Graduates to Government: The President's Young Professionals Program in Liberia, 2009–2016


In 2005, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Liberia’s first democratically elected post-conflict president, she found her country’s government in shambles. Years of cronyism under military rule and a 14-year civil war had left behind a bloated civil service corps riddled with unqualified employees, most of whom did not have a university education and some of whom could not read or write. The president needed more-capable employees at every level of government. Externally supported capacity-building programs helped fill top and middle management roles with Liberians who had fled abroad during the war, but Sirleaf also wanted to attract the most-talented and most-ambitious young graduates from Liberian universities to work in the public service. With assistance from international donors, Saah N’Tow, a Liberian working at an international consulting firm, set up a fair and transparent recruitment process and coupled it with strong training and mentorship to create the President’s Young Professionals Program. Beginning in 2009 and annually thereafter, the program placed 10 to 20 Liberian youth into government ministries for two-year fellowships. By 2016, 72 young professionals had completed their fellowships and about 75% were still working for the government. Many stood out as some of the top performers in the civil service and several had been promoted to positions as divisional directors and assistant ministers.

Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews he and Pallavi Nuka conducted in Monrovia, Liberia and Paris, France, in March and April 2016. This case study was funded by the Open Society Foundations, which in 2015 donated $250,000 to the program profiled. This case draws from a variety of sources including an independent evaluation ISS conducted in 2016. Case published July 2016.

building capacity
civil service
training programs
civil service professionalism
merit-based recruitment
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Civil service recruitment
Containing patronage pressures
Evaluating performance
Sequencing reform
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Blair Cameron