Erna Grasz: Transforming the Future of Africa and The World through Nextgen Educational Programs
July 30 2020
Erna Grasz grew up in Texas and cultivated a love of learning, fostered by her single mother and teachers who saw her potential. Coming from humble beginnings, she quickly understood the transformative nature of education. After completing her masters degree in Electrical Engineering, she joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where she led multiple teams and managed numerous cutting-edge projects, one of which was building the world’s largest highest-energy laser facility. She continued her tenure in the Tech sector in Silicon Valley leading R&D, building high-performing teams and delivering results.
Having made an impact in the Tech sector, Erna decided to put her business skills into helping build an ecosystem that provides equitable access to education and resources for rural East African children. Drawing on her skills as a system engineer, she transformed herself into a systems entrepreneur. As the CEO of Asante Africa Foundation, she guides a global team that implements after-school and scholarship programs that teach skills, personal development, and entrepreneurship to young boys and girls in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Asante Africa Foundation, An Award-Winning ”Youth-Centered” Systems Model Of Academic Support
“When I had the opportunity to visit East Africa, I met two compelling women, Emmy from Tanzania and Hellen from Kenya, who shared my belief in the power of education. I call the three of us “slightly crazy tenacious women.” We knew that talent is universal but that opportunity is not. So, we set out and co-founded Asante Africa Foundation in hopes of reaching the rural communities. Working within the existing school systems, our team has created an award-winning ”youth-centered” systems model of academic support, and age-appropriate life skills using activity-based hands-on learning, peer mentoring, and deep parent and community engagements,” Erna Expressed.
Key Factors To Establish A Strong Company Culture
“It is my job to wear a flak jacket so that the team can mobilize. One of my most important tasks is to create conditions for self-exploration and determination. I strive to create an egalitarian culture, where all voices are equally valued. After all, we all just have different roles on the same journey.” The team says, “ We work our magic as a team united, not by building bigger titles.”
“When Asante Africa was just finding its footing, a miscommunication between the organization and the grant co-founders led to the loss of a large grant. It was my naivete and not understanding the game rules about the not for profit sector that led to this blunder. It was a setback but a humbling learning experience that has guided me and the organization. Since then, Asante Africa Foundation is more careful about who they partner with.”
Formula To Become An Entrepreneur
“To become successful, a leader must have people in their circle that complements the collective toolkit by adding their talents to it. Be aware of the “ground truth” and do not fear failure. “
Key Driving Force To Become An Entrepreneur
“As a young person, I saw opportunities where there were gaps and noticed that designing solutions to close those gaps were often profitable. Extending the same concept to social entrepreneurship meant extending resources and opportunities to the rural communities neglected by the majority of bigger nonprofits. Rural children, especially girls, are deprived of education and life skills knowledge. Financial and social pressures keep children from school and continue the cycle of poverty. To break this cycle and to foster the potential of these students, I chose to give up my Silicon Valley job to lead the team of Asante Africa.”
According to Erna, working within a global business, work and life are integrated. In the corporate arena, the technical startup arena, and the social impact arena there are no specific work hours.
“I am working all the time, either tactically focused or strategically focused. Looking to the horizon on how to adapt and adjust to the new normal. I actually really enjoy the unknowns of this COVID crisis because it creates so many new potential opportunities on the horizon.”
Motivated To Achieve The Unachievable
“I have always been motivated by achieving the unachievable. Early in my career I focused on conquering technology, mid-career I concentrated on fast-paced high-risk life-saving products, and today I am determined to develop the upcoming generation of global leaders, next-generation entrepreneurs, and future generation UN influencers.”
“My life is highly integrated where family, friends, and colleagues are all part of my everyday life. I see opportunity and creativity everywhere. I am especially proud of how young people of every age are stepping forward and challenging antiquated and harmful systems.
“Numbers are important but the depth of the impact is more important. We want to continue laying strong groundwork that will keep impacting lives for the better. Asante Africa’s goals remain focused on strengthening resilience in young people, developing skills to thrive in the global economy, and catalyzing positive change personally, for those they love and where they live.”
‘People buy what YOU are before they buy what you have to pitch’
For nextgen entrepreneurs, Erna suggests, “Have a “sales” technique of integrity because people buy what YOU are before they buy what you ‘pitch’. Understand the cultural context of leadership skills required to build a global community. Have good relationship management skills and learn to resolve conflict without losing yourself or the relationship. Finally, understand that no one person does it alone.”