The President’s Young Professionals Program—Sarah’s Story: From YALI to Ebola and Beyond

Sarah Johnson - President’s Young Professionals Program, Class IV

Sarah's (left) project provides stationary hand-washing tanks in the densely populated community of West Point.

The road to becoming a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow all started with a non-targeted search for opportunities to help enhance my career. Being a President’s Young Professional (PYP) helped me recognize my own potential to contribute to my country and gave me a boost of confidence to apply for the prestigious YALI Fellowship in Washington, DC. After reading through the application form, I instantly connected with the objective of the fellowship: “to groom future leaders of Africa.” I knew it was time to form part of the team that would rewrite the history of the continent and help to pave a bright future.

Knowing that President Barack Obama and other top US officials were to be in attendance, my expectations grew higher. I envisioned a program that would sharpen my professional and intellectual skills through hands-on experiences. I strongly believe that my accomplishments as a PYP in the public sector and my activism in ensuring that young women get involved into campus based activities, helped land me a spot in the YALI Fellowship Program.

As a YALI Fellow, I was part of the Public Management Track and spent six weeks studying at Morgan State University along with twenty four other Fellows from eighteen African countries. This is an experience I will never forget. There were classroom lectures, site visits, and the memorable opportunity to share my experience with the JSI headquarter team. However, learning from the brilliant and talented young Africans in YALI stood out the most for me. My YALI Fellowship was filled with many inspirational moments. During the YALI Summit, President Obama directly expressed his confidence in us and also challenged us to put into practice what we learned. This reaffirmed my commitment to doing more for Liberia, and made me excited to return home to put my ideas into practice. Michelle Obama, whom I also admire, awakened my confidence and gave me a reason to push for higher heights when she explained her story and how her persistence and determination landed her in the White House. I remember the First Lady saying that “no country can truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of half of its citizens.” It is upon this background that I have decided to push forward and refuse to be oppressed by the harmful messages we are often made to believe, discouraging women to be leaders.

To ensure that the knowledge I gained can be passed onto my peers back home, I intend to fully engage them by continuing to be a mentor, peer advisor, and motivational speaker. The current Ebola crisis has once again challenged Liberia to thrive in difficult times – but we remain resilient. Upon my return to Liberia, life has not been normal due to the fact that there are preventive measures put into place such as avoiding public gatherings, restrictions on the movement of people, scaled down workforce of the country, among other things; thus making it difficult to implement my plans. But in the midst of all those, I have been actively involved in the Ebola awareness process in my community and closely working with the US Embassy in providing materials to the public that will help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

Liberia is all that we have, so it is our responsibility, as future leaders, to ensure that we make it a land of opportunities. We must create the country that we want our children to celebrate and be proud of. Working alongside stakeholders in implementing the Decentralization Plan of Liberia is something I look forward to doing. This plan will help the Government of Liberia have an improved system that is more localized and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of all citizens throughout the country. It is also my vision to establish an NGO that will be involved in the training and empowerment of physically challenged children and adolescent mothers with skills that would enable them to be self-reliant.

Sarah is a member of PYPP Class IV, supported by USAID-GEMS.

To learn more about the President’s Young Professionals Program, please visit

*Implemented by the JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., the success of the Liberia President’s Young Professionals Program is made possible by the generous support from the HESS Foundation, the Government of Liberia, Scott Family Foundation, McCall MacBain Foundation, Humanity United, Nike Foundation, Open Society Institute, NoVo Foundation, Belinda Stronach Foundation, Daphne Foundation, Mailman Family, Simonds Family, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.