Context counts for Akwasi Owusu-Brempong
On paper, Akwasi Owusu-Brempong presents an impressive sum of achievements.
An economics consultant at AlixPartners since 2021, he performs empirical analysis in high-stakes litigation cases, processing reams of data to quantify risks and damages.
But if his studies and research at Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Governance-Lab (MIT GOV/LAB) taught him anything, it’s that the job goes beyond the on-paper numbers. Skilled analysis requires him to excavate the data to find the deeper story and the personal connection.
Raised in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Akwasi became interested in financial markets and data analysis, and made the decision to pursue his degree in business and economics, with a minor in computer science, in the U.S.
He developed an appreciation for the art of qualitative research, by which he means “looking at how the data came to be, asking what were the circumstances that led to the data being collected, because those things have an impact on how you interpret the data.”
This approach came into play while working with a PhD candidate at MIT’s GOV/LAB to research the ways that ethnic identity and migration patterns impact claims of ethnic favoritism by politicians in sub-Saharan Africa—Ghana in particular.
“We had to model the integration and think about how different people from different ethnic groups would encounter each other,” explains Akwasi, focusing on the distribution of different ethnic groups throughout Accra. “We had to think about how they got there, how the city was planned.”
He also had to consider the salience of the survey data. That meant considering his own experiences as a Ghanaian, and thinking about “how I would answer the questions if I was there, and what sorts of biases would be involved.” In other words, he had to find a way to go beyond the data set to the social context.
As a consultant, he has dedicated himself to putting his skills as a data analyst to use at the same time as he uses creativity and empathy to understand the problem his team is trying to solve.
In a business case, “I’ve had to think about how I’ve used a given product in my daily life—how does it affect the case that we're arguing about or the things that we're talking about in terms of the economics?” Akwasi explains.
He has also pushed beyond the realm of his day-to-day role, briefly playing semi-pro soccer, and joining AlixPartners’ Black Professionals Network Employee Resource Group, opening him up to experiences from those who grew up in other West African nations to Black colleagues born in the U.S. and Europe.
“The one-on-one conversations, encouragement, and advice really help,” Akwasi says, along with the satisfaction of being involved in seminars, dialogues, and fundraising projects.
His research into in-group behaviors prompts a larger philosophical question: If you change the social conditioning, can you change outcomes? Akwasi’s studies, and his life, suggests you can.
“The results showed that people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Malawi were more inclined to participate in community activities and made fewer claims of ethnic discrimination,” he explained of his research at MIT, while “people who migrated within the 10-year period were more likely to move to an integrated community as opposed to a segregated one.” Ethno-political divides were not inevitable.
Dig deep enough, and the data points to the power of making connections.