Mac Sarbah

Mac Sarbah is the founder and CEO of EdAcme and was passionate about education. He is a sought-after speaker and speaks globally as keynotes, panelists, facilitators, or moderators about topics related to education, innovation, and entrepreneurship, diversity, youth development, resilience, policy, etc., at some of the world’s biggest institutions.

It’s this passion that brought him from humble beginnings in Yeji, a rural town in Ghana to Columbia, Cambridge, and Harvard Universities.

He founded EdAcme with the goal: to help young people achieve their biggest goals, to help them maximize their potential, to help them be the best they can be.

Find out more about Mac here:

Website: https://edacme.com/speaking/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edacme.imagine/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EdAcme/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Ed_Acme

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/edacme/

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Mac Sarbah Shares His Remarkable Underdog Story of Rising from the Bottom

Pamela Bardhi
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of underdog today. I have a rockstar guest here with me, Mac, how are you?

Mac Sarbah
I’m doing well. How about yourself?

Pamela Bardhi
You’re out there saving the world, though. So I think you’re doing better than I am.

Mac Sarbah
And I guess all of us contribute in our own small ways to solving some of the challenges the world faces and I can see the same for you as well. You’re doing great.

Pamela Bardhi
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to get into your story and just hear about your story of what you’ve been up to in the world. And what’s sort of coming up next for you. But I guess the first question would be and it’s a loaded one. I’m sorry for the loaded question, but what led you on your journey to where you are today?

Mac Sarbah
Thank you very much. First of all, let me take this moment to recognize you. For giving me the opportunity to come on here and to share this inspirational story. And transformational path that you’re on sort of one way or the other. Also, commend you on the great job that you’re doing, not only disseminating great stories about people. But also trying to shed light on how people like myself or entrepreneurs. Or people who one way or the other may be underdogs can leverage some of these stories. In order to come to the conclusion that it is within their potentiality to also rise to the occasion and do amazing things. So thank you for that as well.

Pamela Bardhi
Amen. Thank you so much.

Mac Sarbah
So now back to your story. What I describe as a circuitous journey, a very winding journey from a small village in the north of Ghana. Growing up was not much to look up to, we didn’t have running water, we didn’t have electricity. But I enjoyed studying with crows and lanterns in the evenings, together with many other children. Wake up in the morning and walk so many miles, you know, to fetch water from the water lake. Well, you know, one reason or the other is sort of the leaves that. Maybe if I gave him my all that if I worked hard, maybe I could emerge from that community. And make something of my life, so that’s what I did.

So by the grace of God and the support of a lot of other people, you know. Friends, family, dedicated teachers. I was able to come out of that small village first to high school in the south of Ghana. The thing about high schools at a time was that they weren’t free. Now, the country of Ghana has free education, from the kindergarten to high school level. But during my time high school went free, so if your parents didn’t have money, you can go to a good one. So I was accepted at one of the very good high schools in the country. Because my father suffered a stroke, just when I was about to graduate from junior high school.

So they couldn’t afford the high school that I’ve been accepted to. It was so hard to make it in high school. That was in a community that I grew up in, but did that for about a year and then moved to the south of Ghana. Where I went to do my secondary school. Secondary Schools were like boarding houses. So you lived on campus, you had access to good food, good teachers, all that kind of stuff, the mind didn’t have that. And these were classrooms that were in abandoned warehouses built during the Soviet era. You know, Ghana, at some point, had a very good relationship with the USSR, so there was. I think pockets of factories that had been built by the Russians in the country.

So my house was in one of those abundant warehouses and it was in a light. The lighting was very, very bad. Sometimes you have to even squint your eyes to be able to see clearly. But by the grace of God and the sheer support of the few dedicated teachers that we have. I was able to come out of that place first to the University of Ghana. Which was my first time in Accra. You know, when I arrived at the University of Ghana, this was in a time when I didn’t even have a place to sleep. So I had to make do with putting my very, very tiny mattress on the floor. And a very, very small room that was meant for maybe two or three people, there were over 10 people in that room.

It’s a very overcrowded place, you know, but I was okay with that. Put in the hard work and just believe in the grace and support of friends and family. And in my third year, I won the Green Card Lottery which entitled me to Alaska steaming analysis of America. So came to Boston first Brian and Tara from the bottom. I’ll come to that later, but I had a very, very long journey from those humble beginnings. To graduate from Harvard in 2019, as you had already learned about. So this is just an essence, the meet a summary of the journey and all of that.

Pamela Bardhi
incredible, it really blows my mind, because it’s like you literally went from studying in your home with lanterns back home to Harvard, right? That’s insane, that is remarkable. Like, if that’s not an underdog, like, I don’t know what is right to have that faith. And just keep going and like believing in yourself and your education. I mean, that is, Oh, my gosh, so powerful. It truly is, It truly it’s and we have a lot of parallels in our stories to you know. Coming from different countries and coming here on visa and that sort of thing. But one of my questions to you is, you know, as a kid growing up, like. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Mac Sarbah
Oh, man? That’s an interesting question. You know, I think when I was young, actually, my first inclination was toward the arts. So I had actually, naturally developed an affinity for sculpting. And I was able to make things out of clay, I would make little monkeys and different kinds of animals. I hadn’t gone to school to learn that, but I just naturally had a gallery. So that was what I was inclined to when I was young. But you know, this was a time when our parents didn’t really believe in the art of the pursuit of creative endeavors. As for the right future for our children, we’re particularly interested in things like. Law, engineering, medicine, and things along those lines, so that was my initial inclination.

But I was sort of dissuaded from that, by the constant punishment. Because you have to go and you know, physically you have to walk so many miles, you made yourself very dirty. So my dad wasn’t particularly happy with that. But I think the fundamental thing that people knew me for was my affinity for knowledge. And the world beyond the confines of that small place. I say that because, I remember when I was young, this was in the early 80s. When access to information was very, very scant. So when I was growing up, if anyone had a television set, a TV was like black and white. They were considered like rich people.

And I remember, sometimes on Sundays, when they had a particular kind of show. It was called drama, I can’t do drama, you had to go and stand in a window to be able to see that like you. You couldn’t even go to the people’s house, you have to stand in a window. To be able to watch those shows. But back to my particular inclination or passion. Was for the world and there was one particular man who was close to our house. Who ordered newspapers, as a score daily graphic. And that was the only source of one of the sources of information about the world.

So I’d go and sit there, and then really allow young people to read the newspapers, mostly older people. And so sometimes I had to sit there for three to four hours, for older people to come and read it when they leave. That’s when I would hold on to it and then I’ll try to devour as much information as I could. And so that gave me a sense that I became sort of the repository for knowledge and the community. So when people were in doubt about something, they would always say, go get Mac. You know, so I was very passionate about the world. I was the one who did other people’s vote work for them.

You know, a lot of students would come in the evenings. Some parents hadn’t hired me to teach my peers who were like, were like, similar in age. But I was teaching them, you know, I showed them how to read. I taught them how to do math. Now, I remember we had a soccer team. And I would say that everybody on the team was better than me. But all of them had a particular admiration. Or respect for me that they gave me the captain’s on there. Because if you didn’t, and you had homework, you were screwed.

So, I’d say that I had a particular knack for the water. Maybe journalism could have been great or even law. I had this affinity for, you know, like language, and sort of, I just love the flow and the beauty. And you know, the adversity and magnificence of language and all of that. So I think I would have made a very good journalist. Or even a lawyer, but yeah, so I’ll say growing up not to sit or keep dwelling on this, but those are the earlier inclinations.

But I was just more Thai faceted, multidisciplinary, more talented that I know. It became kind of difficult to focus on one thing. That’s amazing. So it’s like you were always an educator, sort of from day one. And that was your passion, you know, to basically educate and it’s almost like a gift of yours. Because if other people were hiring you it means you’re gifted. Yeah. Oh, for sure.

Mac Sarbah
I mean, I’ve always been interested in education. As I speak to you now, if I’m not doing something I’m reading if I don’t, if I’m not busy. I’m reading, I read voraciously. Even after high school, I volunteered to go to my father’s hometown. And so I was here at 18 and I was actually teaching won’t be the equivalent of fourth to fifth grade. So I taught them for one year. I volunteered to teach in my father’s hometown.

And then, while I was at the University of Ghana. Every time school was reassessed, I’d go back to the Senior Secondary School and I was teaching social studies economics. So what I’m doing now, to be honest, never really feels like work. You know, I work sometimes, you know, 12 to 16 hours a day and it never feels like I’m in a good place. I feel very happy about creating opportunities for diverse people. People from underprivileged backgrounds, because it is, in many ways, just a passion of mine.

Pamela Bardhi
Yes. And now for you like, who was your biggest source of inspiration like growing up?

Mac Sarbah
Oh, I mean, number one is my dad, my late Dad, you know, God bless him. My dad had a proclivity for education. He wasn’t educated himself. So my dad had never thought he would maybe like to get another college class for, like, very basic. But he was very, very passionate about education. And so he still has a sense of discipline. So my dad used to wake me up at 4:30 to 5 am, in the morning to study every day. Wow, do that to about like, six 637 and then go draw water. Which is the fundamental role of a child and house, right. And then in the evenings, my dad was a disciplinary, and he was pretty much scared of them.

You know, he was here, this he was a typical African father. He was passionate, he had a lot of love. But he was distant in a way he liked, he was a disciplinarian. So in the evenings or on six, seven, you’re already having your dinner. And then you went back to study from that time, to like, 10, maybe 10 3011. You went back to bed, woke up at 35. Again, so my dad was a source of inspiration. And he was extremely hard working, you know, extremely hard working. Even though he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. He wanted his children to pursue education and to make something of themselves via that path. My dad was, obviously was my biggest inspiration,

Pamela Bardhi
I adore that, I adore that. So that’s why you just kept going with school and just like. We’re motivated by him because you instilled that in you at such a young age. Which I think is so remarkable. And then when you won the visa lottery to come to the US. Because I know, it’s literally a lottery and a lot of people listening, like. It’s literally a lottery, you put your name in and your information. If you get chosen, that’s when you go if you don’t get chosen, you don’t go anywhere. But with for me and I’ll be like, my parents’ name is not chosen, we got to go to the US. So we had two years to stay or go, was it the same for you, as well.

Mac Sarbah
In terms of how long it gets from winning the lottery to the visa being processed?

Pamela Bardhi
Like how many is, it also true that they allow you two years basically to stay or go if it’s like the same circumstances? Or what specific timeframes? Did they give you that

Mac Sarbah
Had to come on this, was over a decade ago. But you know, I think it took from the time of me, to be honest. I actually didn’t even know that the lottery existed. That was also an element of destiny. Or I’ll say it is metaphysical for a supernatural being involved. I met someone randomly, who took a picture of me. And then, I got a letter in the mail a couple of months down the line that had won the lottery. It wasn’t something that I knew about was the sort of happenstance that actually led to that. So you know, from the time that I got it when I was completely befuddled. Because I didn’t know what the lottery was.

I didn’t even know that anything on the soul existed, I had to actually ask a couple of people at my institution who said, Oh, yeah, it’s actually real. And so that was when I went for the interview, I think it took like six months. Then I got the visa. And then I came to Boston and Brighton was where I started. My story, even in the US, was one of pain and agony was very difficult. I started when I first arrived here. This was because I had actually already received my bachelor’s degree. But I should start from the bottom. You know, I started from Boston, at the soft station bus terminal. You’re familiar with that place?

Pamela Bardhi
The South Station bus terminal. Yes. That’s why I started working there, like at one of the restaurants.

Mac Sarbah
No, so I was what they call a red cap. So when you arrive at the bus station, yeah. You would often put your bags and belongings on the cart. So the person pushing your cart to the bus station, to get to the train station, or to get a cab outside was me. Wow, so that’s when people would often give me tips. That’s why I started so I remember, when I first arrived there I used to talk to people. That I was working with that I wanted to go to an IV. And they would just completely laugh. They were just like you got on IV. You’re kidding me. Right? Like, you are a redcap.

So that’s why I started, you know, I graduated from the red cap. The same company to security, as a security guard. When you arrive the person who stood there, there’s an escalator. I don’t know if you can picture the substation bus terminal. When you get on the escalator and they bring you upstairs. There’s usually a security guard standing over there. One of those was me. So that’s where I started. But I never really gave up, you know, I didn’t have much of a family. I stayed with a couple of people from Ghana in Brighton. And then went on to live with a bunch of other immigrants from, you know, Central America. It was difficult.

I remember one of the places that I even lived, it was like, infested with like bed bugs. And those things used to bite me, I used to wake up in the morning and the whole thing was full of blood. So it wasn’t easy, It wasn’t the easiest of journeys, but I never really lost faith. I believe in the supremacy of God and His ability to lift people from the doldrums of certainty and worry and agony. And so studied for the GMAT and all the tests. You have to take and have gone on to, you know. Columbia, University of Cambridge and Harvard. So my journey has been a journey of the proverbial Joseph, you know, I just when I’m at the point where I think, oh, my goodness.

I’m about get to the finish line, there’s one set of challenges to overcome. So it’s been a very continuous journey, but I do have the base strong feeling that this is my path. Because the work that I do, you really have to understand the people you’re serving. And if you haven’t really been through difficulty and agony and pain of not knowing, where your next meal is gonna come from. Not knowing where to sleep, where to get guidance, is very difficult to be empathetic with. And so, in many ways, these are challenges that I’ve gone through. But I’m very, very grateful to God, that I’ve been able to go through hardship and difficulty and worry and agony and pain. Because I can feel very strongly for the people that I serve.

Pamela Bardhi
I adore that, I love that you say you said that you started in the red cap. And then you got into security. What went after that? How did your trajectory kind of go up from there?

Mac Sarbah
So you know, from then on, a couple of opportunities open here and there. And then I got the opportunity to know that my JRE and all the necessary tests you have to take. Then I was accepted at Georgetown University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Columbia. I went to Columbia. And then from then on, to University of Cambridge, and then Harvard in 2019. So I’ve been blessed. I’ve seen both sides of poverty, extreme poverty, and also have not been with people from extremely rich backgrounds.

And we’re privileged, you know when you go to Cambridge or instance. You’re wearing gowns every day, to go to dinner and receive all these fancy food. I sometimes even thought I was completely different. What I used to ask myself is this really be like, I remember, I used to study at Lamont Library. And you see people, like, Malia Obama study not very far from you’re like, Oh, this really is real, like, is this really me? So? Yeah, this is a very, very, very interesting journey and a lot of pain. But I’m also very grateful for every single experience, trial, or defeat.

Pamela Bardhi
I love that and what would you say was one of your biggest challenges? And how did you overcome them? Because, I mean, I can see that your mentality and your faith has played a huge role in where you are, because you’re just like, you were like. No, I’m just gonna keep moving forward by the grace of God and just keep going and keep plugging. Which I find very remarkable was there in terms of one or a couple of experiences that really shaped you? And like, how would you sort of bounce back from them? You know and keep going.

Mac Sarbah
I think, my background the genesis of my story from that small village, you know. If you don’t, if you didn’t come from a lot, you will always appreciate him on the level that you get. So even though I am in the United States of America and there is an abundance of things. I started from the bottom, but I just told myself, you know. If I look back, juxtaposing where I am right now, with where I came from, you know. I’m winning any law to typical American, you know, like, I’m at the bottom of the pyramid. But at the end of the day, I’ve lifted myself from what I considered worse. So because I already had a sort of just believe very strongly.

That I was on a path to something and so I wasn’t particularly worried when I go through challenges, which do a lot. I focus more on the future and also use the data from the past. Reflect on that for the current moment that I’m in and then use that as projections for the future. You know, if I can come from a small village to where I am right now. I could go somewhere else. And that’s very, very true even in entrepreneurship, you know. You might have challenges and all of that. But I always had the faith that somehow the supernatural being God, Allah, you know. Whatever you believe it has something in stock for me. Or a path to leverage that to help other people.

Pamela Bardhi
Amen to that. And now, so you went from graduating Harvard and now you’ve got some amazing things on the horizon. How did you transition into sort of where you are now with EDAcme. Thank you.

Mac Sarbah
No worries. Yeah, certainly granted that I’ve had a very long and difficult journey. And this has been largely the result of the mentorship and support of classmates, friends, family, faculty, teaching activities, teaching assistants, university administrators. Then I think it’s fairly easy for people to celebrate me. But I think we need to recognize the fact that it’s been the result of the work of a lot of people. This is a collective achievement, this is not a celebration of just me.

And so when I graduated, I went to Ghana, because I’ve always been very passionate. About how do I leverage my journey, to support other people. Because kind of think of that there’s still 1000s and millions of young people. From underrepresented communities in the United States, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. On the African continent, who don’t have access to education. You know, or even as you know now, with all the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. That are going on from so many groups that have difficulty accessing opportunities. By virtue of not having those resources and so are thinking more broadly.

How do I leverage my journey to play, a pivotal role in serving these people. And breaking these barriers of like access to opportunities, particularly in education and career development and intrapreneurship. So that’s how I came to launch an Acme. To be able to play a pivotal role in helping people from underprivileged backgrounds. People of color, blacks, Latin Max, and different kinds of people. Who don’t usually have access to opportunity to be able to find that. And so basically, this is the work that we’ve been doing.

Pamela Bardhi
That’s incredible, that’s incredible, unlikely, but what’s on the horizon, with that for like, the next year. What are like your goals and different things, that are sort of being released in the next year?

Mac Sarbah
We’ve been very, very fortunate to have had a long extraction of institutions that have come on board. And you know, have made their offerings available to many of the students. We have Harvard, Kennedy School, MIT Sloan, Columbia, SEPA Columbia, Teachers College, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago, and Gail. So we’ve worked with several institutions, to see how we can actually leverage, for lack of a better word. A platform to help reach, some of these in some of the young people.

I think in the next year. Our goal is to reach a wider audience, make it possible for a lot of people from many of these communities. Or international students to have access to opportunities or to make it. Possible for them to access educational opportunities so that we can break that barrier. So fundamentally, that’s what we’re working on. That’s what we’re doing and I think we’re getting traction. Things are growing day by day and so over the long haul. We just want to be able to impact a lot of people at scale. And so fundamentally, that’s what the energy has been spent on. What that’s the passion, the diversity, and things like that have been expended on.

Pamela Bardhi
I adore that, I just think what you’re doing is so remarkable. And I really, I love what you’re up to and I can’t wait to see. What EdAcme does, like, beyond because you’re launching in the next few months.

Mac Sarbah
Yeah. So we’re what we’re working on making sure that we’ve created a very streamlined process. I think, you know, as well as I do, that any startup or institution or company, as an experiment of sorts. You figure things out as you go, you try to see what the fundamental needs. The people you serve are both on the student side and on institution side. Or when on, you know, faculty or things of a sort. I think every day, we learn something new about the people we’re serving. And I think those are all good data to allow us to be able to create the best solutions in order to help the people, who need it the most.

Mac Biggest Piece Of Advice

Pamela Bardhi
Absolutely, I adore that. And now my question for you, like. What would be your biggest piece of advice, that your older self would tell your younger self, based on what you know now? In three years’ experience.

Mac Sarbah
I’ll say, never lose hope, you know. Believe if you have a goal, believe and have faith, but more importantly is work hard. Work hard, because I think sometimes people want to help you. But you kind of have to also do a bit of the legwork yourself. So if you’re going through any sort of difficulty. Whether you can afford one kind of challenge, obstacle, never give up, you know. Sometimes I think the obstacle is that test of how much you actually want to be successful. Because success, like, anything else, is not given to you on a silver platter. I sort of believe that’s some way, somehow you have to give it your best, you’re gonna have challenges. Things are going to be difficult.

Sometimes you will cry and mourn and go through difficulties, but never give up. You know, the more you want it, the more you have the fortitude. The resilience to withstand the challenges that will come. And they’re going to come in so many ways as you pursue your goals. So that’s what I would say to young people have ambition, have faith. But even if you face challenges, never give up, work really hard, and give your best. Sometimes you might come across someone, who just believes that we’ve seen the amount of work you’re putting yourself through. And by virtue of that, we’ll be willing to give you a helping hand to help you get to the next level.

Pamela Bardhi
I adore that and I mean. My story is just so remarkable, I mean, to go from where you were. So where you are now and then look at you giving back now, right? Like everything, I’m sure you see yourself as a mirror. And you’re like, I remember that kid, right, then remember that kid with the lantern. Right, I want to help you. I think it’s remarkable that you’ve gone as far as you have.

But I think it’s even more remarkable. That you’re giving back to that group you once were. Which I think is just the coolest thing in the entire world. It’s like the ultimate Underdog Story. And I adore that. I can’t wait to see what you do, like. Now Mac, where can everybody find you and all the info on EdAcme and how can they get involved with EdAcme if they’re interested?

Mac Sarbah
Yeah, certainly. I mean, we do have a website at edacme.com. That’s our website. We also do have presents on all social media, right from Instagram, to LinkedIn to Facebook. Same name @edacme, if you feel compelled to get on board or support our mission, those are the places that you can find us. But more importantly, we’re looking to reach a wider audience of young people around the world. In order to be able to help them realize their fullest potential.

And we also do need people that would be like myself. Because I cannot do this by myself, we need collective action. Just like, I have been supported by many other people. I would need a lot of people who’ve been through, similar journeys to guide these students on that path to success. So fundamentally, I’d say that those are the sorts of the prevailing needs and information, about how we can be taught.

Pamela Bardhi
I adore that Mac, thank you so much for being here today. And for all your wisdom and sharing your journey. I just think you’re amazing and just thank you, thank you. Thank you and keep being the light to the world. I can’t wait to see how EdAcme does. And I’m sure you’re going to be worldwide before we know it.

Mac Sarbah
You know, yeah, I guess Little by little. It was the will of God for us to leave an indelible mark on the world, by virtue of what we’re doing. You know, then dynamite. At the end of the day, we can only do our best and leave the rest of the big man, after two to make it happen.

Pamela Bardhi
Amen to that my friend.

Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my incredible interview with the amazing Mac Sarbah.