By Victor A. UkatuH
ow do we win as Liberians? We win by realizing how powerful we are. Liberia’s future rests within the youth—this is a statement that cannot be disputed.
Today’s youth are vocal about issues, they are innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, authors, philanthropists, and much more.
The future of Liberia may not necessarily be won in the halls of Congress, The Executive Mansion, or the offices of the many Ministries. It can be won in the marketplace, and by enabling all young Liberians to recognize how powerful they are to make change through themselves. Young Liberians establishing businesses is key to realizing our future of a better Liberia.
The youth of Liberia are investing in their country in whatever capacity that they can. We need to encourage each other and motivate more of our peers to create and become business owners, while at the same time, uplifting those that have established the many business ventures that are currently adding to the wealth of Liberia. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a few of these extraordinary next-generation Liberian leaders: Mahmud Johnson of J-Palm Liberia, who recently posted a picture of his hired fellow youths filling out tax return papers. How extraordinary is that? Sesima Kamara of Cecret Candels, and Kokpor Daynuah of Panzir. Most recently, I had the opportunity to interview an emerging entrepreneur, Grace Mantein, on the topics of Liberia, business, and youth.
Grace Mantein is a woman on a mission. Global citizen, community advocate, entrepreneur, passionate, and ambitious are just a few adjectives that can be attributed to Ms. Mantein. Grace is the CEO and founder of SoulCreationzz– an innovative home décor company that designs and creates decorative throw pillows using hand selected African inspired prints. Her Ankara collection features an array of fashionable African theme prints and fabrics that reflects Africa’s vibrant culture. Like her name “Grace,” she brings that same simple elegance with flair of fashion and the African culture to her line of throw pillows. Her vision and dream, is to one day not only extend her line to other house hold decors, but to expand her brand to the global market. Through her brand, she hopes to empower women, uplift her country –Liberia, the youth and women everywhere.
A Liberian national, Grace’s undying love for humanity and compassion to defy the conventional corridors of success has led to the making of SoulCreationzz. Her ultimate goal is to introduce the world to African culture, provoke conversations about issues that are often ignored by society, and inspire a positive change in the world. SoulCreationzz is to be used as a platform to empower women, mentor the youth and to provide economic opportunities for people in Liberia. To ensure that she achieves her goals, Grace has decided to donate at least 10 percent of all sales proceeds to Senwah Foundation (of which she is an active member), a 501 c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to build minds and rebuild lives through education and advocacy.
Grace considers her role as a global citizen to be very important. She has volunteered in Nicaragua where she built schools in remote villages , and also in Costa Rica where she evaluated their healthcare system to see where it can be improved. Amongst the many things that she’s involved with, she’s also a volunteer advocate with RESULTS—a national non-profit advocacy organization with an aim to end global poverty by meeting with policy makers, drafting editorials, attending issue briefings, fundraising and engaging in grassroots activities. For her, the action of serving is what means the most, as she is very intent on creating a positive impact in the world. Being an immigrant from Liberia, and migrating to America, Grace not only sees the value in helping others but she understands the impactful difference it can make. She takes actions to make sure that the world she lives in becomes and stays a better place.
Aside from being a young CEO, Grace is also an alumnus of Penn State University, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Policy and Administration. Currently, she is pursuing a dual Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration and Business Administration. When Grace is not making pillows or being a change agent, in her spare time she enjoys hanging out with friends, traveling, watching reality TV, shopping, indulging in social media, and being adventurous.
These are the things that drew me to Grace when she and I first connected- her drive to create something that has a purpose , her love for her country and her desire to make the world a much better place.
Grace is one of many young Liberians who are on a mission to foster the changes that are needed in Liberia. She is determined to make valuable contributions to her native country that will leave a lasting impact.
Victor: What are your goals with your products? What is it you would like for people to get from SoulCreationzz?
Grace: When I create my products I think about the person who needs fulfillment, I think about all the misconceptions surrounding Africa, I think about ownership, being unapologetic of where you come from, being happy, unique and being inspired. My goal is to inspire others to be authentic and true to who they are and to promote the African culture to the world by using African inspired prints. My goal for my products is to expand to the global market, inspire people to engage in thought provoking conversations and promote African fashion. I want people to see the beauty within themselves and to recognize the power that they too have. I want people to be inspired and compelled to make a difference. I want people to get the message behind the pillows. I truly believe that we are the world therefore we should do everything within our power to create a better world.
Victor: Why is it important that your product someday become a “Made in Liberia product”?
Grace: Ownership is vital; and it is the key to economic development especially in Liberia. It’s important to me because there aren’t that many made in Liberia products that are exported to other countries. Having my pillows made in Liberia and exported to countries around the world will be a benefit to not just myself but to my country. It allows the world to see the beauty and talent that exists in Liberia. Most importantly, it inspires young Liberians and brings great pride. Having a “Made in Liberia” product enables me to provide economic opportunities to people living in Liberia by creating jobs. As a Liberian, it’s imperative to invest back into my country and prioritize human development. Ultimately, having my products labeled “made in Liberia” will bring pride to not only myself but to Liberians everywhere.
Just for one second; imagine a young Liberian child who’s living in Liberia seeing me leave Liberia and come back to invest in my country. Think about the implications it will have on that child. It shows to them that they matter ! It’s about hope for a better future, a better Liberia and a better world. They can say; opportunities might be limited here in Liberia, but I too can one day achieve my dreams and invest in my country. I can make a difference too. My brand is not me, it’s every Liberian child.
Victor: What was the hardest part of starting?
Grace: The hardest part was starting. Sometimes doubts can be detrimental to the decisions you make and achieving success. It was time to get over my doubts, let go of my fears and be great. SoulCreationzz vision is not just for me but for my generation, and generations to come.
Victor: I personally feel that if we embrace culture more, we would have an identity to sell. What do you think the role of culture will have to play for Liberia to see a larger success?
Grace: If you don’t know and understand your past you won’t know your future. That’s what we are dealing with now. Liberians will have to embrace who they are, study their roots and take pride in the traditions, music, language, and cultural values and practices in order for us to see a larger success. In doing so, it allows others to accept and embrace us. Culture keeps you moving forward, it also helps to keep you deeply rooted in who you are, but I think most importantly it’s simply serves as a reminder, a reason behind it all. It’s about accepting your traditions and values.
Victor: You’re right culture does play a big part. Efforts have been made through social media to educate and promote Liberia’s rich history and culture to those that may perhaps be unfamiliar. It’s like a renaissance of Liberian culture that is currently going on through the use of social media that I have never seen before. I love the Facebook page Liberian Historical Society, they’re doing an excellent job. But it’s not just Liberia, it’s the world. I see more people around me wearing African attire and engaging in activities and dialogues to learn more about their African roots.
Grace: Most Africans now are displaying their culture to the world and telling their story. I think it’s important for Liberia to expose their talents, culture and beautiful history for the world to see.
Victor: I remember when I first came to America a lot of people knew about Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana, and other African Countries, but not about Liberia. You know, we prided ourselves on being “America’s extension to Africa” so called step child- a phrase which I don’t like personally. We didn’t make a name for ourselves, while other countries were doing that in the 70s and 80s.
Grace: People cannot know or respect you unless you embrace yourself without hesitation. Now is the time for us to show the world who we are. It is my sincere hope that I can elevate the name of Liberia globally through my brand SoulCreationzz. However, to do so I need all of your support. I truly believe that together we can.
Message to the Liberian Youth
Victor: Matooun is geared towards the Liberian youth. Our goal is to not only showcase the beauty of Liberia to the world, but to inspire young Liberians, and to challenge the conventional way of thinking, and the way we address issues. We want to inspire those who think that the current position they’re in stops them from achieving their goals. How would you speak to them? What advice would you give them?
Grace: My advice is to trust yourself and be true to who you are. Seek to be inspired so that in return you too can be an inspiration. Believe in yourself and know that your dreams are never too big. Chase after the things that make you happy and do not be afraid to fail; it prepares you more than you can imagine! .
As global citizens, let us continue to empower and support each other. Always keep in mind that someone’s success does not hinder your ability of achieving success but rather use it as a tool for motivation and inspiration.