A passionate networker
Felix Barnes, a local member of staff at the DAAD Information Centre in Accra, was finally able to travel to Berlin again at the beginning of November despite the coronavirus crisis. And despite many professional appointments he also found time for a spontaneous meeting with students from Ghana: ‘A scholarship holder who I'd met prior to his departure for Germany suggested this to me via WhatsApp. He brought along two fellow students to our meeting – thus straight away adding slightly to the size of our network!’
There are currently around 30 students and doctoral candidates from Ghana who benefit from a DAAD scholarship to attend German higher education institutions each year. Barnes feels that it’s important to bring the beneficiaries into contact with each other at an early stage. Twice a year, the 42-year-old organises a ‘pre-departure event’ for new scholarship holders. ‘I always invite along one or two alumni who can give the newcomers tips on studying and everyday life in Germany.’ Barnes also encourages the beneficiaries to use the information centre’s Facebook page and its newsletter to post reports about their experiences in Germany. And he regularly uses his network to request support whenever he’s travelling across Ghana to provide information about Germany as a location for studies and research: ‘On my last tour there were up to ten alumni who came along to our events in many towns and cities. This naturally makes a huge impact!’ Barnes believes that the careers of alumni and their achievements on behalf of business and society in Ghana are ultimately seen as the best advertising for the DAAD and Germany.
‘He really loves his job’
A personal contact was also the decisive factor in persuading Felix Barnes to go to Germany in 2003 after his bachelor's degree in biochemistry. A friend convinced him to enrol in Sustainable Resource Management at the Technical University of Munich. He still enthuses today about the beauty of the Bavarian landscape. Barnes initially went to the USA after his master's degree and then returned to Ghana, where he took up his position at the DAAD Information Centre in 2008. He has advised countless prospective and current students since then. How much they appreciate him for this was demonstrated at a conference under the Helmut-Schmidt-Programme run by the DAAD in October 2021: five alumni from Ghana surprised Barnes with video messages thanking him for his great patience, kindness and expert advice. ‘He really loves his job’, is how one alumna summed it up.
Info box on the DAAD external network
The DAAD maintains regional offices, information centres (IC) and information points in more than 60 countries. The tasks assumed by this external network include maintaining contacts among the more than 400,000 DAAD alumni worldwide. Meetings or seminars arranged by the regional offices and ICs enable alumni to network with each other and at the same time to maintain contact with Germany. The DAAD Network also intends to use its alumni activities to contribute to international knowledge exchange and promoting shared commitment to a sustainable future.
Alumni meeting: maintaining the network and continuing with professional development
Every two years Felix Barnes organises a major alumni meeting in Accra – only this year it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Around 110 alumni from across Ghana attended the two-day event in 2019 despite the sometimes considerable time required for the journey: ‘The journey from the north of Ghana takes 17 hours’, Barnes recounts. ‘The fact that some people undertake this shows how important the meeting is to them! They’re all really happy to be able to make new contacts and maintain friendships there.’ But he feels the meetings are also important for alumni development: ‘Academic exchange among professional colleagues plays a major role.’ There are also always professional development opportunities at the alumni meeting, such as a course on academic writing.
Felix Barnes says that interest in Germany has risen sharply within Ghana in recent years. The fact that it is now the third most popular destination country after Great Britain and the USA is especially due to the large number of English-language degree courses at German higher education institutions. But the commitment shown by Barnes may also have played a small part. He tells us that he still very much enjoys his alumni work even after 13 years: ‘I’m passionate about putting people in touch with one another!’