Sep 01

Why this Ivy League graduate returned to Ghana

A former London investment banker on a Ghanaian pineapple farm seems like a fish out of water. But for Jerry Parkes, leaving his finance career was part of a plan to return home and expand agriculture in Africa. Parkes co-founded Injaro, a private equity fund that invests in agricultural businesses in West Africa such as Gold Coast Fruits, this pineapple farm about 30 miles north of Accra.

Injaro’s goal is to boost agriculture in Africa, an overlooked and underfunded industry that is critical for the continent’s future.

Parkes, together with Ivorian Chief Operating Officer Dadié Tayoraud, started Injaro in 2009, a few years after they graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school. Parkes recalls Tayoraud introducing himself at their first meeting at Wharton’s African students’ club.

He remembers Tayoraud’s energy, enthusiasm and humor. “He wanted to start a movement where all African students move back to Africa after the MBA,” Parkes says. “For most of the rest of us, it was about succeeding, making it big in London or New York. After we succeeded, then we’d move back to Africa as a senior executive.”

After graduating from Wharton in 2006, Parkes, an electrical engineer by training, worked for UBS bank in London and as a fund manager investing in UK. companies. Tayoraud worked in business development in Ivory Coast for Voodoo, a telecommunications company.

Parkes returned to Ghana with his wife and young children in 2009 to launch Injaro, in spite of “all the pressures to stay in the West where you can make a lot of money and not have to struggle,” he says.

He didn’t immediately announce his plans to his mother. Instead, he arrived back in Ghana for the winter — and kept extending his stay while he started Injaro. “She’s a typical African mother who would think if you have a good job in London, there’s no reason to walk away and start something uncertain,” Parkes explains. “There would have been a lot of conversations second-guessing what I was doing.”

Ultimately, Parkes and Tayoraud wanted to grow businesses that would have a positive impact for as many people as possible. For them, the obvious choice was agriculture, which provides about 60 percent of all jobs in Africa.

Source: NPR