The distance from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, to Babson Park in Massachusetts is about 4,430 miles. Measured in miles, it’s a great distance. Measured in opportunity, it’s even greater.
Marvin Tarawally ’17 would like to narrow that opportunity gap, to the point where young people in his home country—and, eventually, across Africa—have the chance to lead what he terms “meaningful and dignified lives.” Following his May graduation, Tarawally, who juggles more projects than seems humanly possible and admits he gets by on very little sleep, plans to launch a multipronged social venture that will help young Liberians acquire the skills they need to succeed. “By 2020,” he says, “Africa is going to have the largest cohort in the world of young people in the workforce. With that comes a lot of responsibility.”
Tarawally himself has traveled a long way from his childhood home outside Monrovia. The youngest of eight children, he grew up in a house without pipe-borne water and with power supplied by a generator, not an unusual circumstance in his country. At the end of Liberia’s civil war in 2003, much of the country’s capacity to provide electricity had been destroyed. The government has been working to rebuild its infrastructure, but less than 10 percent of the population has access to the grid.
The civil war also disrupted the country’s education system. As a teenager, Tarawally came to believe that education deficiencies lay at the root of the country’s problems. An entrepreneur by temperament if not yet by training, he decided to take action. He helped create Smart Liberia, a nonprofit designed to empower the country’s high school students and support their efforts to bring about change. Young people involved with the program have cleaned up their schools, renovated science labs, launched their own ventures, created tutoring programs for underperforming students, and, through the organization’s Lift Liberia arm, pursued learning opportunities abroad.
To further his own education after graduating from high school, Tarawally attended the African Leadership Academy, a Johannesburg school working to develop the next generation of African leaders. He learned about Babson when a recruiter came to visit, and he immediately knew he wanted to attend. Tarawally earned a spot in Babson’s Global Scholars Program, which awards need-based scholarships and provides support to talented international students.
After coming to Babson, Tarawally continued to work with Smart Liberia, staying involved from afar and returning to his home country every summer. Now, as his time at Babson draws to a close, Tarawally is seeking to evolve the nonprofit into a new venture. Changemakers Village, a “social change hub,” will continue the work of Smart Liberia, but, Tarawally hopes, on a larger scale and in a way that is financially self-sustaining. Planned programming will consist of three tracks: technology for social impact, which will train young people in coding and software development skills to help them create applications that address Liberia’s social ills; education advancement, assisting students seeking educational opportunities overseas; and an employment accelerator, for students coming out of Liberian universities who lack basic workplace skills, such as knowledge of Excel and PowerPoint. Tarawally wants to equip young Liberians with the tools they need to bring about societal change.
Tarawally is raising money to get Changemakers Village up and running. His plans include opening a full-service print shop that will both help participants learn new skills and bring in enough revenue to support the program. His goals are ambitious, and his ultimate aim—to replicate the model throughout Africa—is even more so. But Tarawally is not fazed. “I am committed to my country’s future,” he says, “but I am also committed to seeing young people in the emerging world have opportunities. My personal goal is to use this Babson education to do that, and Liberia is my starting point.”—Jane Dornbusch