In the next three years, the Liberia Employment and Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP) funded by the Government of France, through the French Development Agency (AFD) is expected to provide 11,000 Liberian youth (50% men, 50% women) between the ages of 18-35 and most impacted by unemployment, in the counties of Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa with market driven skills and employment opportunities.
LEEP which will be implemented by Mercy Corps Liberia, initiated its activities with a kick-off event on February 18, 2020, at which the first of three youth opportunity centers located on Jamaica Road, Bushrod Island was opened by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. D. Zeogar Wilson along with Ms. Mathilde Richelet, AFD Project Officer in Liberia, and Ms. Nina Taka, Mercy Corps Interim Country Director.
Mercy Corps in close partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports will operate three youth opportunity centers. The Monrovia Youth Opportunity Center will serve youth in Montserrado County while the two other centers will be located in Buchanan for Grand Bassa County and in Kakata city to serve Margibi County.
The kick-off event started with LEEP Team Leader, Mr. Mwesigwa Bikie Isharaza, giving an overview of the program. He said LEEP has three interlinked and mutually reinforcing objectives that address constraints to both youth labor demand and labor supply.
First, LEEP will build the self-confidence of youth by training them to succeed as employees or entrepreneurs. The program will then connect them to formal opportunities in the workforce or to small business development support.
Secondly, to create new opportunities for young people, LEEP will expand its engagement with the private-sector through business accelerators that will provide support to firms poised to create youth employment opportunities or correct labor market failures. Finally, LEEP will create partnerships that will identify and nurture talent in the nascent technology and entrepreneurship space.
Mr. Isharaza said Mercy Corps has previously worked closely with the Ministry of Youth and Sport (MOYS) and intends to deepen this relationship which is both strategic and critical to delivering this project and its services to the youth.
Clarifying the direct role of the MOYS, he said the LEEP program will provide technical and material support to MOYS to facilitate experiential learning for young people under the National Youth Service Program (NYSP), the Youth On-the-job Training Scheme (YOJT) and selected sports clubs in the targeted counties.
The National Youth Service Program will support highly skilled young Liberians who have recently graduated from university to participate in a one-year national service scheme. The project aims to provide an opportunity for university and college graduates to support the provision of public education, health/ Sexual Reproductive Health, agriculture and youth center management services at the community level through volunteer services.
The YOJT scheme will provide hands on work experience to young Liberians; the program will target semi-literate and illiterate youth. Beneficiaries will receive on the job technical apprenticeship training at various technical trade workshops such as mechanic shops, carpentry, welding and metalwork shops. Ten sports clubs will benefit from material and technical support that will be used to develop critical life skills to the targeted young people.
Giving the opening remarks, Mercy Corps Interim Country Director Ms. Nina Taka said Mercy Corps has been working in Liberia since 2002 delivering youth empowerment and employment, energy, maternal health, advocacy and school feeding programs. Mercy Corps currently have five programs operating in Liberia and central this work, is a focus on. She further stated that Mercy Corps will always aim to make a positive difference, however seemingly small leave an indelible mark in the lives of participants work with.
“While we have specifically youth-facing programs, the majority of our work in Liberia has youth programing threaded into it. Mercy Corps works in close collaboration with the Government of Liberia, civil society organizations and the communities we worked in and we strongly believe in the power of partnerships, to leave a sustainable solution or pattern that government and civil society organizations can carry on to create better living conditions for our participants after Mercy Corps is gone,” she said.
“Partnerships are the only true way, to build a sustainable future for ourselves, and for those, on whose shoulders we all have been given the chance to thrive. The Government of France, through its development agency, AFD, working in close collaboration with the Government of Liberia and civil society organizations such as Mercy Corps are an example of partnerships we all should be proud of,” she added.
“I hope the young people who walk through these gates, and along with our partner Ministry of Youth and Sports, will seize this opportunity learn, earn and make a difference in their lives and those around them. She thanked the French Government, (and the people of France), the Government of Liberia, making this occasion a reality.”
AFD Project Officer in Liberia, Ms. Mathilde Richelet said she was excited that the LEEP had kicked off and that activities that will assist youth in generating ideas and creating an entrepreneurship mentality have started. Ms. Richelet emphasized the need to make the program sustainable, to help young people run businesses and, in particular, to ensure that women build their skills and self-confidence to compete favorably in the labor market.
She added that she hopes Mercy Corps will work closely with the other programs that AFD is supporting in Liberia, in order to leverage efforts and learn from each other and looked forward to seeing young people utilizing the facilities.
Making his remarks before officially opening the Monrovia Youth Opportunity Center, Mr. D. Zeogar Wilson, Minister of Youth and Sports announced that LEEP is the fruit of the discussions that His Excellency President George Weah had with His Excellency Mr. Emmanuel Macron, during an official visit to the Republic of France.
Mr. Wilson said he was very grateful to see this effort come to fruition since youth employment remains a government’s vital priority. He stated that LEEP intended to create employment and education opportunities for many young people to become vibrant, resourceful and involved contributors to nation building.
He acknowledged that youth unemployment in Liberia remains high and added that more than 75 percent of young people who are employed are in the informal sector or could be vulnerably employed.
He reiterated that the governments Pro–Poor Agenda is designed to mitigate some of the constraints to the professional growth of young people by creating employment opportunities through collaborations between public, private and civil society organizations and thanked both the Government of France, and Mercy Corps Liberia, for the partnerships such as these, that are providing meaningful and positive changes to the people of Liberia.
He called upon all stakeholders, especially the young people, to take advantage of the services and opportunities being offered.