Meet Akosua Bonsu, policy and program analyst, activist, and award-winner.
At 26 years old, Akosua Bonsu is already well accomplished. A policy and program analyst with the Government of Manitoba, her interest in political economy was sparked when she was selected to represent Canada on an international trade mission to southeast Asia — the only Black person of the 30 people picked. Shocked — but not surprised — by this, her extracurricular activities now revolve around empowering Black youth to reach their true potential.
Akosua’s ambition and leadership have won her several awards, including YMCA-YWCA Young Woman of Distinction, University of Manitoba Emerging Leader, CBC Manitoba Future 40 Under 40, and one of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women for 2020. She remains unstoppable in increasing representation of Black people in political and economic spheres.
My first job ever was… Working as a server at a Winnipeg ice cream shop!
I decided to work in the civil service because… I studied global political economy in university and have always been interested in the intersectionality of politics, economics, and health. Working as a policy analyst allows me to take a closer look at how laws and economic decisions affect citizens while exploring their effects on Manitobans’ social determinants of health (access to housing and income distribution, for example).
My proudest accomplishment is… Tough to pick just one! First on the list is being selected to represent Canada on a variety of overseas missions. In 2013, I was selected from hundreds of applicants to represent Canada on an international trade mission to southeast Asia. The goals of the mission were, in part, to strengthen Canada’s relations with the host countries and provide young adults with hands-on experience in international relations and diplomacy. Most recently, I was selected to attend the World Youth Forum in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, which gave me the opportunity to debate issues of global importance, engage with top policymakers, and recommend initiatives to decision-makers and influential figures. A close second is being recognized as one of the top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women for 2020!
My boldest move to date was… Taking the time to focus on myself, which may seem like a strange thing to consider a ‘bold move’. I have always been quick to put others before myself, but in early 2019 I found myself unemployed, single, and feeling truly unmotivated to pursue personal goals. After hitting rock bottom, something within me clicked: I needed to take charge of my life and ask, ‘what’s stopping me from achieving my goals?’. This simple question began an ongoing quest to intentionally encourage personal development — both in myself and in others. Of course, helping people remains a priority for me, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. I am now learning the violin, obtained my level 1 sailing certification, and have visited four of the seven wonders of the world. We women are stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for!
I surprise people when I tell them… I love to grow my own food! During the summer, one can find tomatoes, cherries, and cucumbers in my garden.
My best advice to people starting out in their career is… There is an opportunity to learn in every situation. What might first be perceived as a failure or a setback may be teaching you the skills you need to succeed later on.
My biggest setback was… My self-doubt. Throughout my early twenties, I could not bring myself to believe I was capable of achieving my dreams. I saw any form of rejection as validation of my (perceived) low self-worth. My mentality was not one that inspired strength, success, or confidence.
I overcame it by… Changing my mindset. Asking myself ‘what’s stopping me?’ forced me to contemplate the reasons I had fabricated as to why I could not do something. Instead of telling myself, ‘I can’t do that because I’m not smart enough’ or ‘because they would never pick someone like me’, I approached new opportunities thinking, ‘okay, if I truly can’t do this, why not? What can I do to address that?’. It took time, but developing this outlook has given me the confidence to pursue my goals with my best foot forward.
The best thing about being a policy analyst is… Knowing my work makes a difference in the lives of Manitobans.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Exercise more! I am a busy woman and often have a lot on the go. Though I like to be active, exercising is unfortunately one of the first things that falls off my agenda.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I do not watch much television, but I love game shows. My favourites include The Chase, 1 vs. 100, and Weakest Link.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is… How tough it would be to establish myself. As a young university graduate, I was often competing with seasoned civil servants for job positions. Once I was hired, it took me some time to find my footing — feeling comfortable with asking questions, voicing my opinions, and so on. Being Black and female in this field was also not far from my mind. In short, I didn’t anticipate how difficult the process would be, but it taught me a lot about myself.
I stay inspired by… Leaning into my faith, primarily. I also think about the young people who are coming up behind me, especially young Black women who do not frequently see themselves represented in some of the spheres I’m in.
The future excites me because… As a society, we continue to push the boundaries of innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned almost every aspect of life upside down, yet we have been able to do the once impossible: vaccines were developed over months instead of years, once rigid work arrangements are now more flexible, and we continue to adopt innovative ways of staying connected while staying apart. The COVID-19 situation is an ever-evolving one, but our capacity to affect change remains limitless.
My next step is… To blend my experience in policy development with my love of medicine and health. The emergence of the novel coronavirus and the unprecedented global response have both highlighted the importance of health-informed policies well before any pandemic is declared. By connecting the two disciplines, I hope my work can one day impact Canada’s preparedness for future pandemics.