Ghana Design Network exports Dutch design expertise to Ghana

Last year, the Dutch design world began exporting its knowledge and experience in the field of brand design and design strategy to Ghana within the framework of a pilot project. According to one of the project’s initiators, Peter Kersten, the pilot is a great success.

One could call it development cooperation provided by the Dutch design sector: the Ghana Design Network (GDN), which has recently concluded its first pilot year on a successful note, was set up with a view to sharing Dutch knowledge and experience in the field of design for business with entrepreneurs in Ghana. Eight missions with Dutch design experts, 24 workshops and over 30 networking meetings were organised in collaboration with the Professional Association of Dutch Designers (Beroepsorganisatie Nederlandse Ontwerpers, BNO) between February 2015 and April 2016.

One year after the launch of this project, the Dutch design mission has proved to be a great success. A Memorandum of Understanding has since been concluded with Ghana’s Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology regarding the continuation of this collaborative project, and the Ghana Promotion Office has requested that a training course be organised on brand and nation building.

‘The Ghana Design Network since gained a firm foothold in Ghana,’ says Peter Kersten, former chairman of the Professional Association of Dutch Designers and one of the initiators of GDN. ‘Everything is becoming more official, and the people in Ghana are slowly beginning to understand that design can play an important role in improving business results.’

Master Class

Kersten hit upon the idea of GDN and after being asked by PUM Netherlands Senior Experts and the Ghana Netherlands Chamber of Commerce to lead a workshop in Ghana examining the importance of design for commercial success. Kersten: ‘Designer Jos van der Zwaal and I put together a presentation for a master class on “Design as a Strategic Management Tool” for 55 entrepreneurs. It was then that I noticed that design for business as a concept was completely unknown in Ghana. In Africa, design is still associated primarily with either advertising or art.

‘One of the other things I realized was that one of the most important drivers behind the success of design in the Netherlands is our wonderful infrastructure, with a strong professional association, the Stimulation Fund for the Creative Industry and institutions such as the Dutch Design Week, the New Institute, Pakhuis de Zwijger, and an interested government that is committed to our cause. Compared to our situation in the Netherlands, Ghana is unfortunately a wasteland. In the meantime, various African countries are engaged in setting up their own industries, with regard to both manufacturing and the provision of services. This gave me the idea of offering other countries access to the expertise we have in the Netherlands in the field of brand design and design management.’


Kersten submitted a proposal to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, through the government service for entrepreneurs in the Netherlands (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland), with the aim of developing a pilot for a ‘design development cooperation project’. ‘Economic affairs was, of course, primarily interested in export development.’ Kersten continues: ‘But I was able to convince them that it will take at least five years before this can happen. The first problem to be tackled is improving commissioning and the infrastructure for design.’

Ghana was an obvious choice for setting up this pilot,’ confirms Kersten. ‘Ghana has a relatively large middle-class, it is reasonably stable in political terms and has an emerging economy. We help them to set up infrastructure and set up a programme of workshops and meetings in which the content is as demand-driven as possible.’

Various Dutch designers and experts led workshops and master classes in the past year on subjects such as city branding (Rik Riezebos - Eurib, Monique Mulder and Paul van Ravenstein - Mattmo), digital design (Mattijs Bliek - Grrr), packaging design (Muriel Leusink – Reggs; Kevin Davis – Brand Candies) and design strategy (Peter Kersten). The people attending these courses are entrepreneurs, design students, executives, marketeers and government officials.

First spin-off

The pilot has already produced a spinoff: through GDN, former partner of the Springtime industrial design agency Anton Brunt became involved in a dairy company that aims to develop delivery bicycles for the distribution of a new brand of yoghurt. Brunt has built up a track record at Springtime as well as in Africa in the field of mobility concepts, including the RoodRunner delivery bicycle for the Dutch postal services.

More collaborative ventures like this one could be initiated in the future. Kersten: ‘We are currently gaining a great deal of experience that can be applied in other countries as well. However, we will continue to concentrate on Ghana for the time being.’ BvL


Peter Kersten in a workshop about design strategy for Ghanese entrepreneurs


Mattijs Bliek (Grrr) during his workshop on digital design for a class full of studenten


Dr. Rik Riezebos (EURIB) presented a workshop on city branding for governers of the city of Accra


Breakfast meeting with Ghanese entrepreneurs at the residence of the Dutch ambassador on the topic of 'Design for Entrepreneurial success'


Announcement of workshop with Mattijs Bliek


Announcement of workshop with Muriel Leusink