A Portfolio career of social impact

Recognised as one of the 50 most influential women from Sierra Leone and featured on the 100 Women West Africa List, Dr Yakama Manty Jones enjoys a portfolio career as an economist, lecturer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. She specialises in research and policy advisory in the economic and public financial management field, examining how government, private sector development partners and other stakeholders can improve economic and human capital development outcomes for Sierra Leone. Yakama shares how her experiences at Birkbeck continue to influence her varied professional and charitable endeavours.

Yakama’s passion for using education and partnerships to develop skills and improve outcomes for women and young people has been apparent throughout her career. In 2011, with her husband, she co-founded The Peninsular Innovative Group (PI Group), a supply chain and logistics company focused predominantly on manufacturing, shipping and agri-business. “When we opened PI Group’s manufacturing facility, most of the women and their children in the local community were working as stone miners,” says Yakama. “It is challenging, tedious work with no guarantee of daily income.” The new facility created opportunities for these women to move to more reliable livelihoods as traders, and access business training. Fifty-seven of them have now moved themselves and their children away from stone mining. Their children now also attend the community school, where the PI Group pay the teacher’s stipends. “One of our core principles for the business has always been to have a positive impact on the communities in which we work,” she explains.  

After completing her undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Sierra Leone, Yakama moved to the UK to complete post-graduate qualifications in Finance and Economics, including a PhD at Birkbeck. She cites the opportunity to pursue additional research qualifications within the University of London, as well as the rich learning environment, as the reasoning behind her decision to study at Birkbeck: “The theoretical, practical and social experiences I gained continue to be applicable in all facets of my life.”

“The theoretical, practical and social experiences I gained [at Birkbeck] continue to be applicable in all facets of my life.”

Since graduating and returning to Sierra Leone, Yakama has continued to expand her professional repertoire. She held several consulting positions for the President’s Office before being recruited as Director of Research and Delivery in the Ministry of Finance in 2019. Yakama has been directly involved in the country’s recent increases in education and health spending, as well as the rollout of the country’s National Development Plan (2019-2023), which is focused on driving economic transformation by removing barriers to productivity through human capital development, investments in infrastructure, economic diversification and improving support for vulnerable people. 

Yakama has also been integral to many social impact and reform initiatives in her home country. For example, with the belief that reading is the foundation for all learning, she established the Yak Jones Foundation in 2016 to increase literacy rates and promote education under the slogan ‘We read to change lives.’ By supplying state schools with books, establishing ‘Reading Squads’, working with youths to provide reading coaching and organising national campaigns to encourage reading, she hopes to “develop the country’s reading culture and inspire young people to engage with their education.”

She serves on the boards of schools and organisations focused on education and protecting women and girls, such as the Asmaa James Foundation and Girls Plus. The Asmaa James Foundation and allies contributed to the establishment of the Black Tuesday Movement, which successfully pressed the Government of Sierra Leone into a review of the Sexual Offences Act. The movement “continues to call on the government, social institutions, traditional leadership and the international donor community to support a survivor-centric vision to end gender-based violence.”

Last, Yakama is particularly proud of her work as a mentor for Mentor X Africa, providing academic and entrepreneurial mentorship, and her role as an Amujae Leader at the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Presidential Centre for Women and Development.

We are enormously proud of everything Dr Yakama Jones has achieved and excited to hear what she does next.