creativity and the intelligence of young people. The same young people who are bringing up start-ups, there are some who are also developing strong hacking systems and so those who are developing hacking systems can be encouraged to develop firewalls to prevent such things but where do we place the balance. If we allow them to go on their own, probably they might be hacking into everybody’s system but if we guide them, they probably would come up with more start-ups, more applications, more things that can help us all live a better life. So that is always my worry, and that’s what keeps me in YMCA, so that we empower them.
One advice for youth?
My one advice for any young person out there is to give them the advice that I was given, to believe in small beginnings, to cherish hard work. Nothing comes on a silver platter, and to add to it I believe young people should use most of their productive time to read. Reading broadens your knowledge in every sphere of life. Even if you are a Christian, the bible tells you that for you to build your faith you need to read the bible. If you don’t read, you are bound to fail because there are positives and there are negatives but when you read you learn about them and you hold onto the positives and avoid the negatives because there are those who have had the shortfalls that they have gone through so if you know it, why would you go through that. And the advent of social media has made us begin to do things using short cuts but we should let it be lifestyle that is helping us and we should focus more on reading details and writing because its even destroying the way our young people write and its very important.
If you were to change one thing about your life, what would that be?
I would try to cut out completely procrastination because there are times you do well and respond on time but there are times you say I have two weeks so you wait for last minute. But the moment you are given the task if you started on it, I believe you could do far better because even if you do the work now and you have two more weeks for submission you will come back to it 2, 3 times before you submit, you will do something wonderful. If I had the opportunity I would cut out completely so that I would always be the first on time everywhere responding, be it my personal life or work life, everything that I do, I believe its something very important.
Is there a place that you have always wanted to go for a holiday either alone or with your family and where is it?
I have always wanted to go to MOMBASA, I have heard so many great stories about Mombasa and am yearning to go there. I have always yearned to save and go there with my family but I will go there alone first for work and then plan to go there with my family.