On September 13 and 14, we interacted with some of Liberia’s rising stars in our Youth Leadership Workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking held at the Business Start-up Center in Monrovia. Most of the young men and women came from Monrovia, and four from Bomi and Margibi Counties. These young people entered the workshop thinking money was the only means to solve their problem. They left realizing that they had other resources readily available that they could use to make a difference in their lives and those around them.
Liberia’s young leaders participated in the two-day workshop on Creative and Innovative Thinking.


Before the workshop, we collected some basic demographics about each participant. We had them answer ten questions about solving problems, collaborating with others, identifying strengths, assessing available resources, and defining leadership qualities. Their answers helped us better understand their mindsets before the workshop. Some of the young participants provided general answers, while others were more detailed in their responses. Here are two of the questions and summarized answers:
  • What do you experience daily that you would like to change? Many of the answers were related to the lack of money. However, a few went deeper and shared how they would like not to drink, womanize, sit around and do nothing, let anger control them, and be afraid to talk with people; all of these can impede one’s ability to make or keep the money.
  • What resources do you have available now that you could use to solve a problem? Very few mentioned what type of resources they had, such as a rubber tree farm or house. None of them were able to mention other non-monetary resources such as the sun, wind, reusable trash, and junk. Most noted God as their resource.
We had a solid turnout on both days, with 54 participants and about 11 observers in attendance. Altogether, with our Uniting Distant Stars team, we had 70 people. We need to pause and mention that we were most appreciative of everyone’s patience because in Liberia, even the best-laid plans can be met with challenges that require us to adapt our schedule and start later.
The youth paid attention, took notes, participated in the discussions, and asked good questions.
The biggest challenge was preparing food for 70 people. Six women prepared the food offsite (20 minutes from the venue) and had to cook with a coal pot because most people in Liberia do not have electricity or stoves. These constraints made it difficult to meet our time frame for breakfast and lunch on both days. The cooks were provided with a taxi to help them transport everything once it was ready. The ladies did a great job cooking delicious meals on both days, so it was worth the wait.


From left to right: Some of the cooks and youth enjoy their lunch break.

Day 1 

The participants interacted with the four presenters on the first day—Heather Cannon-Winkelman, Gradieh Wreh, Kelvin Fomba, and Elijah Wreh. The discussions and activities focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and knowing oneself. Throughout the day, they watched video clips of innovative Africans—William Kamkwamba (Malawi), Kelvin Doe (Sierra Leone), Duro-AinaAdebola, Akindele Abiola and FalekeOluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola (Nigeria), and Richard (Kenya)—who all made something out of minimal resources. From the outset, they were challenged to “think outside of the box,” and they were wowed by what they saw [and heard]. This is emphasized when they said, “seeing is believing.”
Read our article in the Heritage Liberia: US-based organization inspires Liberians.
The following is a synopsis of each presentation:
  • Discovering Your Innovative Spirit – Heather Cannon-Winkelman: This laid the foundation for the two-day workshop by walking the participants through the innovative process of solving their problems using available resources. They viewed the 6-minute TEDTalk by William Kambwamba, explaining why and how he built his windmill during Malawi’s famine. The participants were asked to examine what William accomplished and how they could apply some of his innovation to their projects. Also, they were given a “Think Outside of the Box” activity to examine if they could see outside their limiting beliefs. One young lady solved it out of the group.
Left to right: Heather gives background on William Kambwamba before showing his video and closing her presentation by challenging them to start creating.
  • The Entrepreneur Within – Gradieh Wreh: This presentation captured all the essentials of creating and growing a successful business: goal setting, planning, attitude, financial management, marketing, networking, etc. Gradieh used her experience as a successful entrepreneur as she traced her process of taking an idea and transforming it into a business. She had the participants do an imagination activity in which she had them close their eyes and were told to see their life in the best possible situation. Only about 30% actually imagined something that matched their passion. Others commented that their ideal world was driven by unfulfilled professions that would make them a lot of money.
Left to right: Gradieh with some of the participants demonstrating synergy in how a flock of birds works together when flying, and her guiding the participants through the imagination activity.
  • Don’t Imitate, Do Create – Kelvin Fomba: His presentation showed why creativity is important for addressing everyday problems. He shared how creativity is rooted in Africa with its long art, music, and storytelling tradition. Kelvin demonstrated his own creativity as an automotive technician and grassroots innovator. He showed two examples of cars where he designed and made his own intake manifold to replace the old one and replace the diesel engine with a gasoline one. He also modeled his wearable goods that were made from discarded drinking water plastic bags. He illustrated how to make “the impossible possible” and “something out of nothing.”
Left to right: Kelvin explains the importance of creating over imitating and also modeling a product line that he co-designed from discarded drinking water plastic bags.
  • Harnessing One’s Own Power – Elijah Wreh: This presentation guided the participants in self-examining their confidence, strengths, passions, and desires. Elijah shared the process he used to develop his successful career. He had the participants determine their top five strengths and had five young men and five young women come up to share theirs. He provided tools and tips on how each person can continue developing self-awareness and building confidence. He encouraged young people not to give up on their dreams and to strive to realize their potential, which could result in a worthwhile business career. Elijah also gave out some personal development books.
Left to right: Elijah presented on Harnessing One’s Own Power, had young people rank from 1 (least) to 5 (best) their Unique Abilities: Wisdom and Insight, Relationships, Communication, Leadership, etc.
The young men and women shared many interesting questions and insights with us. A couple of these led to some thought-provoking discussions and revelations. The first was culture, where they expressed disappointment that this is not part of their education. For example, the only languages taught in school are English, French, and Chinese. The second one was about emulating famous people like President Barack Obama to strive to be more like them. This idea was challenged when they watched Kelvin Doe’s TEDTalk and how his YouTube video had more views than President Obama’s victory speech in 2012. Young Kelvin’s example revealed that each one of them can achieve greatness in their life.
See more great pictures of our trip to Liberia on Uniting Distant Stars Facebook Page.

Day 2

On the second day of the workshop, many told how they went home thinking-thinking to the extent that some could not sleep. Before they started working on their projects, they heard from Lawrence Yealue of Accountability Lab (Lab) and Business Start-up Center (Center), our two Liberian partner organizations. He described both services and how they were prepared to provide for those ready to develop their ideas into businesses. Both the Lab and Center greatly contributed to the success of the workshop. 
Picture from Accountability Lab Twitter Page. Lawrence Yealue is talking about the services that Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center provide.
From Day One, we promoted collaboration with participants while thinking about and designing their projects. When we opened the “lab” on the second day to start their project development, more than 75% found at least one other person to work with. They had two and a half hours to create and plan their project concepts. Some were still “stuck in the box” with their thinking by developing micro businesses to sell common things in the market like charcoal and sandals/slippers. We challenged their ideas and reviewed what they saw and learned from the day before. They could then go back to the drawing board and develop new ideas.
Here are some of the groups working together on their projects.
Interestingly, many were inventorying their available resources and how they could use them for their projects. Some of these resources were their homes, farmland, old shoe bottoms and scrap cloth from the tailor shops, clay and rocks, and old usable equipment lying around their homes. A few young men and women saw how they could pool their skills and talents in developing a small business plan. Many were focused on how their projects could benefit others, which led to various training center ideas.
After lunch, the groups presented their projects and answered two questions from their peers. Very eager to share their ideas, the first few couldn’t summarize their projects within the five-minute allowed time frame. Thus, two facilitators became timekeepers so we could hear all project presentations before we ended the day. As each presenter shared their creative ideas, their concepts were listed and categorized into similar sectors.
Some of the groups presented their ideas on Day 2.
After the presentations, we grouped the ideas into four sectors [or industries]: fashion, food, sanitation and training. Now they had a chance to network with each other. When we had them vote on the two best projects, they all voted for their own! Since no determination could be made, the five Uniting Distant Stars workshop coordinators and facilitators voted on the top two sectors that were the most creative. These were food and fashion. The groups that fell into these sectors will collaborate and meet with our two Liberian project team members, Kelvin Fomba and Rev. Elijah Wreh, to show what they have accomplished. Based on the results of what each group produces in the next month or two, the fashion and food groups will each receive a small seed grant of $200 for further developing their collaborative projects.
Left to the right: is the Sanitation Group and Food Group networking.
The feedback received from the participants–both verbally and on the evaluation forms–was very positive. Most suggested that we offer the workshop in the counties (rural areas), and also have them more often during the year. Though we don’t currently have the capacity to go out to the counties or do this more than once a year at this time without additional sponsors, we already plan to return in October 2014 to conduct the next workshop. Official planning for 2014 will begin after the first of the year.



Overall, we did observe that the 2-day workshop did have an impact on our young participants’ thinking. We must keep the momentum going by engaging these future leaders to think outside [or with no] box. Even though our capacity is limited, Kelvin and Rev. Wreh are committed to supporting our young creative geniuses as best they can, with the help of our partners Accountability Lab and Business Start-up Center. 
We were invited to a radio talk show on 5 FM on Monday, September 16, to talk about the workshop. From left to right: Gradieh, Elijah, Kelvin, and Albert, the host.
We will analyze the pre-workshop information form and the post-event evaluation to prepare for next year’s workshop. We will “think outside the box” to learn how to improve upon meeting the challenges we faced this year and provide more substantive support beyond the workshop.
We want to Thank all of our supporters who helped make this workshop possible. We are grateful that you joined us in challenging young Liberians’ minds to realize their power to make positive changes in their lives. We believe “a mind not challenged is a mind wasted.” With your help, these young rising stars are more open to the possibilities within their reach.