Q. What is Liberia Economic Development Initiative?
A. Liberia Economic Development Initiative (LEDI) is a Cleveland, Ohio-based 501 (c) (3) tax exempt organization with an international focus. It is a nonpolitical and nongovernmental organization founded in October 2007 to reduce poverty and increase the economic capacity of the often disadvantaged and impoverished people of the world with specific focus on Liberia, West Africa. LEDI’s primary objectives are to reduce poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, diseases, and underdevelopment in Liberia through a comprehensive economic development, business relationships and capacity building approach.
Q. How did you come up with the idea and vision for LEDI?
A. LEDI was co-founded in October 2007, by my wife, Joan Curran Darkortey and I. We understood then that there was enormous poverty in Liberia, and we needed to take concrete action to reduce such poverty. Poverty is manifested in various forms in our country including poverty associated with the lack of income, education, healthcare facilities, infrastructure, etc. Currently, about 83.9% of Liberians live in poverty; about 83.7% of Liberians live on less than $1.25 per day; another 80% are unemployed; about 68% don’t have access to clean drinking water. Poverty is so severe to the extent that 83% of Liberians don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities, while illiteracy rate stands at 42.5%.
Joan was one of the strongest advocates and spokesperson for the debt relief efforts for Liberia at the time we founded LEDI. She once eloquently spoke at one of ULAA’s conventions to make the case for debt relief for Liberia. She also was appalled by the high level of poverty existing in Liberia, and we both agreed that it was time to take concrete action as opposed to just talking about it. Joan and I later got married, and I am very excited to have her as a partner in this endeavor. She brings so much to the organization.
At the time this vision was conceived, I was too busy serving as the President of the Liberian Association of Cleveland, Ohio, and did not want that to interfere with running this LEDI. We believe in the vision of LEDI and strongly believe it will play a vital role in poverty reduction in our dear country. As a result, we have been very careful about our implementation strategy. Since then, we have gone to Liberia to assess how we can implement our poverty and economic empowerment initiatives. We have also since embarked on one of our goals by providing scholarships to needed Liberians.
Q. What is the driving force behind LEDI?
A. Like others around me when I was growing up, I grew up very poor in Liberia. No food to eat, and at times it became too difficult to go to school on daily basis. There were no public libraries; no public toilets to the extent that men, women and boys and girls were using the beaches together when they needed to toilet. There were moments where little children as young as 9 will be forced by their parents to abandon school just to sell petty business to feed the home. There are other instances where kids are not going to school because their parents can’t afford their annual tuition as little as $100 United States dollar.
These levels of hardship that I endured and others continue to endure today are the driving forces behind LEDI formation. We could no longer wait for someone somewhere to one day help these people to overcome poverty. We felt this is the time and the moment to take meaningful action. My philosophy in life is that we are the product of our own thinking. When we apply action to what we are thinking, whether it is good or bad, we often reap the benefits. Because I grew up poor, I thought it a good idea to at this time to fight for the alleviation of poverty in the land of my birth.
Q. You have such an ambitious goal for LEDI. How are you going to fund these programs?
A. As you know, we do not have our own money. We will identify donors, do fundraisers, and we also will be calling on Liberians everywhere to help us undertake these initiatives. We’ve already identified six key initiatives in our efforts to accomplish the goals we set.
(1) Infrastructure development: Building modern public libraries, schools, clinics, hand pumps, latrines and bus stops, etc.
(2) Micro finance: Providing micro loans, business development and training.
(3) Education: Provide scholarships, school supplies and teacher stipends, etc.
(4) Healthcare: Provide medical supplies, patient and workers’subsidies.
(5) Youth development: Provide leadership, economic development, and sports training, etc
(6) Sisterly institutions: Develop sisterly relationships among institutions.
Q. I understand you once served as President of the Liberian Association of Cleveland, Ohio. With name recognition comes some level of influence and admiration. Are you getting any support from the community you once served as President?
A. This is a Liberian effort. Like I mentioned earlier, we are reaching out to Liberians everywhere. I am counting on the community that I once faithfully served and continue to serve as an Ambassador to join me in this worthy endeavor. The 14 years of civil in our country destroyed all vital infrastructure. With such an enormous destruction, it is impossible to solely rely on the Liberian government, our foreign friends, and a few Liberians to rebuild our country. We all need to join in on this effort. That is why I am calling and counting on every Liberian, despite their involvement with other organizations and activities, to support our endeavor.
Q. Liberia is in a nation-building phase. This is a huge private initiative LEDI is undertaking. Have you contacted the Liberian government about LEDI mission; and do you think the government will support or allow your organization to work in the capacity of poverty alleviation?
A. We respect the Government of Liberia because constitutionally, the government is responsible to protect the country’s interests in terms of who’s doing business there. We will continue to transparently work with the government in the implementation of our goals. As you may know, politics and economics should complement each other. Unfortunately, politics always dominates everything in Liberia, which affects the economy, making it difficult to eliminate poverty. We want to minimize politics in our organization in order to focus on the building of economic capacity. When the time is appropriate, we will certainly contact the Liberian government about the work we are doing in Liberia. What we will not do is to work for the Liberian government. However, we will work with the government to deliver our mission.
Q. LEDI seems to be undertaking multiple initiatives, why?
A. As I mentioned earlier, poverty is manifested in so many ways in Liberia. You have poverty occurring because of the lack of business opportunities, jobs, education, healthcare facilities, etc. A Liberian that does not have a job will not be able to send his children to school. He will not be able to provide food for them, nor will he be able to send them to the hospital when there is no income and hospital around. So, we decided to take a holistic approach to reducing poverty in our country. We believe that when we build modern libraries, we will have increased literacy, decrease unemployment, increased the income capacities of the parents so that they can now afford to send their children to school, pay their medical bills, and feed them as well. As school fees and medical bills are paid, these institutions will remain operational by resupplying their inventories and paying their employees in a timely manner. So, our holistic approach has the potential to reduce poverty in a significant way.
Q. When is LEDI planning to start building its libraries, and how much will it cost?
A. One of our first major infrastructural development projects will be to build modern libraries across the 15 counties of Liberia. We want to build for the future in a way that allows our new libraries to compete with the libraries of this century that are existing in developed countries. We want to inspire a new form of infrastructural development in Liberia. As a result, our first library will be built in Monrovia at approximately US$500,000.00. The other libraries within the various counties will cost about US$100,000.00 each for a total approximated cost of US$2,000,000.00. Additionally, we are expected to spend approximately US$20,000,000.00 on poverty reduction in Liberia.
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Thanks and it is a pleasure speaking with you.
Phone: 216-577-3177 or 216-202-ledi (5334).