Thursday, July 8, 2010
Congratulations to Liberia for a major milestone: $5 billion debt relief.
From my colleague Ben Leo's blog post on the Center for Global Development's website:
"This week, Liberians celebrated in the streets – faces painted, drums blaring, and dancing with abandon. They’re not rejoicing over some recent triumph by the Liberian soccer team or a local festival. The streets of Monrovia were overflowing because of debt relief. That’s right, debt relief. On Tuesday, Liberia secured nearly $5 billion in irrevocable debt relief from the World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank, and bilateral creditors. It’s a massive sum – the equivalent of roughly $1200 for every man, woman, and child in Liberia. As President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated, “today, ladies and gentlemen, is a day for us, as Liberians, to celebrate.” And celebrate they did. And so should we."
I took Ben's advice already and joined the celebrations at the CGD event last Tuesday. It was great to see so many familiar faces from my Liberia chapter there: Planning Minister (and my former classmate) Amarah Konneh, Steve Radelet, Conor Hartman, and several Ed Scott fellows, to name a few. (Dan Honig, you were with us in spirit!)
Hats off to all who were part of this huge accomplishment.
Friday, April 2, 2010
One of the most innovative and exciting programs I've been following in Liberia is the Liberian Women's Sewing Project. A dear friend and classmate of mine, Emily Stanger, has been working tirelessly to help get this program off the ground. Here is her latest update from Monrovia, sent by e-mail this week...
"Over the past few months, I've been assisting with the start up of a new export-oriented fair trade sewing factory in Liberia. A dearfriend of mine, Chid, is a Liberian who grew up in the US and returnedto Liberia to invest in a sustainable, fair trade apparel factory.
After over a year of work, the project is now well on its way with 32 women employees, a parallel nonprofit for reinvesting funds into thewomen's communities, 30 industrial sewing machines, a generator thatruns on biofuel (hurray for green energy!!!), and an order for 100%African organic T-shirts that will be sold in Spring 2011 fashion lines.
Teaching these women economicsin Liberian English (they are now fluent in supply chains, fair trade,supply and demand, shareholders & dividend payouts, and socialenterprise) and helping them develop into a business-minded workforcehas been one of the most rewarding experiences.
Chid's first investors (a great organization called Root Capital) visited last month. They put together a video to share theirexperience of LWSP and I thought I'd pass it along to all of you as anintroduction to my world in Liberia.... lots of chanting, lots ofsinging, lots of clapping, and LOTS of amazing women. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq_0Qv7EB44."
I am very impressed with this project and see a great deal of potential for it to really take off. I am looking forward to tracking it closely. Further updates from Emily to come!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Fulfilling President Sirleaf's Mandate: Ensuring Women Their "Proper Place" in Liberia's Economic Development
Minister Antoinette Sayeh and I were sitting together in her office on the ninth floor, pausing our frenetic workday in Liberia's Ministry of Finance to eat lunch together in what had become one of my very favorite rituals of my summer internship. At this moment, we had just turned to a discussion of the Gender Ministry's role in Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy.
"To really advance the cause of women in Liberia," she said," "what we need is data. Hard data and rigorous economic analysis." Without such data, the policy agenda for Liberian women would be more of the same: one-off benchmarks (training xx numbers of women in sewing, for instance, or providing xx numbers of women with business training), without a broader strategy to fundamentally change economic opportunities for women. And, importantly, without the ability to measure progress.
That night I went home to the "Baptist Compound," to a late dinner with the fellow members of Team Liberia. Over fried plantains and jollof rice, I shared my lunchtime discussion with my rock star classmate, Emily Stanger. Minister Sayeh's comments were music to Emily's ears. A deeply passionate advocate of women and a dynamite intern in Liberia's Ministry of Gender and Development, Emily also happens to be a brilliant economist who loves data.
Thus the seeds were sown for a year-long collaboration. Heeding Minister Sayeh's call, Emily and I came together, combining the mission of the Ministry of Gender with the Ministry of Finance's purview of technical economic policies. The former our inspiration, the latter our medium for impact.
- Where are Liberia's women in the economy? What sectors do they work in, and what are characteristics of their work and pay?
- How will Liberia's projected growth over the next three years affect women? Do women stand to benefit from this growth?
- What are specific actions that the Liberian government can take during President's Sirleaf to fulfill her pledge to Liberia's women, particularly in three sectors: agriculture, the informal urban sector, and formal employment?
- Liberian women comprise the majority (54%) of Liberia's labor force
- The vast majority (90%) of women workers are clustered in the least productive sectors
- Urban working women are predominantly self-employed (74%), mainly in street vending and as market women. Men are 2.5 times more likely to be skilled workers.
- Women conduct 85% of marketing and trading and contribute 75% of all cash and food production.
- As major economic actors, women make significant contributions to household income; alone and with other household members, women contribute to 65% of urban household income and 45% of rural.
Many countries with successful labor-intensive industries have employed a very large percentage of female workers: in horticulture, jewelry making, garments and toys. In Liberia, it might be tempting to attempt to stimulate these types of industries through the creation of an Export Processing Zone (EPZ). Yet EPZs have had little success in Africa, would be administratively and fiscally infeasible right now in Liberia, and most importantly, would not address the most serious underlying constraints on investment. Instead, to lay the foundation for the emergence of nontraditional industries over the next 5-10 years that employ women, the Government should take steps to improve the overall business environment and investment climate.
Research to Policy: Sharing our Findings in Liberia
Once Emily and I finally had our research findings and our thesis in hand in the spring of our final year at the Kennedy School, this was really just the beginning. While our academic requirements box had been checked, we were both bound and determined to make our research useful and have an impact on policy in Liberia and, ultimately, Liberia's women. Taking a page from the Center for Global Development's smart and savvy communications, we turned our unwieldy 80-page thesis into a short, colorful, heavily imaged 4-page policy brief, based on the assumption that busy policymakers would never read our long thesis. (Let's be honest, I'm not even convinced our parents read every last page, and they are as proud as parents can be!)
For me, this is largely where the story ends. But for my partner-in-crime, Emily Stanger, this was just the start. After a brief stint working for Cherie Blair on her new womens-focused foundation after graduation, Emily has been back in Liberia for the past year, working as an Ed Scott Liberia Fellow in the Ministry of Gender and Development and helping to manage the Nike Foundation-World Bank project for adolescent girls. She is currently working for the UN on these same gender issues. I am so proud of Emily's commitment to Liberian women, for continuing to advance these causes on a daily basis, and for contributing her boundless energy, unparalleled talents, smarts, and economic know-how to this endeavor to advance the economic plight of women in Liberia. Emily, you are a marvel and a role model in so many ways.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Steve Radelet with President Sirleaf
Steve goes on to explain the origins of the commerical debt buildup and the key steps that had to be taken to arrive at the debt deal. In highlighting the key factors that underpinned the successful deal, Steve notes:
- The official debt reduction process known as "HIPC" imposed restrictions limiting a country like Liberia from paying more than a very small percent of the face value of debt without undermining the HIPC debt process.
- President Sifleaf's international reputation and credibility made a big difference.
- The liquidity-constraint financial institutions were more eager to accept readily available cash from the debt deal in the wake of the global financial crisis.
President Sirleaf reflected on what this debt write-off will mean for Liberia: "The successful resolution of this inherited debt, which had ballooned through interest and penalty charges during a period when my country was wracked by civil war, is an important step on our road to recovery. This puts us on a firmer footing to attract investment and accelerate economic growth.”
Congratulations to Liberia.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
"The fate and behavior of these settlers (they called themselves Americo-Liberians) is fascinating. Yesterday still they were black pariahs, slaves from America's southern plantations, with no legal rights... And now they, the descendents of those unfortunates, until recently slaves themselves, found themselves once again in Africa, in the land of their ancestors, among kinsmen with whom they shared common roots and skin color. At the will of liberal white Americans, they were brought here and left to themselves, to their own fate. How would they conduct themselves? What would they do?"