Today’s era has witnessed major developments in gender equality. Women and men are working shoulder to shoulder in almost every industry. Women are playing major roles in transforming businesses and industries with their dedicated endeavors. A successful female leader is honest, confident, resilient, and persistent. They are committed to excellence, and possess the ability to listen, learn, and adapt. They never give up at the face of adversity, while leading the team towards success.
One such result-focused and dedicated leader is Erna Grasz, the Co-founder and CEO of Asante Africa Foundation. She believes that education is the way up and out of poverty. As a girl growing up under tough conditions in Texas, Erna learned that it is essential to muster courage and resiliency to thrive, not just survive. Also, she learned that education is a great equalizer and enabler.
Hard driving and up for any challenge, Erna defied the odds in the man’s world of electrical engineering, graduating top of her class. As a corporate executive, she learned to lead through ambiguity, provide structure in chaos, mobilize global talent, and drive technology to maturation. She believes that success is defined by challenges being perceived as opportunities and empowering others to join the journey.
Overcoming Difficulties Confidently
Erna emerged as a young, gregarious electrical engineer in a male dominated culture, struggling to find an environment to thrive. She created one for herself where “misfits” could thrive working together for a bigger purpose.
“If I can’t fit the traditional mold, I will have to shape my own mold,” says Erna. She is energized by the unknown and trained to translate new situations into manageable risks — each solvable. As a young team leader, she recognized that she did not have all the tools in her own toolkit and realized that she needed assistance from other talented people in order to “tackle tough problems” as a team.
Erna believes that one does not have to get it right every time. It is essential to convert failures into learning moments. One of Erna’s mentors shared that “People allow you to make mistakes if they believe you truly care about them. If one remains humble and authentic, one can lead others to greatness, and accomplish the unimaginable.”
Focused on Attaining Excellence
Erna brings her leadership to the ‘social impact’ sector where, as Asante Africa Foundation’s CEO, she invests in local talent and partnerships to ensure success and long-term sustainability. She believes that people are the most important assets for an organization. Having worked in corporate businesses where actions and laminated values were not aligned, Erna is committed to ensure that actions and values are aligned for all involved with the global organization.
Under Erna’s astute stewardship, Asante Africa Foundation focuses on developing the most precious resource- the human resource. The company invests in the youth it serves and their parents, its global staff, volunteers, partners, and investors. Asante Africa is creating a ‘new normal’ in rural Africa: educated children with big dreams, skills, and resources.
A foundational principal of Asante Africa Foundation is ‘paying-it-forward.’ This model assists the educated youth to create a thriving, self-propagating future without external intervention. This assures ownership, sustainability, and independence in an opportunity-rich world.
Emphasis on Technological Innovations
Erna believes that technology is a great enabler, however, it is not the solution to all problems. It is one of the various means to development, but not the only tool. She opines that technology brings the company’s global workforce together, accelerating decision making and facilitating world-wide partnerships while enabling efficiency and optimization. In developing countries, technology levels the playing field for disadvantaged youth. Tools like mobile banking and e-learning open doors to endless opportunities.
About Asante Africa Foundation
Asante Africa Foundation was co-founded by three tenacious women, Erna, Emmy from Tanzania, and Hellen from Kenya, who believed that education plays an essential role in poverty alleviation. The organization was founded on the principal that brilliance and talent are universally distributed while opportunity is not. Team Asante Africa believes that young people are the greatest untapped resource in the world and everyone has a role to play in opening doors, connecting dots, and creating new opportunities.
Defying all Odds
Erna understands that difficult challenges require diversity of thought. This demands leaders who do not fear change. She is of the opinion that to solve difficult problems, it is essential to embrace everyone, independent of their gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or field of expertise.
Although many people did not support her decision to become an engineer, Erna marched ahead, pursuing her dreams. Erna learned to be comfortable in her own skin using fearlessness, stage presence, and an analytical mindset as tools in her toolkit. As an executive, she has mentored others and inspired teams to strive together to achieve where no one could achieve alone.
Scaling the Future
Erna states, “for Asante Africa Foundation, it’s not just about the numbers but about the depth of impact. When the environment changes, we are prepared to adapt to emerging opportunities, resource constraints, and technology advances. We have built a skilled, geographically-distributed organization while planting 600,000 seeds — our young change makers.”
She concludes by stating, “the next decade is focused on exponential growth through our youth cultivating their own impact, utilizing their skills and knowledge. Our ‘pay-it-forward’ model is catching fire, creating educated, empowered youth to tackle the challenge of developing the most precious resource on earth, the human resource.”