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This Is How One Returnee Is Helping Build Ghana-Diaspora Linkages

“When you come you’ll see so much purpose and you just want to make things happen”. This sentiment is undoubtedly at the heart of the DANN Residence’s work in Ghana . Founded by Amma Gyampo after her return to Ghana some six years ago, the Accra-based short stay hospitality service serves as a network and support system for returnees and Ghanaians who want to understand the dynamics of living, working and investing in Ghana. The DANN Residence may provide accommodation with a home away from home feel, but its real value is as a pathway for Ghanaian returnees, Diaspora investors and visitors to tap into Ghana’s business and tourism scenes.

Set in a welcoming and serene environment in East Legon, The DANN Residence is a great option for anyone who likes to craft their own homestay or intimate event experience, without eliminating essential support. The residence offers studio apartments with self-catering facilities including a kitchenette, ensuite bathroom, balcony and bedroom with king-, queen- and double-sized bed options. There is a swimming pool, as well as a lovely rooftop for private dining events or a breezy atmosphere to unwind in the evenings. Arrangements for group travel packages or other comforts such as onsite catering are also negotiable. The shared lounge not only serves as a connection point for different guests, but also for business workshops and networking events on everything from entrepreneurship to women’s issues, and diaspora engagement in Africa, including our Sisterhood Matters 2019 event. All in all, the Dann Residence serves as a hub and connector into Ghana’s tourism and business ecosystems.

We had a conversation with DANN Residence founder Amma Gyampo (A.G.) to find out how businesses like hers helps open the doors to what she calls ‘the Ghana Opportunity’. We also got real about the dilemmas returnees face, her thoughts on Ghana’s Year of Return, as well as development and investment opportunities in Africa.

Returning to Ghana & Africa

Circumspecte: What has your returnee journey and experience been?

A.G: It has been six years since I returned to Ghana. I was into IT management, so I used to manage projects for Vodafone, Blackberry. I also used to undertake public sector and e-government training of back office staff, training citizens on how to access services online without having to come to the council. Self-service and e-government. Telecommunications company wise, it was mostly rolling out new software and hardware across Europe and East Africa. I would be on a call with Canada at one end of the day and with Australia the next end of the day. Between two kids and a mortgage I was really burnt out at some point, so we decided to make a big change. My husband thought it was about time because he waited very patiently for me to have that Ghana mode switch on and until I was like – I really need a change. My body was telling me all kinds of stuff.

Amma Gyampo, DANN Residence Founder & Returnee

We came on holiday and literally that was it. We found an opportunity in marketing agro-products for farmers. I love to visit farms, so we went to a few farms and we realised that these people are all producing but they are all complaining about market. We started marketing things like bacon and sausage. We used to supply all the hotels but after a while we had issues with the supply chain. Suppliers were literally tripling their prices overnight because they realised that we were actually selling their produce. We had to start importing and that was also a challenge because of the forex, the ports and all that. We ran that business for four years and then wrapped it up…So I’d say it took about six years to settle in, in terms of trying to figure out our space, our social circle, trying to settle the kids. My son had a tough time transitioning because he was five and he missed his friends. Also managing the culture and the expectations of you as a woman, as a daughter, as a wife and as an in-law. I am at the stage where I can’t live my life for anybody; I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t, so I’ll just do me because as much as you try –  or as less as you try – you can’t please everybody. Sometimes you are even sacrificing your own self just to appear to be perfect and I found that difficult at the time.

Circumspecte: What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey?

A.G: I’d say how hard it would be, but if I had known how hard it would be maybe I would just not have done it. Because I am always on the go, I learn, shift, pivot. But in terms of doing business – because I didn’t come into a job – I had nothing. We just came. There was no analysis, just a lot of intuition and faith. Maybe if I could go back 10 years I would have saved more towards the Ghana opportunity. In my mind then it was like, I have a mortgage to pay why would I send money to Ghana or buy land – I was that person who thought I had too much to do in London. I wish I had known how much opportunity there is in this country and in this continent; to connect the continent. There is so much opportunity and everything is at the green stage so I wish I had my eyes opened earlier to allow me to transition better in terms of logistics and the practical things because I have two kids. We have done things in a very hippie way even though I am very analytical and normally think, plan and strategise. With this it was all heart.

“I was that person who thought I had too much to do in London. I wish I had known how much opportunity there is in this country and in this continent.”

Amma Gyampo

Circumspecte: What did you struggle with the most as a returnee?

A.G: It’s incredibly hard, especially if you don’t speak the language or if you don’t understand the culture. I went to school here for maybe five years as a teenager in Kumasi, then Achimota for my sixth form so I had a bit of understanding. But really nothing can prepare you for being an adult in Ghana. It’s still a culture shock. All my mates don’t live here so I had no one; all my relationships, and all my friends have been fresh. I had maybe two cousins that I could flow with because you have family and then you have family; there are various levels of relationships. There are family members that are not really family – and that’s life. You find, you click and then grow your relationships. We have literally had to start from scratch – where you live, with your business, building relationships, networks, trust and all that. At this stage, I am getting offers everyday to be on this board or manage something because people get to know you in a certain space, but it wasn’t always like that. It’s very hard to continue to push and make that progress because there is a lot of resistance.

Circumspecte: Was there a moment when you felt you should go back?

AG: Honestly, never. I am a very resolute person – either I am in or out. I’m never a grey type of person. And also, I have done that already, I have done Europe, I have done that world and I know what it has to offer. I know what it’s like when I go back and have conversations with people who don’t get it. But on the flip side, you chart your own path. What do you feel is right for you and your family? Do that. So no regrets whatsoever.

The DANN Residence: A Pathway To Impactful Connections

The Dann Residence by Amma Gyampo supporting Diaspora returnees and Ghana investorsDANN Residence Rooftop

Circumspecte: What inspired the creation of the DANN Residence?

A.G: I think the key word is connection; connecting at a deeper level in a very practical way. We like to give practical support to people because we know what it is like to be abroad – to come into a country that you know from afar or a country that you know very little about. The connection and the support network that you come into makes a world of difference for your experience. To have a good experience, you need people you can trust. People would always say let’s just ask Nana and Amma because they’ll give us a good recommendation. In terms of making any moves, they know they can trust our opinion; that reassurance and connection we offer our clients who come to explore the Ghana or Africa opportunity. We are absolutely here to connect at a deeper level. It’s not just a concierge at the desk who will point you to the usual places – we really give you insight as to how to immerse yourself in the discovery process.

At the last homecoming summit in 2016 for instance, we hosted a workshop to engage with Diasporans looking for information, how to connect with partners, how to manage trust issues and more.  We also had a stand. It was basically a business matching lounge. For example, if you want to set up a farm, get into agriculture or buy land – we would give you advice on whether you’d really want to deal with the chiefs, the committee issues or – even worse – people double selling the land. We can also connect you with other people who are into farming and have up to 100 acres of land that needs investment. So that’s our approach.

“It’s not just a concierge at the desk who will point you to the usual places – we really give you insight as to how to immerse yourself in the discovery process.”

– Amma Gyampo

Circumspecte: What makes the DANN Residence unique?

A.G: Ambiance-wise, the second people walk in they just go – “wow” because it’s a very heartwarming and serene space. It just embraces you when you walk in and I think people really love the space and also because you get to create your own experience. Whatever you are here for, you can create your own experience that is memorable and unique to you. We have links with a lot of entrepreneurs who are local, from restaurants to events – so where we drink coffee is where we literally send our guests to drink coffee. We have to do that because people let you down and the level of professionalism is still very nonchalant – in terms of lateness and all that. The guys we use as tour guides and drivers and so forth are all the people we have relationships with – they aren’t many but we know they will take care of our guests when they come. Some of our guests are lone travellers, some of them are older, they may have mobility issues so we need to make sure that we check all those details.

Circumspecte: The DANN Residence doubles as an events space. What kind of events do you typically host ?

We’ve had networking events for entrepreneurs who are launching their businesses as well as coaching and leadership events. An example is the Sisterhood Matters event in which we had over a hundred women here – the biggest event we have had in this internal space. We had the Dine On A Mat event which hosted about 30 people on the rooftop literally dining on the mat with West African food and cocktails. We have had private events as well which include engagements, film screenings, bachelorette parties or people booking the house for themselves for a couple of days. So it’s really a dynamic space and it can be very intimate.

Circumspecte: Tell us more about your business tours.

A.G.: We are very Accra-centric but obviously we have drivers and other partners. If you are going to Takoradi for example, we can recommend a place and let you know the quality because we have stayed there. It would have similar vibes, similar owner who knows us so we refer to people and organisations to places we know where our guests would be taken care of as well. Of course with Cape Coast, Elmina and even Aburi people tend to do a day trip. Also people may want to know about places where they can buy real estate so there are specific places that we can show them or talk to them about or offer them a tour to see if they like the real estate and then help them with the conversation about how to procure the land or the property. We have been to the North also and we know a couple of places that we put on our itinerary. So with the business development we will connect you with whichever area you are interested in.

Circumspecte: Can you name one place in Ghana that you believe is underrated?

A.G: I would definitely say Ghana’s North…From Kintampo to Kumasi, you get to see the terrain change, you get to see the rainforest change to savannah. You get to see how people live and the different struggles people are going through. But the North in itself was always interesting for me because again you just see opportunity – how do you tap into it? …There’s so much to see culturally driving through the country and then getting to the north it’s such a different landscape that is serene and that will get you thinking.

Investing in Ghana & Building On Ghana-Diaspora Linkages

Circumspecte’s 2019 Sisterhood Matters event at the DANN Residence

Circumspecte: What do you think about the President’s Year of Return initiative?

A.G: The Year of Return initiative is great, the visibility that Ghana has gotten is great and it’s been unquantifiable. There seems to be a vision and people are really planning to come back. We personally have six business investment tours this year alone. People who are coming are looking to engage in business, entrepreneurship, or to invest in existing businesses. It is encouraging because we are seeing an uptake in interest and awareness of Ghana as a destination for investment. That’s what I want to see, not just people coming to enjoy.

If we are being honest some of the tourist sites aren’t fully equipped in terms of things like toilets. Infrastructure wise and tourism wise there are huge opportunities for improvement, even for Diasporans to invest in tourism. For example, the lack of rest stops – you could go for miles and you won’t see anything. Internet connectivity and electricity – there’s a huge need there. At the DANN Residence, we have three back up lines for WiFi because it is so important; it’s the first thing people ask for when they arrive. We have backup power as well via a huge generator plant and all the rooms have air conditioning as well so the residence is very functional.

Circumspecte: Let’s talk more about your personal commitments to entrepreneurship and investment. Why is impact investing important to countries like Ghana?

A.G: We do a lot of work in impact investment and social enterprise. The whole idea is to attract capital into social enterprises…there are opportunities for people in the Diaspora to get involved with things like crafts and farming, or local content creators who need to connect with international content creators. There’s a lot of demand for it. The idea is to have some kind of media hub collaboration where there is funding and investment, market opportunity as well as training and infrastructure access to those who are on the ground doing amazing stuff. So media, technology, agriculture, also crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are areas we are trying to develop to have a platform where people can choose what they want to invest in.

The connection and the support network that you come into makes a world of difference for your experience. To have a good experience, you need people you can trust. – @amdecoAfrica on returning to Africa. #Circumspecte Click To Tweet

Circumspecte: What should potential local or Diaspora investors keep in mind for investing in Ghana?

A.G: I invest in companies. I know I am not going to get my money today or tomorrow, maybe next year or even on time. You need to know the character of the entrepreneur, Ghana is very small so it is very easy to do due diligence on the character of the individual. Networks are so important – it is such a relief to be a part of networks of people who invest with you. For example, the Lady Angel Network is about being a part of a network of people with different skills. I am not exactly focused on the financial aspect of it, I can’t really see what others can see. It’s important for learning different skills. Different backgrounds and insights will give you a better experience than going into it alone. My network has helped me to make better and more well rounded decisions…So network for syndication to reduce your risk and exposure.

“Be clear on what type of investor you want to be. Some investors just want to put something in there and forget about it, while others really get involved in it because they want to learn more.”

Amma Gyampo

Finally, be clear on what kind of investor you want to be. Some investors just want to put something in there and just forget about it while others really get involved in it because they want to learn more. Others are more of a mentorship relationship where someone can rely on you – sometimes people just have issues and they want to talk it through. Strategically, they might have a plan and technically they may be very brilliant, but they need to know how to deal with staff and management. It can just be about mentoring and that high level staff that won’t take too much of your time. Which is another main point – you need to manage your time commitments. If you do too much it can really backfire on you; it depends on the type of investor you want to be. With me, I am doing a lot, which are all related. It’s nice to see things come together, but learning to say no is important. Learn to evaluate if it is going to take up too much of your time.

Circumspecte: What motivates you to live and work in Ghana?

A.G: My kids, my future, the continent – I think it’s just such a huge opportunity and no one is going to build it for us or change it for us. We have a duty so I think all those things come into play because my children will inherit what I leave behind. So, I can’t not do anything about the situation that we are in. These are systemic issues, these are colonial issues for example with the issue of travelling in and out of Africa – travelling within Africa is notoriously expensive and it plays into systemic issues of tax, the cefa issue with France. We have so many issues to detangle but it takes bold leadership. We are not there yet, but you do what you can, in your own way, in your own corner and I think collectively that should make a difference.

It’s so encouraging to see so many people doing their thing, so many women, so many men and so many creatives – it’s very heartwarming. People are just trying to do their thing, also on this issue of the gig economy – that’s us anyway. I’ve given people a couple of internships or jobs and they don’t necessarily want that. They want to be free, earn some money but more importantly the flexibility to balance it out. So they love the gigs, we invented that space – so give them the opportunity and then they can take responsibility for doing the job well and getting paid at the end of an endeavour…We need more of those practical programs to arm people for the future because the jobs are not there.

Dine on a Mat Event / Credit: Fulani Kitchen

Recently moved back to Ghana or started investing? Leave a comment with your tips and insights.

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Interview & transcript by Germaine Bombande, editing by Jemila Abdulai. Originally published at Circumspecte.com.