EMPOWERMENT: GIFT 2 Change is a non-profit organisation that pays youth in Monrovia
to make money by recycling. PICTURE: EPA
EMPOWERMENT: GIFT 2 Change is a non-profit organisation that pays youth in Monrovia to make money by recycling. PICTURE: EPA

Fombah Kanneh
Social entrepreneur

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Fombah Kanneh been so successful in his undertakings? Some key characteristics come to mind:

Kanneh thinks about what changes are needed in the long term. His waste-recycling company provides employment and sustainable livelihoods.

He knows that few make it entirely through their own efforts. There is a need to support others when able to do so - the way his mother and Casirmiro did for him. In addition to his many other undertakings, Kanneh also serves as a motivational speaker.

Fombah Lasana Kanneh was born in August, 1984, in Mecca Town in north-western Liberia. His father died when he was a child and he was raised by his mother in a make-shift home in an impoverished slum in Monrovia.

Growing up in a single-parent household during Liberia's first civil war (1989 to 1996) was difficult. In many ways, Fombah's childhood was full of pain. Life would have been even worse had it not been for his incredibly hardworking mother, who kept food on the table and clothes on his back.

Kanneh attended GW Gibson High School from 1998 to 2003, and most of his high school years coincided with Liberia's second civil war (1999 to 2003). Yet, he applied himself to his studies, undertook multiple labourintensive jobs to pay for his school fees, and was able to graduate just as the war was ending.

Although Kanneh had himself struggled, he recognised that there were many youths who had considerable potential but felt they could not rise above their lives in the slums.

Kanneh realised that these youths had given up on their dreams and accepted lifestyles common to the slums, including drug use. He was determined to transform the youths' mindsets and help them create a better life for themselves and their communities.

In 2004, Kanneh enrolled in a six-month mass communication programme at the Liberia Institute of Journalism.

His goal was to use his diploma to give Monrovia's slum dwellers a platform to be heard.

Kanneh graduated in 2005 and worked as a broadcaster at several leading radio and television stations before deciding to further his education and enrol at the University of Liberia in 2010.

In 2011, Kanneh met Juan Casirmiro, who changed his whole way of thinking and in many ways his life. An American, Casirmiro was leading an entrepreneurship seminar for youths at the US Embassy in Monrovia.

He told Kanneh that he did not have to wait to find a job, but could create one for himself through entrepreneurship.

Casirmiro's overall message was not to wait for opportunities to present themselves, but to actively seek them out. By 2012, Kanneh was elected president of the Sports Writers' Association of Liberia and by 2013 he was appointed as the youth advisor to the US Ambassador to Liberia.

In 2014, while still a university student, Kanneh founded a for-profit organisation, GIFT 2 Change, and non-profit organisation Youth Empowerment Training. GIFT 2 Change is a business that helps to clean up the environment and offers youths in the slums of Monrovia an opportunity to make money by recycling cloth and paper waste. Youth Empowerment Training teaches social entrepreneurship and career development to youths.

By last year, Kanneh had a degree in Business Management from the University of Liberia, specialising in marketing management.

He served on the Media Committee of FIBA - AFRIQUE, Africa's basketball governing body, and held jobs with his own organisations, and as a sports writer for the Confederation of African Football.

In addition, he was the recipient of an award from Youth Service America for his service to humanity, and was one of 16 Liberians selected to take part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme for young African leaders.

The highly competitive Fellows programme enabled Kanneh to complete a six-week training programme in Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin, Stout, in the US.

Kanneh stayed on after the Fellows programme ended to visit Casirmiro in Florida and intern at his week-long mid-August 2015 BizNovator camp in Miami.

DR HEIDI G FRONTANI was a geographer in the nature-society tradition, whose research has examined the relationship between the park management approach and conservation effect. Much of her early research employed a political ecology framework and involved field work with English- and Swahili-speaking fishing communities living near marine protected areas in Kenya and the US. Since 2007, when she began leading an academic service learning programme partnering with communities in Ghana, her research has included development studies more broadly. Her interests include the Rockefeller Foundation and the Wellcome Trust’s disease control and public health initiatives in early 20th century Africa.

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