By Martins Okoh SJ, Santa Clara University

On the afternoon of June 21, 2017, I made my first trip to Liberia. I landed at the Roberts International Airport, Monrovia to participate in a formation workshop for pastoral agents, Social Innovation (SI) and a Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) workshop for Social Entrepreneurship. These workshops were organized by Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.Launched in 2003, the GSBI at Santa Clara University has become a pioneer in the field of social enterprise capacity development blending Ignatian Spirituality and the social entrepreneurship’s ideals that more can be done to alleviate the unjust sufferings of the poor and marginalized.

The SI is a new platform designed to provide pastoral agents with information on what social entrepreneurship offers in line with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and Catholic Social teachings. Content wise, SI Liberia 2017 draws a lot from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si.

The workshops in Liberia have distinct objectives. They include identifying opportunities, developing sustainable social value propositions and bringing to bear inspirations, creativity and actions capable of disrupting unjust hegemony through Social Entrepreneurship.

The SI was held at the pastoral center in Monrovia on June 22, 2017. There were twelve participants—11 Catholic priests and 1 religious brother. All participants were from the archdiocese of Monrovia. These participants include: Fr. Alphonso Mombo, the cathedral administrator, directors of hospitals, principals of technical training schools, parish priests and associate pastors.

Fr. Raphael Airoboman, SDB, a participant at the SI workshop captured succinctly the motif of this workshop when he summed his take-home from this workshop in these words: “Faith cannot be an appendage on issues of social changes. Faith has been and will continue to be at the center of many impactful and social changes in every society and more so in a nation like Liberia.” Faith enables one to dig in, along with many other men and women of good will, to help lay hands on our ailing world and help in its healing.

Similarly, Fr. Boniface, the Parish Priest of Christ the King Parish in Monrovia, another participant, not only thanked the organizers of this workshop but shared how the SI workshop’s experience had triggered the passion for sustainable and impactful projects that would help improve the standard of living within his parish. To paraphrase his words, “We can’t expect donors to do everything for us; if we are searching for lasting solutions to our problems as Liberians.” The Vicar General of the archdiocese of Monrovia, Fr. Charles Boise, would later describe the SI workshop as a welcome unprecedented and necessary formational workshop for priests and religious in the archdiocese of Monrovia.

Unlike the SI workshop that lasted four hours, the Boost workshop took three days. The participants were 21 incredible, passionate indigenous social entrepreneurs mainly from Monteserrado and Margibi counties. These participants were from social enterprises including: Youth Movement for Collective Action, Food-bank Liberia, Restoring Our Children’s Hope, Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Survivors Aid International Liberia and LEEMAH Inc, to mention but a few.

With Miller Center’s goal in mind, I’d like to share one enterprise from the Liberia workshops that stood out as especially inspiring. This is LEEMAH Inc., whose founder is Miatta Mulbah, a young and energetic youth. She is involved in rehabilitation programs that help keep girls and street children in school. Some of these girls are orphans from Ebola that struck the country in 2014 and left thousands dead and hundreds orphaned. Miatta participated in the GSBI workshop and now she is thinking of moving her enterprise from a non-profit model to a profit enterprise by charging some tokens for the dramas that the girls were previously staging for free.

In brief, both the SI and GSBI workshops in Liberia became another invitation to go to the peripheries and respond to situations that deny minimum living conditions. Saddened by how the basic necessities like electricity have become luxuries beyond the reach of many in Liberia, I found incredible joy in the enthusiasm, laughter and camaraderie that these social entrepreneurs displayed.

For the success stories of these workshops, one cannot appreciate enough the efforts of Pamela Rossous and Jose Flahaux whose availability and teaching proficiencies made it all possible. Special thanks also goes to our host Fr. Patrick Etamesor, SJ, and Fr. Constant Bossou, S.J, whose gentle but reassuring presence made the Boost a remarkable experience. Even though I believe a pre-boost seminar should have been organized for mentors prior to Boost Liberia 2017, these workshops have indeed remained an awesome experience.

Apart from being one of the poorest nations on the continent, Liberia was also one of the countries hardest hit by the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Liberia is rich in natural resources, including rubber, minerals and iron ore.