ACADEMY VIEW: MONROVIA FOOTBALL ACADEMY Follow on Twitter
When Monrovia Football Academy opened in October 2015, we decided not to build a home. Our approach was to evolve first – to generate our own energy and establish a culture of excellence that would eventually travel with us. Only then – when the Academy would have discovered its true identity – would we build a home. Here is why.
Monrovia Football Academy was founded with two parallel missions – to empower Liberia’s future leaders, and to promote a more equitable, collaborative, and locally-driven approach to ‘development’.
As part of the latter mission, Academy leadership chose to begin by operating in rented facilities. For us – and especially for our American co-founder – it was not our place to presume Liberians would love our institution. Instead, we would start small, rigorously examine our effectiveness through statistical analysis, and assess popularity before expanding and building facilities.
This measured approach has served the Academy well. By holding football training on Monrovia’s only two astroturf pitches (BYC Field and Antoinette Tubman Stadium) and administering academic classes in classrooms rented from a school about 1,000 meters away (Muslim Congress High School), we have managed costs and navigated our first three years with a unique ability to adapt, adjust, and reinvent as we grow.
But in 2018, the Academy has moved beyond the startup phase. With 18 staff members and a projected 90 student-athletes by September 2018, we are growing at an ambitious rate, with an ultimate mission to reach a maximum capacity of 160 students from across Liberia. Part of that growth is, necessarily, physical. Despite the benefits of rented facilities, our current situation poses three key issues.
First, it is a logistical nightmare. Several students travel up to 2 hours to get to and from the Academy. During the rainy season, infrastructure deficiencies and Monrovia’s famously intense and bountiful rainfall cause student-athletes and staff to be late – and sometimes entirely absent.
Second, it means certain students live in unstable home environments that disrupt their studies, athletic training, and personal wellbeing. In September 2017, we introduced a housing program to support our most vulnerable children, but major issues remain.
Third, it intensifies the challenge of instilling discipline, integrity, and entrepreneurial spirit in our student-athletes. One’s environment must support the lessons one is learning. When our student-athletes leave the Academy, they enter into different systems of discipline, ethics, and values that often negatively impact their development.
In 2017, a team of researchers from Oxford University and the College of William & Mary rigorously assessed the Academy’s impact on academic proficiency, attitudes toward gender, pride in national identity, and other factors predictive of our potential for long-term success. The positive results of that study, as well as the increasing popularity of the Academy within Liberia, have inspired action.
In 2018, the Academy has committed to build a residential campus. We are collaborating with several Liberian partners to facilitate the design and construction of the facilities, and our fundraising team is working tirelessly to identify potential sources of funding.
We have created an institution with great potential, and now it is time to establish a physical space. It is time to build a home.