Young Liberian scholar Robtel Neajai Pailey has been selected as one of three successful candidates for the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) Leadership Fellows. Dr. Pailey was one of three announced by the foundation on Tuesday, with the other two hailing from Botswana and Senegal. They were successful out of over 2,000 candidates who applied for the latest edition of the fellowship.
Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey, as she is prominently known, is a Liberian academic, activist and author based at the University of Oxford.
Making the official pronouncement on its website, the MIF said, “Today we announce the 2017 Ibrahim Leadership Fellows, who will make up the program’s sixth cohort. The three Ibrahim Fellows are Robtel Neajai Pailey (Liberia), Ndapiwa Segole (Botswana) and Oulimata Fall (Senegal).”
In an email exchange with the Daily Observer on Wednesday, Dr. Pailey said she is very glad to be given such an opportunity to be assigned to the African Development Bank (AfDB) because “Liberia was a founding member of the AfDB, and I’ve been itching to get back into development policy work.”
She begins her fellowship on the program designed to mentor future African leaders on August 1, 2017. The candidates will take up posts in three multinational organizations – AfDB, UN Economic Commission for Africa and International Trade Center, and benefit from direct mentorship of their current leaders. Dr. Pailey, according to the foundation, will join the AfDB. She has over a decade of combined professional experiences in Africa, Europe and North America, and has worked across a broad range of fields supporting governments, universities, NGOs, media institutions, regional and multilateral organizations.
Previously a Mo Ibrahim Foundation PhD Scholar at SOAS, University of London, Dr. Pailey is currently completing post-doctoral research at the University of Oxford documenting the socioeconomic development implications of crisis-induced return migration to Cameroon, Chad, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia and Niger.
Upon announcement of her award, she tweeted:
She continued, “As a public scholar who is passionate about Africa and committed to its transformation, I’m thrilled about putting my years of policy-related research expertise to practice at the African Development Bank. I thank the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for gifting me with yet another opportunity of a lifetime.”
Dr. Pailey previously served as the special assistant for communications to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, special assistant to the late Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Edward McClain, as well as an adjunct instructor at the University of Liberia and Stella Maris Polytechnic.
The young Liberian scholar is also the author of the anti-corruption children’s book “Gbagba” that is receiving appreciation worldwide. First launched in February 2013 in Monrovia, the book follows a few days in the lives of Liberian twins, Sundaymah and Sundaygar, from their hometown of Buchanan to a visit to their aunt in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. Also launched in London and Washington, D.C. the same year, “Gbagba” explores issues of integrity, accountability, and corruption through a beautifully illustrated children’s narrative.
Dr. Pailey says she is passionate about radical approaches to social justice in Liberia and the African continent. Speaking about her book at the launch in London, she said, “I wanted to equip children with the power of their own ethical consciousness.” A song adaptation of the book by Liberian hip-co artist Takun J has been produced into a video. It was officially released on January 24, 2016 and is now available on YouTube.
On June 25, 2015 Dr. Pailey participated in an expert panel on Ebola at an elaborate event in the UK. Speaking at the Africa Research Institute on the topic “Beyond Ebola: Economic Development in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” she made a case for how the virus had brought Liberia to its knees and the need for robust efforts to save the affected countries, especially Liberia, and stressed that the need for strengthening health systems could not be overemphasized. This was after the World Bank had estimated that the Ebola epidemic, together with plunging iron ore and bauxite prices, would cut the GDP forecast of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by at least US$1.6 billion. The deliberations of the expert panel, in which Dr. Pailey was one of three discussants, were aimed at identifying practical steps that need to be taken to promote inclusive and sustainable economic recovery in the affected countries. Other panelists were Biro Diallo – General Manager of Operations, Rio Tinto Simandou; and Ade Daramy – Chair and Spokesperson for the UK-Sierra Leone Ebola Task Force.
As an academic, Dr. Pailey says she wants “to understand how the African continent is being imagined in intellectual discourses across the globe so I can turn received wisdoms about Africa upside down.” She continues on her personal website, www.robtelneajaipailey.com: “I wrote Gbagba with the intention of starting a ‘bloodless, ethical revolution from below,’ using children as my able-bodied allies.”
The benefactor of the Ibrahim Fellowships, Dr. Mohammed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim, according to his foundation’s website, congratulated the selected fellows for their hard work, adding: “I would like to congratulate our new Ibrahim Leadership Fellows. The three will join a network of fellows who share a commitment to making a positive impact on the continent, contributing their skills and learning for a better Africa.” Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese-born mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire who have been striving with his wealth to make a better Africa through education and governance. With leadership in Africa as one of the focal areas of the foundation, Dr. Ibrahim said that the Leadership Fellowships provide “a platform to cultivate a community of individuals who will rise to become Africa’s future inspirational leaders.”