Investing in a Stronger Future for Liberia

Photo By: Sarah Siguenza

Mercy Corps Hosts Panel Discussion as a Side Event to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

The vast majority of Liberia’s youth lived through a decade of civil unrest, with widespread ramifications to their education, societal structure and opportunities for economic growth. In the face of such abundant challenges, however, Liberia’s rising population is determined to have a voice in the evolving societal and political realms. These individuals want to work, to gain a greater education, to make a difference for their country. When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to office in 2005, she and Vice President Joseph N. Boakai Sr. saw great potential in the determination of the youth. They have since formed policies around investing in the upcoming leaders.

The theme of investing in and partnering with youth was prominent during an Aug. 4 Mercy Corps side event: Empowering Africa’s Youth, Lessons from Liberia. The panelists included Vice President Boakai; Alexander Cummings Jr., the executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Coca-Cola Company; Earl Gast, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assistant administrator for Africa; and Allison Huggins, the Mercy Corps country director for Liberia. The discussion was moderated by Andrea Koppel, Mercy Corps’ vice president of Global Engagement and Policy.

Though the panelists each had very different experiences with the country of Liberia as well as with the youth, each carried a firm belief that investment in the young citizens (not only in regards to education but vocational training, political empowerment and fiscal independence) would lead to sustainable development for the nation as a whole.

The idea of youth empowerment and independence presented itself in an array of efforts by all aspects of the “golden triangle”: the relationship between civil society, governments and public/private sectors. Boakai pointed to educational programs such as the Liberian Youth Employment Programme (LYEP), while Huggins explained the local approach of having the young self-diagnose and innovate solutions. Cummings stressed the value of replicating best practices  most of which are often discovered through trial and error.

There are still many challenges for Liberia’s rising workforce. All sectors of the golden triangle are only beginning the process of including the youth in decision-making processes. Systematic norms and preconceived notions, such as the instability of financial loans for younger citizens, paired with the distrust those citizens have for the institution, are difficult to break down. It takes direct action and ownership of such tasks to move forward, the panel agreed.

Other common sentiments expressed by the panelists were the need to create solutions that were scalable, with little room for misinterpretation by any party. Further attention should also be placed on adults, to engage the youth and treat them as legitimate civil members. Opportunities for expansion, particularly in the agricultural sector, are there, the panel concluded. They also agreed that there is still much work that needs to be done.

“We are sure that our youth will be better prepared to contribute to the nation’s prosperity,” said Boakai. “We’d also place our request before you- to maintain your deep interest in and maximum support to our efforts. We sure count on you, as much as we appreciate all that you already do. May your reward find manifestation in the empowerment of this critical segment of our population, on whose shoulders our future lies.” 

Sarah Siguenza is a communications consultant with InterAction. This blog is part of a series, as InterAction continues coverage of several summit side events. For a snapshot of the activities and discussions hosted by the NGO community, check back as the summit continues for updates.

Related article : Non-Government Actors and NGOs Hold Side Events To Build Off US-Africa Leaders Summit

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