In the first of a new series of features on how ALA graduates are reversing Africa’s ‘Brain Drain’ we chat to Marvin Roberts Tarawally (Class of 2011) on life after graduation – and the ongoing success and expansion of his first startup, SMART Liberia…
It’s been just over a year since Marvin graduated from Babson College in the US, and returned to Liberia. Since then, he has expanded SMART Liberia’s efforts to establish Changemakers Village, Liberia’s first social change hub that uses blended learning to equip a generation of young Liberians with the technological and entrepreneurial skills, tools, and networking opportunities to create jobs and wide-scale social change in their communities. The next chapter, he says, is focused on building the organization’s capacity to continue on its path of growth, and preparing to pursue an MBA in the Fall of 2019…
What has returning home meant for you – and do you think you would have come back if you had not yet started an ongoing organisation before you left?
Returning home has meant a fulfillment of a long term plan for me. Since founding SMART Liberia in 2011, my goal has always been to develop the skills and network to grow the organization in order to impact as many young leaders as we can. To finally live this dream is something beyond this world for me as I am aware of millions of kids out there who don’t get to live their dreams. This is a realization that fuels the work I do.
I would’ve come back without having an ongoing organisation. Although having one made the move back a lot seamless. If I didn’t return home, I would have probably worked for a socially conscious business or impact investing firm.
You left as a student, and returned to work: how different has the experience been for you between living and working in your home country?
There’s not much difference, actually. I’ve been back in Liberia for work every year since ALA and then Babson. The terrain is the same and so are the challenges/opportunities. The only difference is that I get to spend more time doing what I love and growing the organization at a pace that I’d always hoped for and being a student didn’t allow that.
To what do you credit the success of SMART Liberia, even in your absence?
Our Team! Oh, the believers we have who’ve carried this vision with them every single day. They’ve volunteered their time, resources and even held back on some of their personal pursuits to just ensure we do the work we do. It’s this idea of having a team with a shared vision. Everyone came on board as a volunteer who was passionate about the work of the organization. Individually, they all wanted to do something about the problem that we are solving. Bringing this group together has been the greatest achievement of my work.
How have your studies at both ALA and Babson contributed to your success?
ALA developed my EQ which has now allowed me to do the things I do. Learning about humility, giving and receiving critical feedback were all things I lacked prior to ALA. The brilliance of the ALA community humbled me in several ways and that allowed me to identify my own strengths and weaknesses. The same for working in teams. I wasn’t a great team player but through the hands-on curriculums at Babson and ALA, I overcame this challenge and now lead a diverse group of individuals. There are many other examples but I think these two have helped me significantly in my role at SMART Liberia and in all that i’ve done so far.
WATCH Marvin explain how Changemakers Village helps inspire entrepreneurial development in Liberia’s youth