Borderless Icons: Promoting African Youth Empowerment Programs with Vonti Bright

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

She loves Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman, and has some interesting opinions of Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater.

Her passion centers on using arts, culture, and technology as a catalyst for socio-economic change; while showcasing the incredible entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of African communities. Her name is Vonti Bright.

Vonti Bright has a deep desire to establish African youth empowerment programs that can proffer lasting solutions to the problems in African nations.

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From helping budding entrepreneurs to access funding for impactful projects; to setting up youth-centered coaching programs, Bright has established herself as a mission-driven professional. She is committed to helping youths in Africa.

Over the past ten years, Bright has worked, volunteered, and participated in the International Education and Relations Industry.

Vonti Bright, hails from Grand Bassa Country Liberia. In 2018, Bright co-founded MaMardia.

MaMardia was established as a Liberian organization to partner with GeoVisions, an International exchange agency, for its African youth empowerment programs in Liberia.

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These programs include the Red Project and the Wrolomondeh Coaching Program. She was recently selected as a member of the Liberian Women Engagement Project by African Transformative Innovation Projects.

She has a BA in Political Science from Richmond, The American International University in London, and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Nottingham.

Her favorite Liberian foods are Fufu with Soup, and Rice with Torborgee. For leisure, she enjoys eating, travelling, and dabbling with her creative outlets (poetry, music, and blogging).

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In this series, titled Borderless Icons, we will be featuring Africans who are working tirelessly to improve the lot of those living on the continent, building exciting ventures, or promoting disruptive ideas.

Learn more about Vonti Bright’s work, interests, and impact as she answers six pertinent questions about her life.

What do you love about the African youth empowerment programs that you are currently involved in?

What I love about the projects and programs that I am currently involved in is that they are youth-centered. We are focused on capacity building of Liberia’s local ecosystem.

We partner with local entities in Liberia from individuals, businesses, and organizations who are creating local solutions to tackle local problems.

Through this process, we make sure that we are not reinventing the wheel, but supporting those on ground doing the work.

We provide micro-grants to visionary young people to help increase the impact of their work.

Take for example, in 2019, we learned of Jennifer Maxwell, a young Liberian Women and Girls Advocate and Entrepreneur, who identified menstruation as a barrier to education in Liberia.

She learned through a survey that 60% of female students were missing school due to their menstrual cycle.

She formed a team and they came together to establish a health club initiative called RED (Real Education for Dignity) to help prevent menstrual hygiene from being a barrier to school attendance.

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RED is raising awareness of safe sanitary practices through education classes, along with helping girls access existing sources of reusable sanitary pads in schools and communities across Liberia.

They have designed a program to establish health clubs through schools throughout Liberia that focus on menstrual education. Their club now operates in 3 schools and plans to extend to more schools once schools reopen. You can learn more about RED here:

So this is essentially our model, we identify youths who are creating local solutions and support them through micro-grants to help increase their impact.

The other exciting program that we’ve just launched is a Coaching Program for young people, called Wrolomondeh.

We have a certified coach, Sarah of Garabam Consulting, who works with young people to help them discover how they can take charge and work towards their personal and professional goals.

The relationship between the coach and coachee is one of collaboration and not of hierarchy. The coaching classes are small, usually about ten people in each class to maintain quality.

The key aspect of this program is to empower and promote agency.

I believe that we will see greater agency in our governance, businesses, arts, sciences, and all sectors when individually, citizens develop a greater sense of agency over their own lives.

Why were you interested in African youths?

As long as I can remember, I have always worked with African youth empowerment programs in some way. In regards to MaMardia, it was birthed when I was working for a United States Exchange program.

I was born in Liberia and raised mostly in the USA, but I always felt and stayed connected to Liberia, so I’ve always felt a bit of a civic duty. 70% of Liberia’s population are 35 years and under, so it was a no-brainer to start working with youths and promoting African youth empowerment programs in Liberia.

I have been very impressed by the creativity of Liberia’s youth. Take for example, Jennifer Maxwell, the founder of RED, she is only in her early 20s.

Typically help comes from outside and there is not enough spotlight on local people creating their own solutions to local problems. We hope to shine more light on the positive things that the youth of Liberia are doing.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities for young professionals today?

Access to Internet technology should be a key factor when developing African youth empowerment programs.

I believe access to the Internet and its accompanying tools is an equalizer, which has given many young people access to knowledge and learning. This access helps young people to acquire skills that they can use to be more competitive in society. It also helps them to expand their network globally.

For example, I was introduced to a Liberian youth who is a tech professional and who had taught himself how to code through free online learning platforms.

Using this skill, he has been able to create his own business. Access to free learning and the Internet is really an equalizer, especially on the African continent.

It also helps to mitigate issues of access for people from low income backgrounds who may not have all the necessary resources to acquire formal learning opportunities.

What do you read?

I love to read poetry, magical realism, historical fiction, and biographical novels.

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite poets. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I really love the poem Still I Rise. She was extremely wise and her use of language is so beautiful and uplifting. When I need a pick me up, I reread Phenomenal Woman.

A few books that I’ve read recently are: The Terrible by Yrsa Daily Ward, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. I’m currently working my way through How to Cure a Ghost by Fariha Roisin.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzei was one of my favourites. It is a semi-autobiographical novel filled with Igbo anthology. The book is written from the standpoint of what is going on inside of the character.

It drew me in because the writer used an internal approach and exploration of self that I had not typically seen. They also offered a positive outlook on African spirituality.

It’s a biography and its told from an evil anthology stand point. There is a lot of spirituality involved. The book is written from the standpoint of what is going on inside of the characters.

The writer adopts a very different approach to how a biography is normally written. They also write in a very different way from how people normally talk about themselves.

You learn a lot about how the writer's views on spirituality from the way the book is written and because of what’s happening to each of the characters.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a romance novel that explores love or what we describe or think of love from many different angles, some are very peculiar and gut-wrenching.

I don’t want to give too much away, but it was different to approach a romance story and I enjoy when authors push the envelope from time to time.

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When did you consider yourself a success?

I would say I considered myself a success when I started living life on my own terms. When I started to get to a place of self-acceptance based on my personal values and not based on what society dictated or my family dictated.

As an African child, we want to be obedient and to make our family proud so sometimes we perhaps choose a career and lifestyle based on that and not on what resonates with our hearts.

When I started to move my personal and professional life in the direction of something that I wanted, that was a great achievement for me.

It’s difficult to stay true to yourself, especially when society keeps trying to force individuals into boxes. Each day I remind myself to stay true to me.

How do you think your time at Richmond impacted your career, life, and personality?

I moved to London to attend Richmond when I was 18. I moved around a lot growing up, so moving to a new country was not new for me. But it was the first time that I had ventured out on my own away from my family.

It was the beginning of self-discovery, which I believe is a life-long journey. I realized that I didn’t want to become a medical doctor.

I was curious about government systems and the ideologies that influenced them, so I majored in Political Science.

It was an itty bitty step that eventually led to me taking more agency in my life. I was also able to make some meaningful relationships and expand my worldview.

To find out more about Vonti Bright’s African youth empowerment programs, visit MaMardia.

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