Advisers Giving Back: Mike Devlin and the Village of Tanyigbe

A pension risk consultant’s journey to Africa as a volunteer with Globe Aware evolved into a significant initiative for a remote village in Ghana, profoundly altering both the village’s prospects and the consultant’s own life.

A pension risk consultant’s volunteer trip to Africa became an impactful project for a small village in Ghana—and a life-changing experience for him.


March 26, 2024

When Mike Devlin turned 40, his one request for a gift was about giving: He wanted to fulfill a lifelong goal of doing volunteer work in Africa.

Devlin, a principal at BCG Pension Risk Consultants Inc., discussed the idea with his wife and then reached out to an organization called Globe Aware, which arranges “volunteer vacations,” to sign up for a project. As he learned about the issues the nonprofit was working on, however, Devlin says “the entrepreneur” in him kicked in, and he started asking questions.

Some of the villages in Africa “needed clean water, so I asked, ‘How does that work?’” Devlin says. “There are places that kids want to go to school, but there’s no school, just a field. Then I started asking, ‘How much does something like this cost?”

His questions led to a price tag: about $40,000 to build a three-classroom school, with clean water and proper sanitation, for a village in Ghana. Devlin’s gift of giving had just gotten bigger. But he felt, with his own donations and his network of friends, colleagues and even clients, he could raise the funds.

Over the next nine months, he went to work. With the help of family and friends, he held a golf tournament, a jazz brunch fundraiser, a bowling tournament and raised money via Facebook campaigns.

“It was amazing,” Devlin says. “I was always blown away, in particular, by the people who gave $10. Those were the people that were probably still budget-tight, but they wanted to give something.”

In the end, he raised $60,000. From there, he was off to Accra, the capital of Ghana, picked up by his translator, Kosi Yinkah, and off for a 19-day stint in the village of Tanyigbe.

A Couple of Shovels

Once in the village, Devlin found no electricity or clean water. But there was plenty of hospitality.

He shared meals with villagers and participated in a ceremony by firelight in the evening. Before construction began, local chiefs met at the site for a kind of ribbon-cutting, in which members of the community sprinkled dirt on the area to bless where the school would be built. From there, Devlin and the villagers got to work.

“We’re in an area where you don’t have a tractor or all that stuff; all we really had was a couple of shovels,” Devlin says. “We had no professionals—it was really all the villagers chipping in to start digging and making cement blocks.”

The work included carrying water from the river to mix the cement, while dealing with obstacles, such as hitting a tree stump, that could “take up a day.”

Yinkah, Devlin’s translator, helped him communicate. But when Yinkah was not around, Devlin says people would communicate with hand signals and some English.

He was particularly impressed by the village’s women, who carried heavy water and materials on their heads with incredible skill.

Devlin was also taken by the fact that, while Tanyigbe had very few resources, people were friendly and upbeat, and they often gathered around a fire at night to talk, sing and dance.

“The people were phenomenal,” he says. “Everybody wants you to come into their hut and sit, and even if you don’t understand what they are saying, they are so appreciative.”

Reality Hits

One day, however, Devlin showed up to an empty work site. When he inquired as to what happened, he was told a young girl had died of dehydration. A seemingly simple thing to solve in many places, but here, a potentially lethal concern due to a polluted water source.

“That really hit,” Devlin says. “When just drinking water is a problem … it was eye-opening. And, being a dad myself, it was really tough.”

The incident was also a reminder of the importance of the project itself, including bringing a clean water source. In the coming days, the villagers kept at the project, which continued after Devlin left, resulting in three classrooms and a purified water system. There was also the knock-on-effect, Devlin notes, of drawing better teachers due to the improved facilities.

Although Devlin had left Tanyigbe, the village was not done with him. As it turned out, Yinkah had gotten a visa to visit the U.S. Devlin, his wife and their kids decided to sponsor Yinkah for the trip and host him at their home.

Beyond having a good time together—including joking about Yinkah managing through a Boston winter and his immediate love of lobster—the two went around giving presentations to schools and town halls about Yinkah’s home.

“He would talk about the need and raising awareness,” Devlin says.

Meanwhile, back in the village, kids were graduating from the school, with about 20 going on to college. The Ghanaian government has also started to add funding, helping the school add computers and electricity.

Continuing the Giving

Devlin continues with other charitable work, as well. That includes three to four charitable events per year to pack food for the needy through a program called End Hunger New England, which ships food around the world. He says he is motivated to do charitable work in part by growing up in a family that did not have a lot and therefore valued hard work and helping others.

“I feel like the world is a community, and I think if everybody just did 10 hours a year of volunteer work, it would be a better place,” he says.

Devlin is considering a trip back to the village in Ghana with his own kids. The biggest hesitancy, he says, is the cost of the plane tickets, money he says is hard to spend when it could be donated to the community. But he also feels it is important to see the villagers again and let his children experience it.

For now, he keeps getting joy when he sees pictures of Ghanaian kids earning their diplomas from the school he helped build.

“It keeps giving back to me, that’s for sure,” Devlin says.


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