Beatrice Ani-Asamoah specializes in education research at Laterite, where she coordinates large-scale monitoring, evaluation and learning partnerships focusing on teaching quality and EdTech solutions in East Africa. In this blog, she shares insights from her time at Laterite as she prepares to take the next step in her career.
What got you interested in education?
My undergraduate degree was actually in chemical engineering. My first job out of college was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I worked in the Langer Laboratory on a project to develop siRNA delivery systems for cancer therapy. Two years later, I started a PhD program in chemical engineering at Northwestern University in the United States.
As an African woman, I have always been conscious of my privilege and the many unique opportunities that my education has given me. So even after several years in the U.S., there was always the desire to return and give back. The “how” was something I constantly thought of throughout my education and during every trip back home to Ghana.
At a certain point, I had to accept that my career, and in particular my PhD program, was not going to help me give back in the way that I wanted. The challenges we face across sub-Saharan Africa, while numerous, are also very basic: access to quality education, child mortality, food security, etc. It was getting increasingly hard to convince myself that the research I was doing would help address these everyday problems. I became intrigued by what was happening in the international development space and how challenges with educational access, quality and equity were being addressed across the continent. The more I learned, the more deeply I wanted to be part of these solutions. So, even before my first semester of the PhD program ended, I moved back to Ghana to pursue this dream instead.
While I didn’t have a formal background in education, I knew my technical background could be an asset. I started applying for volunteer positions at organizations across Africa focused on education programming for children and girls and, slowly, the pieces began to fall into place.
Volunteering led me to a full-time position based in Accra for an edtech organization, Worldreader. Over the next five years and eventually as the West Africa Regional program manager, I focused on developing systems and processes for scaling digital reading solutions in schools and libraries and adapting these to many African countries.
How did you make the transition from implementation to research?
At Worldreader, we were very invested in how we could integrate learning from our programs into improving and strengthening our work. Also, coming from a technical and research background, albeit in a different field, I was always excited about the potential for research to play an even stronger role in designing more impactful education programs. I wanted to work on my research skills, and this led to me pursuing an MPhil in Education, Globalisation and International Development at the University of Cambridge.
Most of my time at Cambridge was spent developing and pursuing my own independent research and on topics of interest to me. In my thesis, I explored the extent to which tuition-free access to secondary education – an increasingly popular reform on the continent aiming to improve education access – was addressing equity issues, like the ongoing trend that more boys than girls were completing secondary education.
What attracted you to working at Laterite?
As I completed my Master’s degree I knew I wanted to continue to enhance my research skills, and use this experience to help me gain new perspectives on designing better programs. I started applying for research roles with organizations working on the continent and employing passion, rigor and innovation to create social impact through research. I felt very strongly that Laterite met all these criteria and more. I would also get to work from our Rwandan office, a country that I was very keen to move to. It was the perfect fit.
What have been your highlights from your time at Laterite?
There have been so many, but perhaps the biggest has been the people!
My primary reason for joining Laterite was to learn – to improve my technical skills and become a better researcher. I got my wish and more thanks to the team of Lateristas I have been privileged to work with.
If you’ve met a Laterista before, then you know that they are these insanely smart, hard-working, passionate individuals, who genuinely care about making a difference. You can imagine what a day at Laterite feels like: lots of intensity, hard work but also laughter. Working with all these impressive people sometimes gives me a dose of imposter syndrome, but I have fully embraced this feeling as it keeps me constantly challenged. It has been the perfect environment for me to learn and grow, both as a researcher and as a leader.
On top of that, most of my colleagues at Laterite have become some of my closest friends. It really does enhance the work we do – being part of a group of people who deeply care about each other and about making a difference in this world through research.
These sentiments carry over into how we engage with our clients and partners as well. Throughout my time managing some of our education projects, I have developed some inspiring relationships with clients and partners. I don’t know exactly what the secret is, but it does seem we may have our “people magic” figured out.
Beyond the people, I have also immensely enjoyed the fact that we are continuously challenging ourselves to innovate and improve how we work. I really love how this has created a culture of agility and teams that are very open to new ideas. It has certainly given me the confidence to implement new ideas, and to constantly challenge myself in thinking of ways I can keep improving my work. I remember spearheading our framework for government engagement in the Rwandan education space, and the level of supportive engagement I received. The fact that Laterite is not a very hierarchical workplace also provides a sense of independence and ownership. As I moved into my current senior management role, for instance, I was told in many varied ways – Bea, we trust your judgement – and it was the most reassuring thing to hear.
Naturally all of this has made my decision to transition back to a more implementation-focused career difficult, but I am confident that what I have learned at Laterite will be an asset for my next role.