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Liberian Youth Leader Earns Doctorate Degree from Prestigious University in China

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BEIJING, China – A Liberian youth leader, Mr. John Solunta Smith, Jr., was on Saturday, June 29, 2019, conferred with Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.) in Economics with focus on International Trade by the administration of the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development at the National School of Development- Peking University- PKU in the Peoples’ Republic of China.

The prestigious PKU is a world-recognized major research University in Beijing, China, and a member of the elite C9 league of Chinese Universities.

Dr. John Solunta Smith, Jr. is 1986 born. He hailed from a small village called Lula in Margibi County, Republic of Liberia.

Dr. Smith, Jr. is one of Liberia’s young economists and a young professional with over nine years of working experience in Development Policy formulation, Youth development, Administration, Research and consultancy in both the Private and Public Sectors. His research fields of interest include International Trade, Growth and Entrepreneurship Development and Comparative Political Institutions.

He also holds a Master degree in Public Policy from the School of Government, Peking University in Beijing, China. Dr. Smith, Jr. earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration and Economics from the University of Liberia in 2013. 

He acquired his high school education from the Lango Lippaye High School in Kakata City, Margibi County. 

Furthermore, Dr. Smith, Jr. is a widely respected individual who is always eager to learn and share his experiences with others, especially the youth. This can be proven by when he first earned certificates in Inspirational Trustworthy Leadership the Power of Characters from the Point-man Leadership Institute in the United Kingdom. As one of the prospective leaders, among his core values, is a person of great integrity and trustworthiness which awarded him a certificate in Responsible Leadership and ethics; Promoting Transparency and Preventing Corruption, from the Point-man Leadership Institute in the UK.  Dr. Smith, Jr. also earned certificates in cultivating characters (Theory &Practicum) from the Characters International Institute in the United States of America. 

Following his graduation in China, Dr. Smith, Jr. revealed that he envisages a Liberian society with equitable distribution of economic benefits, where the space for self-growth and capacity building can be, if not compulsory, a society where Liberians can create jobs for themselves. 

Amidst this vision, Dr. Smith, Jr. said there are challenges the country currently faces, and the skill acquired by him will be useful in helping to provide some mitigations.   

“There is no secret that the impacts of the fourteen years of civil unrest and the deadly Ebola virus disease continue to seriously challenge Liberia’s development. The implementation of public policies, the devolution of political powers, and decentralization of development amidst the many priorities and critical sectors of the country remains challenging. The lack of infrastructures and essential social services are among the mounting challenges facing the country.” Dr. Smith, Jr. asserted.

Additionally, the young economist disclosed that the list of challenges include the lack of adequately trained workforce that would propel the country to achieving its mid-term development goals-the vision 2030. 

Dr. Smith, Jr. said: “The country’s youthful population lacks adequate capacity building facilities and opportunities; the educational system is under recovery; the health system has deteriorated since the Ebola Virus Disease struck it, among others. The passion for investing in farm to market roads and thinking about the state rather than self has a fundamental history in our governance system since the declaration of independence of Liberia.” 

Dr. Smith, Jr. believes that Liberia’s fertile land and rainfall coupled with its absolute advantages in natural resources, natural rubber and the growing maritime resources of the country could be turned into competitive advantages for the country’s development. 

He stressed that if the scenario of the currency instability and the inflationary pressure facing the country must change, Small and Medium-sized enterprises development and internationalization is keen in the country economic development. 

Dr. Smith, Jr., however intimated that even though others have blamed the situation on the lack of public policies and adequate resources, but he sees the contrary, adding that the honest implementation of Public Policy, resource mobilization, and sectorial leadership is crucial.

Commenting on the emerging role of SMEs in the Liberian economy, Dr. Smith, Jr. mentioned that small and medium enterprises in Liberia cannot reap economics of scale because of the lack of technology, the high cost of inputs associated, limited access or lack of infrastructures such as roads, electricity, and communication amid their size effect. 

“The few SMEs that are participating in the economy cannot entirely generate the promised benefits associated with trading due to the weak supply chain, low quality of products and the limited knowledge producers have on which sector to concentrate production in line with the country’s growing comparative advantages.” Dr. Smith, Jr. pointed out.  

He further noted that SMEs have very lower and skewed participation in international trade in the Liberian economy, which is toward import only without corresponding value added export from the SMEs.

According to Dr. Smith, Jr., his contribution to Liberia upon his return will be to, among others, work closely with the government in promoting SMEs development and internationalization. 

He believes that such moves will help bring confidence to the private sector and increase the country’s export earnings, create employment, and help the government liquidate its balance of payment problem in the long run. 

Speaking to this paper via internet from Beijing, China, Dr. John S. Smith, Jr. emphasized that his role will be to help empower and integrate Liberian SMEs into the regional and global trade through the expansion of the value chain process. 

He divulged that he intends to support SMEs in developing trade and market intelligence and strengthening trade and investment opportunities for them through the regional integration and the South-South linkages dimension of International Trade.  

In conclusion, Dr. Smith, Jr. clarified what he termed as ‘the common resource phenomena problem,’ facing Liberian SMEs. 

According to him, the ‘common resource phenomena’ have negatively affected the characters and creditworthiness of Liberian’s SMEs. By definition, the Common Resource Phenomena is the collective notion that destroys the creditworthiness and characters of Businesses and entrepreneurs, that they are dishonest and lack integrity in paying their debt or loan.  He thinks many hold onto the belief that Liberian entrepreneurs are not creditworthy.

“They fail in repayment of both the interest and principal of the loan they receive to strengthen their businesses.”

He stressed that this notion might not be the real case for all businesses in the country; however, this phenomenon affects all of them from getting future business opportunities in financing their business and skills development. 

He blamed a lack of policy coordination between formally established micro-financing institutions and banks. 

He added that most credit defaults in the country are trickled from the supply side of the credit equation through the unnecessarily higher lending interest rate with the short maturity period on these loans. 

Additionally, Dr. Smith, Jr. mentioned that the lower bank deposit interest rate coupled with the high lending interest rates discourages saving from SMEs contrary to what is observed in China, India, and neighboring Ivory Coast. 

He promised to work closely with policymakers in changing this narrative for the betterment of the private sector in Liberia. Meanwhile, Dr. Smith, Jr. has disclosed that he is expected to return to Liberia before this year July 26 celebration.    

At the same time, many citizens, including youth leaders in Margibi County, have expressed delight over Dr. Smith’s achievement, terming it as ‘unprecedented’ in the history of the county.   

Joseph Jimmy Sankaituah, a former President of the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), on his perspective of Dr. Smith’s accomplishment noted: “In my living memory, Dr. John S. Smith, Jr. is the only Margibian who graduated from one of the public schools in the county and pursued higher education including obtaining a Ph.D. in Economics.” 

Mr. Sankaituah declared that Dr. Smith is the only one who has served as an elected leader (Secretary General) of the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) in its post-war history to pursue and obtain such credential and has become an inspiration to young people in Liberia. 

“I hope young people who believe that loyalty to politicians is the only option in life, can learn from Dr. Smith, who dedicated most of his young age to supporting Hon. Ben A. Fofana, Representative of District #4 Margibi County, but knew exactly what he wanted. I recall Smith turning down the offer to serve as Chief of Office Staff to Hon. Fofana, a position most young people will not turn down, because he wanted to pursue higher education.” Mr. Sankaituah averred. 

The former FLY Boss, who is now serving as Country Director of Search for Common Ground-Talking Drum Studio in Sierra Leone, however admonished Dr. Smith to use his hard-earned education to promote the benefit of “focused living in a community where praise signing for underachievers who see themselves as acclaimed politician has broken the backbone of focused living”.

Mr. Sankaituah concluded that: “It is also worth noting that Hon. Fofana takes significant credit for not being a selfish politician who used other people’s children and dumps them without a future. Bravo Dr. Smith.”

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