Fredrik Butler and Sebastian De Geer are two newly graduated students from Sweden who have been helping the team at iCampus Liberia for the past month as summer interns.
Flying through the clouds into Liberia our expectations were quite high. We had heard a lot about the country through family and friends and thought we had a pretty clear picture of what our time in Liberia would be like. However, after five weeks here, we can honestly say that the things that we have experienced have been far beyond our expectations.
We quickly settled into iCampus- a shared co-working space for organizations that are striving for social change in Liberia, but also for individuals who require, but lack, sufficient technology, and facilities. iCampus is also the local affiliate of the OpenGov Hub– much of the work in the space is focused on opening up government and building accountability. Currently, iCampus is run by Accountability Lab Liberia and iLab Liberia, and the aim is to fully open up the newly acquired facilities in downtown Monrovia to the public as soon as possible.
A lot of the days during the first week revolved around listening and attempting to adapt to the workflow of the team- Liberia is a unique place and getting used to the relationships, ideas and programs can take some time. Something that we learned during the first week was that the tempo in Liberia is completely different from what we are used to back in Sweden. It is not that less work is done in Liberia, it’s simply that the workload is organized in a very different way. In Sweden, deadlines are enforced, but here, quality and comfort with the task you are doing seems to surpass time. We realised over time that this actually nurtures a much more comfortable and less stressful work environment.
The first real project that we got the opportunity to work one was about building better governance in mining areas in Liberia. The Citizen Helpdesk project works with citizens in mining areas to understand the Mining Concession Agreements put in place with mining companies. The issue with such Mining Agreements is that they are often misunderstood by communities. Sometimes employees and inhabitants misunderstand what is being written, and sometimes the mining companies try to take advantage of the low level of comprehension amongst the employees and their families. Our task was to read through a Mining Concession Agreement and identify what specific clauses benefited citizens and which clauses that put them at a disadvantage.
We also worked on Integrity Idol, an annual campaign run by Accountability Lab Liberia to “name and fame” the country’s most honest government officials. A lot of times when corruption is being discussed, the goal is to “name and shame” the perpetrators. The goal of Integrity Idol is instead to shed a light on individuals that are honest citizens that possess integrity and personal responsibility. There is a nomination process whereby people can nominate civil servants they see as having integrity. Our responsibility was too narrow down all of the received nominations, based on certain qualification criteria until we reached 30 individuals which we would then hand to a jury which would select the finalists. The total nominations received totaled more than 6,000, which meant that this process took us over two weeks! The last round of qualifications is based upon background checks which are carried out through calling the nominators and asking them questions regarding the nominee. This turned out to be quite the challenge since the so-called ‘’Liberian colloquial’’ (the Liberian dialect of English), can be tricky. After a few miserable attempts at adjusting our English into more Liberia friendly accents we gave up, and the Lab’s team took over the final stage. The judges will meet this week to select the top 5 so stay tuned on the website!
Besides our work at iCampus, one of the most valuable experiences of our time in here Liberia has been getting to know its people. What struck us our first day upon arrival was how friendly and welcoming the Liberian people are, and how positively they view the world around them. This was quite humbling when you take into account Liberia’s difficult history. At iCampus, we had the opportunity to interact with so many different types of Liberians- from civil society activists to youth volunteers, to rappers, to film-makers. Every day has been different, and we learned so much in every interaction- that is the beauty of Liberia. We will never forget our time at iCampus- thank you, Lawrence, Luther, Kate, Anthony, Blair and the rest of the team for an amazing month!