Blair Glencorse is in Liberia working on the Accountability Lab, which aims to find answers to problems of accountability. He also started pitch salons, a cross between speed networking and TED Talks.
While walking around Monrovia recently, I asked a Liberian friend if he could imagine his country as a place where resources were managed sustainably, women were treated equally, corruption was fought consistently and social enterprise was seen by young people to provide real opportunity. “Where on earth would we start?” he replied. We started several days later when I invited him to Liberia’s second Pitch Salon– held again in partnership with the brilliant and generous iLab Liberia and with the support of the RSA– where the Pitch Salon recipe of great ideas, brilliant people and unique format once more led to some fantastic discussions.
As always, the pitchers gave an “elevator pitch” for an organization, cause or idea that is engaging, accessible to an informed listener and has the potential to change the world for the better. The pitches this time around were as diverse as they have ever been at a Pitch Salon. Pandora Hodge, a serial entrepreneur in the making, talked about her idea for a student-run art house cinema in Monrovia; Nora Bowier, an environmentalist and community-rights advocate pitched about her pioneering work on natural resource management around the country; Tom Gwagee, the image of a modern African businessman, discussed his idea for a Liberian bike factory using Dutch thinking and techniques; Maryealee Pennoh, a women’s rights activist, gave an impassioned speech about her idea for a summer camp for disadvantaged girls; and Robtel Pailey, an academic with a real understanding of practical problems, discussed “Gbagba” her book used to teach children about the dangers of corruption.
The audience of forty or so from across the private sector, government, civil society, media and donors- and including many of the pitchers from the inaugural Liberian Pitch Salon- listened in, feasted on food from one of Monrovia’s favorite restaurants and provided advice and connections to the pitchers. Business cards were exchanged, funding possibilities were discussed and there was a real sense that the concepts were beginning to move towards realities. There are very few outlets for young Liberians to express their ideas in a collegial atmosphere to people who can really make them happen, and the Pitch Salons are beginning to fill this gap. In keeping with the concept, a film-maker at the event even suggested that the Salons themselves be recorded professionally and shown on Liberian television in the future so that the ideas can reach an even wider audience.
A few days later, I bumped into the same Liberian friend I had invited to the event, and asked him what he thought of the Pitch Salon experience. “I saw up-close the passion and creativity of Liberian youth” he said; “the question is not where we start, but why we haven’t started doing this earlier”.