Training the Accountability Advocates of Liberia’s Future

By: Yasmin Anis, Accountability Lab Summer Resident.

This summer, Accountability Lab Liberia helped organize and lead a series of training sessions to help Liberian youth better understand the concept of accountability and their related rights and responsibilities. Among these efforts, we worked with Pursuit of Positive Action Youth Organization (PPAYO) and the Reform Youth Network to train over 50 youth leaders. These training sessions provided some valuable insights on the challenges to accountability in Liberia.

At the beginning of the trainings we asked participants what accountability meant to them. Most participants responded that it boiled down to holding community leaders, government officials, and other influential figures responsible. Personal accountability was a relatively unacknowledged concept. To the average citizen bribing a police officer was not seen as corrupt, but simply a matter of “getting by.” One participant explained the current consensus within society: “If a minister accepts a bribe he is corrupt, but if I pay a bribe, it is for survival.” Almost all of them felt that accountability should start at the top with official power-holders and then trickle its way down.

When we brought up the example of keeping the streets clean and how one person’s backyard is someone else’s front yard, the ideas were met with silence. Then, one brave participant shared her experience trying to clean the streets in her neighborhood. She recounted how her actions were met with jeers and criticisms, as people did not understand why someone would volunteer to do something like that for nothing in return. The participants agreed that this attitude is a problem and that there is a great need to instill a sense of volunteerism within Liberian society.

Throughout the training, participants developed an understanding of how accountability must begin with personal responsibility. Through interactive and group sessions they formulated new, more constructive approaches to deal with the lack of accountability in their communities. Some agreed that families could play a greater role in addressing issues of corruption and integrity. Others suggested that youth should go into local marketplaces to discuss accountability with buyers and sellers. There was also a general consensus that ideas for change should come from Liberians themselves, rather than international donors and NGOs.

These are exactly the types of grassroots initiatives that Accountability Lab is working to cultivate. Through our Accountapreneurship Funds, we find citizens with innovative ideas to build accountability in their communities and then provide the financial, networking and training support they need to turn these ideas into real tools for change. One such example is the Daily Talk: a civic education platform that informs up to 10,000 commuters a day through strategically placed chalk-billboards. Another example is a training program for 20 young Liberian filmmakers to incorporate issues of accountability into documentary movies. After each filmmaker learns how to make engaging, low-budget documentaries, they produce their own short film focusing on an issue of accountability that they are concerned about in their community. These documentaries will be shared with the public online and at an accountability-themed film festival that we are hosting on September 17th.

We hope that through more- training, networking, and mentoring efforts of this sort, we can inspire a new generation of Liberian leaders who will lead the way forward to a more accountable, transparent, and equitable Liberia.

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