Empowering Africa's youth: Lessons from Liberia

August 8, 2014

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  • On August 4th, Liberian Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and representatives from Coca-Cola, USAID and Mercy Corps spoke to an audience of more than 80 people on the topic of youth in Liberia at a Mercy Corps sponsored event. Photo: Brian Morrison for Mercy Corps

On Monday, August 4th, on the side of the first ever U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit in Washington DC, Liberian Vice President Joseph N. Boakai spoke to an audience of over 80 people at the Mercy Corps-sponsored event, Empowering Africa’s Youth: Lessons from Liberia.

The Vice President reflected on a decade of post-conflict youth development efforts spearheaded by the Government of Liberia, and outlined the administration’s vision for meeting the needs of Liberia’s next generation alongside partners including The Coca-Cola Company, the US Agency for International Development and Mercy Corps.

Liberia is a country of both tremendous opportunity and endemic challenges. Youth between the ages of 10 and 29 make up nearly half of Liberia’s population. The nation’s brutal 14-year civil war left young people with little education, job opportunities or marketable job skills. This confined Liberia’s burgeoning youth population to low-paying, unskilled jobs in Liberia’s extensive informal sector.

Since she first came into office in 2006, Liberian President Sirleaf Johnson has put youth at the center of the nation’s recovery. Her administration has worked tirelessly to promote economic growth and help Liberians pull themselves out of poverty. To achieve sustainable, inclusive growth, President Johnson has worked to address decades of inadequate education and the remaining fallout from Liberia’s civil war, the legacy of which disproportionately affects the nation’s youth.

Mercy Corps believes in the power of young people to change the world. The decisions they make will affect not only their own families and communities, but also the world beyond their borders. That’s why this International Youth Day, Mercy Corps is proud to highlight our partnership with President Johnson’s administration and other local partners to drive positive change and help youth access the opportunities they deserve.

Mercy Corps has worked with Liberian youth since 2002, gradually shifting the focus of its programming from recovery and peace building to job and leadership training. Through the implementation of two major programs – the Advancing Youth Project (AYP) and the Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Economic Transformation (PROSPECTS) program – Mercy Corps is helping young people gain the skills and tools they need to obtain a job, take on adult responsibilities, and make positive contributions to their communities.

Small and micro-enterprises are the backbones of the economy in Liberia, and many Liberians depend on them for their livelihood. Mercy Corps thus works to provide Liberian youth with leadership and entrepreneurial training – as well as easy access to financial products, services, and capital. With support from Chevron and SIDA, the PROSPECTS program facilitates apprenticeships and business-skills training, connects small business to start-up grants, and cultivates leadership skills through innovative cash-for-work recycling programs that help youth gain skills and resources while also cleaning up their neighborhoods.

Anthony Mabey is one of nearly 500 Liberian youth to have completed an apprenticeship through the PROSPECTS program – and one of nearly 1,800 to have completed its Business Skills Training. Upon graduation, Anthony applied for and received a $500 grant to purchase materials to establish his own electronics store. “My participation in the apprenticeship, the Business Skills Training, as well as the mentorship discussions was rewarding,” said Anthony. “I hope with this start as a business, I will be able to host some apprentices in the future.”

Anthony is just one example of how youth across Liberia are – when given the education and opportunity – seizing the chance to succeed. With the support of great partners like President Sirleaf’s administration, Coca-Cola, Chevron, and SIDA, Mercy Corps is dedicated to continue our work to reach young people in the world’s toughest places, at the most critical times, when their choices have the greatest impact.