Success Story from Liberia: Phillip Garjay Innis, Advocate for Youths and the Environment

Born in the early 1980s in Bomi County during a period characterized by political turmoil, Phillip Garjay Innis’s childhood was riddled with chaos, disruptions, challenges and uncertainties. Many times, during the heat of the civil crises in Liberia, he faced daily the harrowing fear of losing his life or the lives of relatives and friends from a stray bullet or from a trigger happy child-soldier. He felt the pangs of hunger. He experienced the despondency of hopelessness. The fact that he could complete secondary school and go on to forge a career is incredible given that his schooling, like many other young Liberians, was continuously interrupted as a result of the wars.

Through sheer determination, Garjay graduated from the College of West Africa (CWA), Liberia’s premier secondary school in 1999. After graduation, he was again confronted with uncertainties. Though he had successfully passed the entrance exams of two private universities, he could not enter either due to the lack of a sustained funding source. This meant he had to wait to gain admission to the state-run University of Liberia which only was opened intermittently due to a lack of support from the Government.

Mr. Innis gained admission at University of Liberia in 2000. At the university, he became active in advocacy, seeing his vocation as confronting the oppressive elements in society that kept young people submerged in poverty and ignorance and empowering them to disentangle themselves from this vicious cycle. It was during this period that he became the founding chairman of a local youth empowerment organization, Youth for the Promotion of Productive Activities (YOPPA). He eventually joined the leftist leaning Student Unification Party (SUP) at the University of Liberia, later becoming its Secretary General. He contested to be the Presidential candidate for SUP, but lost the elections, coming a close second among four candidates. Mr. Innis was later elected the Deputy Secretary General for Information, Research and Propaganda for the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU). Mr. Innis’s leadership abilities had been recognized early when he became a student council leader in secondary school and held several national positions within Liberia’s Annual Conference for United Methodist Youth Fellowship through the United Methodist Church.

While at the University of Liberia, Mr. Innis engaged in several volunteer activities, including serving as a volunteer teacher at the St. Matthew United Methodist High School in Logan Town, Bushrod Island. Many of his students were severely disadvantaged youths or ex-combatants.

Garjay Innis graduated from the University of Liberia with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in economics in 2007. He was subsequently competitively recruited at the General Auditing Commission. During his four years at the commission, he was part of a very vibrant team of professionals who were tasked with the challenge of fighting fraud, waste and abuse. He was part of various audit teams that produced vital audit reports, some of which were part of the public financial management reform required for the completion point of the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative in 2010.

Mr. Innis later studied at Coventry University in the United Kingdom where he obtained a Master of Business Administration Degree (MBA) in Oil and Gas Management in 2012. He immediately returned to Liberia and was recruited at the National Oil Company of Liberia as an Internal Auditor.

Garjay Innis was one of fifteen Liberians who were selected for the 2014 class of the Mandela Washington Fellows of the Young African Leadership Initiative. Garjay participated in the Public Management Institute at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. While completing the Fellowship, Garjay’s essential question was how Liberia might provide opportunities for promoting environmental management and sustainability through audit activities. Upon his completion of the Fellowship, Mr. Innis returned to Liberia during the heat of the Ebola crisis and joined the fight in bringing an end to the epidemic through a series of personal initiatives.

Mr. Innis is currently the Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) in Liberia. He is a recipient of a Swedish Institute Fellowship to study Environmental Management and Policy at International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University in Sweden. He is married to Fati Saaka Akati.

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

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Mr. Innis UNDERSTANDS THAT DEVELOPMENT IS DIFFICULT and involves many interconnected issues. For example, it is challenging to protect the environment in situations of food insecurity, abject poverty, poor governance and corruption. Incentives may undermine sustainability, such as when violence is fueled by warring factions seeking control over resource-rich areas. A lack of incentives can also undermine sustainability, such as when local people do not benefit from protecting forests.

Garjay Innis VIEWS CHALLENGES AS OPPORTUNITIES. He believes strongly that despite the myriad of challenges young people in Africa face, they can surmount their challenges through resilience. His advice to young people is “do not have expectations, but plans. Do not fear a challenge, but use it as a positive force. View a challenge as a trophy and it will deliver you. View it as a shackle and it becomes a bomb!”

By Heidi G. Frontani

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6 comments

  1. Garjay, you inspire me bro!

    Like

  2. I have always had the feeling that you were destined for greatness Garjay I am proud of you bro

    Like

  3. Comrade Innis I have always been captivated by your resilience for success. Indeed you are a role model for young people.

    Like

  4. Garjay you have demonstrated an honest and splendid frontier by empowering youthful ambition… I salute you for job well done and by promoting Liberia to the world as a whole. Thanks

    Like

  5. Hey Phillip Hats off . you are a inspiration to many young ppl in Liberia and around the world..continue the good work .

    Like

  6. Samuel Togba Scott · · Reply

    This is such an inspiring story. Thanks Heidi for sharing the story of this young man!

    Like

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