September 21 2009
Recipient of IP experience grant, Jessica Maiorca '10, reports on her trip to Liberia
Maiorca worked in Liberia for six weeks this summer with the Liberian government to develop new ways of increasing long-term employment.
Life in Liberia is very difficult. Food is expensive. There isn't enough work. Among the few jobs available, wages are too low.
Despite the old, unreliable estimate of 70-85% unemployment, it doesn't take a development expert to determine that Liberians need jobs. But it's not that simple. Instability interrupts life. Prolonged instability interrupts generations. Many Liberians lack education and employable skills. Once-productive industries are trying to regain momentum.
Government institutions are trying to set the stage. For its part, the Ministry of Labour (MoL) is charged with implementing national labor laws and encouraging a fair work environment for both workers and employers. There are several ways of doing so, and Liberia has chosen to update its national labor laws and minimum wage as well as strengthen its young National Tripartite Council (NTC).
I worked mainly with the NTC to establish and move on its priorities. Composed of worker, employer and government representatives, the NTC advises the Minister (who advises Liberia's president) on issues such as international labor standards, dispute prevention and mediation, and prevention and reduction of unemployment.
We made some progress: We established a basic meeting schedule (and stuck to it) and voted on a mission statement and basic goals. We even decided to communicate via email (we didn't stick to that). We trained the NTC regional representatives as mediators in order to unclog the national labor courts. We interviewed parties in a $24 million timber concessions dispute.
Often the work involved logistical problem-solving. The NTC Secretariat didn’t have a computer. 100+ bags of rice appeared in the training room on the eve of a program. Printers simultaneously ran out of toner. An NTC member was suspended. Internet stopped working when it rained. The funders couldn't deliver in time. So we found a computer, begged maintenance to move the rice, yelled at procurement, replaced the NTC member, waited until the next day and moved funds around. Really, we just moved on.
For all the effort I gave, my work probably made a small difference. And that's good. Sustainable change takes tenuous steps forward, revision and patience. Working with the MoL reminded me to listen more, think innovatively and be willing to fail. If given the chance, I would return this moment.