Fombah Kanneh: An Inspiring Young Leader from Liberia

Photo source:
Photo source:

Fombah Lasana Kanneh was born in August, 1984 in Mecca Town in northwestern Liberia. Fombah’s father died when he was a child and he was raised by his mother in a make-shift home in an impoverished slum in Monrovia. Growing up in a single-parent household while Liberia was experiencing its First Civil War (1989 to 1996) was very difficult. In many ways Fombah’s childhood was one that was full of pain. Life would have been even worse had it not been for his incredibly hard-working mother, who kept food on the table and clothes on Fombah’s back.

Mr. Kanneh attended G.W. Gibson High School from 1998 to 2003. Most of his high school years coincided with Liberia’s Second Civil War (1999 to 2003). Nonetheless Mr. Kanneh applied himself to his studies, undertook multiple labor-intensive jobs to earn funds for his school fees, and was able to graduate just as the war was coming to an end.

Although Mr. Kanneh had struggled much, he recognized that there were many youths who held considerable potential, but were left feeling that they could not rise above their lives in the slums. Mr. Kanneh realized that these youths had given up on their dreams and accepted lifestyles common to the slums, including drug use. He was determined to transform the youths’ mindsets and help them create a better life for themselves and their communities.

In 2004 Mr. Kanneh enrolled in a six-month Mass Communication program at the Liberia Institute of Journalism. His goal was to use his diploma to give Monrovia’s slum dwellers a platform to have their voices heard. Mr. Kanneh graduated in 2005 and worked as a Broadcaster at several leading radio and television stations before determining to gain more education and enrolling at the University of Liberia in 2010.

In 2011, Mr. Kanneh met someone who changed his whole way of thinking and in many ways his life. Mr. Juan Casirmiro, an American, was leading an entrepreneurship seminar for youths at the US Embassy in Monrovia. Mr. Casirmiro told Mr. Kanneh that he did not have to wait to find a job, but could create one for himself through entrepreneurship. Mr. Casirmiro’s overall message was not to wait for opportunities to happen, but to actively seek them out. By 2012, Mr. Kanneh was elected President of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL) and by 2013 he was appointed as the Youth Advisor to the US Ambassador to Liberia.

In 2014, while still a university student, Mr. Kanneh founded a for-profit organization, GIFT 2 Change, and the non-profit organization, Youth Empowerment Training. GIFT 2 Change is a business that helps to clean up the environment and offers youths in the slums of Monrovia an opportunity to make money by recycling cloth and paper waste. Youth Empowerment Training teaches social entrepreneurship and career development to youths.

By 2015 Mr. Kanneh had a degree in Business Management from the University of Liberia with a specialization in Marketing Management. He served on the Media Committee of FIBA – AFRIQUE, Africa’s basketball governing body and held jobs with his own organizations, and as a sports writer for the Confederation of African Football (CAF). In addition, he was the recipient of an award from Youth Service America for his service to humanity and one of 16 Liberians selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program for young African leaders. The highly competitive Fellows program enabled Mr. Kanneh to complete a six-week training program in Business and Entrepreneurship at University of Wisconsin, Stout in the USA. Mr. Kanneh stayed on after the Fellows program ended to visit Mr. Casirmiro in Florida and intern at his week-long mid-August 2015 BizNovator camp in Miami.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Mr. Fombah Kanneh been so successful in his undertakings?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Mr. Kanneh THINKS ABOUT NEEDED CHANGES FOR THE LONG TERM—his waste recycling company provides employment and sustainable livelihoods.

Mr. Kanneh KNOWS THAT FEW MAKE IT ENTIRELY BY THEIR OWN EFFORTS. There is a need to support others when able to do so, the way his mother and Mr. Casirmiro did for him. In addition to his many other undertakings, Mr. Kanneh also serves as a motivational speaker.


Heidi G. Frontani is a Professor of Geography at Elon University in the USA. She has taught classroom-based and study travel courses in the USA, UK, China, Ghana, and Kenya, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. She has numerous peer-reviewed articles on development and the social aspects of natural resource management near wildlife parks. Her most recent research interests include sustainable health sector aid to Africa, aid assessment, and Africans’ effective development initiatives in Africa. She writes weekly on Africans’ successful development initiatives in Africa on her blog.