Pitching A Brighter Future for Liberia

Blair Glencorse is in Liberia working on the Accountability Lab, which aims to find answers to problems of accountability. He also started pitch salons, a cross between speed networking and TED Talks.

 

 

While walking around Monrovia recently, I asked a Liberian friend if he could imagine his country as a place where resources were managed sustainably, women were treated equally, corruption was fought consistently and social enterprise was seen by young people to provide real opportunity. “Where on earth would we start?” he replied. We started several days later when I invited him to Liberia’s second Pitch Salon- held again in partnership with the brilliant and generous iLab Liberia and with the support of the RSA- where the Pitch Salon recipe of great ideas, brilliant people and unique format once more led to some fantastic discussions.

 

As always, the pitchers gave an “elevator pitch” for an organization, cause or idea that is engaging, accessible to an informed listener and has the potential to change the world for the better. The pitches this time around were as diverse as they have ever been at a Pitch Salon. Pandora Hodge, a serial entrepreneur in the making, talked about her idea for a student-run art house cinema in Monrovia; Nora Bowier, an environmentalist and community-rights advocate pitched about her pioneering work on natural resource management around the country; Tom Gwagee, the image of a modern African businessman, discussed his idea for a Liberian bike factory using Dutch thinking and techniques; Maryealee Pennoh, a women’s rights activist, gave an impassioned speech about her idea for a summer camp for disadvantaged girls; and Robtel Pailey, an academic with a real understanding of practical problems, discussed “Gbagba” her book used to teach children about the dangers of corruption.

 

The audience of forty or so from across the private sector, government, civil society, media and donors-  and including many of the pitchers from the inaugural Liberian Pitch Salon- listened in, feasted on food from one of Monrovia’s favorite restaurants and provided advice and connections to the pitchers. Business cards were exchanged, funding possibilities were discussed and there was a real sense that the concepts were beginning to move towards realities. There are very few outlets for young Liberians to express their ideas in a collegial atmosphere to people who can really make them happen, and the Pitch Salons are beginning to fill this gap. In keeping with the concept, a film-maker at the event even suggested that the Salons themselves be recorded professionally and shown on Liberian television in the future so that the ideas can reach an even wider audience.

 

A few days later, I bumped into the same Liberian friend I had invited to the event, and asked him what he thought of the Pitch Salon experience. “I saw up-close the passion and creativity of Liberian youth” he said; “the question is not where we start, but why we haven’t started doing this earlier”.

 

Blair Glencorse is an RSA Fellow and was awarded a Challenge and a Catalyst Grant for the Pitch Salons. You can follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse

 

Ashesi University offers scholarships to Liberians

Last month, we received a delegation from Ghana’s Ashesi University. In addition to visiting iLab and getting a sense of our operations, the delegation came to offer scholarship opportunities to qualified Liberian students.

Ashesi University is a coeducational institution whose goal is to educate African leaders
of exceptional integrity and professional ability. The university, which began instruction in March

 2002 with a pioneer class of 30 students, has quickly gained a reputation for innovation and quality education in Ghana.

The university is an independent, private, not-for-profit institution.

The University co-founder, Patrick Awuah, speaks at TED talks about the university on the topic “educating leaders”; we highly recommend this video – watch it here.

The day after our meeting with Ashesi delegation, we invited iLab users to attend and informational session explaining the procedure and necessary forms to apply for the scholarship opportunity. More than 80 interested candidates were in attendance, including both iLab users and others new to our facility. During our meeting, we explained about the University, the levels of scholarships awarded, procedure for applying for the scholarship, and a virtual tour of the campus through the university’s website, and at the end of our meeting, we encouraged all interested candidates to attend the official Ashesi University Scholarship launch which was to be held the next day at the Joseph Jenkins Roberts United Methodist School in Monrovia.

Our team attended the launch and found that nearly 50% to 60% percent of the people at the launch had attended the scholarship awareness meeting at iLab Liberia the day before.


The scholarship opportunity

Ashesi University has over $3,000,000 from the MasterCard Foundation to give financial assistance to applicants who otherwise could not afford the college’s tuition. Nearly 40% of their student body receives scholarships from the University.

Ashesi offers a four-year bachelor’s program grounded in the liberal arts core curriculum. Degrees offered include:

  • Business Administration

  • Management information Systems

  • Computer Science

Ashesi University is here in Liberia to award significant financial support to qualified students who need such assistance. Students accepted will be eligible for full or partial scholarship support to cover their tuition fees, textbooks, housing, and meals. In addition, 40 scholarship recipients will receive laptops each year.

The admission and scholarship application forms can be downloaded here.

Requirements for scholarship

  1. WAEC – All applicants are required to have obtained division I, II, & III in the West African Examination.

  2. If in High School, you are required to provide your transcript along with your application form(s)

  3. Engage with other activities, skills, leadership ability, volunteer job, sports, talents, etc is an added advantage

  4. Bank Statements, pay slips etc from family

  5. Fill in the Admissions and Scholarships Forms (if you are applying for a scholarship)

  6. Complete Application Forms in CAPITAL LETTERS

  7. Submit Forms my post and email

  8. If selected you will have to undergo on-phone interview (The University admissions office will call and interview you by phone on the number you will provide in your application form).


Frequently Asked Questions about the Ashesi scholarships

Who can apply for a scholarship at Ashesi?

Any family that can not afford the full fees should complete a scholarship.

Application Form and turn it in with their admissions application.

You can not apply for a scholarship after you have been admitted.

Will I need to submit any supporting documentation with my scholarship application?

A letter requesting why you need a scholarship is required. Families will able be required to submit bank statements, pay slips and any other relevant documentation. The more information you can include to support your inability to pay the full fees, the easier it will be to process your request. However, if you are unable to provide supporting documentation please explain in your letter why you are unable to do so.

How are scholarship decisions made?

First, the selection process begins by determining who should be given an offfer of admission based on each applicant’s overall profile

Second, based on your scholarship need, you are placed into one of three categories:

Extreme Need (over $5,000)

High Need (between 3,500 – 5, 000)

Medium Need (between 2,000 – 3,500)

Low Need (less than 2,000)

For each category, there is a set amount of scholarships Ashesi can award.

Third, students in each category are selected based on the competitiveness of their admissions application.

When will I know whether I have been awarded a scholarship?

Typically, decisions are made within three weeks of submitting a completed application. You will receive both your admission and scholarship decision at the same time.

Will the scholarship be renewed every year?

As long as you and your family can continue to demonstrate financial need, you can expect that your scholarship award will be renewed annually. The scholarship committee meets annually to assess the financial status of each scholar’s family. You may be asked to submit updated bank statements, pay slips and other supporting documents of verify your family’s financial standings.

Where iLab comes in

Looking at iLab Liberia’s mission to provide and encourage innovation, access and technology, we are in a position to provide our users with any possible learning opportunities that enable them to excel. In an effort to helped our users understand the requirements and submit their applications, iLab has pledged to do the following:

  1. iLab sent out a citation to all her users and the public upon which they gathered at iLab’s office where they were briefed about how to apply, provided copies of the application Forms, and encouraged them to attend the launching ceremony to hear from the horse’s mouth.

  2. Obligated her lab to all applicants to send their applications by email.

It is our hope an prayer that a good number of Liberians applying will be qualified and admitted.

Developer Training in Liberia

At the heart of all the technological advances in Africa is the hope that African people will use these technologies to their gain. Fiber-optic cables surround Africa’s coasts; mobile operators are investing in wireless technologies like WiMax in preparation for a flood of data that could break existing networks. Mobile devices and computer manufacturers are selling low-cost superphones, tablets, and netbooks, hoping that these devices will integrate well with the African lifestyle whilst platform developers scout the continent in search of developers to build apps for Africans on their systems and networks.

 

At this point it is quite obvious that the focus of these market players is the people—because it is the people who will spend their money on these technologies. A huge “side-opportunity” is created as a result of this new focus—the demand for developers of these Africa-relevant applications. At the moment, a few African countries have woken up to this new reality and are striving to meet this huge demand.

Liberia is not one of those countries awake to this new reality. For public and private sectors alike, the primary focus is on rebuilding systems and infrastructure destroyed by the two civil wars, as well as dealing with international debt accumulated over the years. Instead of technology being the means by which these reconstruction efforts are undertaken, it has become a project of the future. With our education system still weaker than its pre-war status, technical training has still not matured for even the best institutions.

 

At the moment, there are no Computer Science (CS) programs in any of our universities. The closest and only program we have is an e-Learning program for BSc. Information Technology from Amity University in Uttar Pradesh, India, offered through the Pan African e-Network with the University of Liberia[1]. This program primarily focuses on infrastructure setup and management, with little programming. This stands opposed to the programming-rich B.Tech program in Computer Science and Engineering offered in India by the same university[2].

 

Other institutions that offer courses in programming include the Starz Institute of Technology[3] and Silicon Pro. These courses are mainly introductory courses to languages like Visual Basic and PHP/MySQL. Furthermore, training in web development is more concentrated around tools like Dreamweaver than on the underlying programming/markup/scripting languages. These institutions are relatively new and the programming courses are not as popular with students as courses like networking and hardware. Courses in popular languages like Java, C++, and Python which are relevant to mobile application development are non-existent in these training institutions. Furthermore the high cost of these trainings makes them inaccessible to most would-be programmers.

 

Liberia’s small developer community is comprised mainly of people who studied outside Liberia, self-taught, and those who learned on the job. As a result, programmers are in short supply which causes programming jobs to go to foreign firms. There are a handful of tech firms in Liberia that are involved in software development that often have to train their recruited staff to program on the job. This is on a very small scale and benefits very few people.

 

Due to the limited number of programming languages taught in Liberia, developers are often not prepared to build applications on platforms that are language-biased like iOS. Since this is the case mainly for mobile devices, Liberian developers are cut off from harnessing the potentials of mobile applications. To date, it is still difficult to find mobile applications for Android, Apple or Symbian that have been built by Liberians.

This situation leaves us woefully unprepared to tap into the vast opportunities the mobile and Internet revolutions bring to the continent. Without mobile and web developers, Liberia will be left voiceless on these emerging platforms. Mobile and web applications relevant to Liberia need to be built by Liberians but, without effective training in modern languages, this will be impossible to accomplish. It is hard to imagine Liberia playing a pivotal role in the tech industry without a growing developer community. As important as computer networking and hardware are to Liberia’s technological advancement, these skills are inadequate to spur maximum Liberian participation in the global tech arena. They also do not promote innovation as programming skills do.

 

Until our tertiary institutions start offering relevant CS programs, Liberia will remain a consumer of information technology and may never grow to be a provider. Until Liberian students get early exposure to programming, they will be unable to compete with their regional and global counterparts in the technology race. And until we get a shift in our thinking about science and technology education, we will never get free from foreign technological domination.

 

Kpetermeni Siakor

IT Director

*iLab_ Liberia
 

Sources:
[1] Pan African e-Network - http://www.panafricanenetwork.com