Q&A with 2015 alumnus Joseph Marah, who plans to run for president in Sierra Leone

Joseph Marah

Joseph Marah, 31, currently of Mount Pleasant, graduated from KCC in 2015 with three degrees: an Associate in Arts, Associate in General Studies and Associate in Global and International Studies.

Today he’s enrolled as a fifth-year senior at Central Michigan University, quadruple majoring in Economics, Entrepreneurship, Political Science, and Public and Nonprofit Administration at the bachelor-degree level while also pursuing an accelerated Master of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship.

Marah, a 2011 graduate of Marshall High School originally from Sierra Leone, was extremely active on campus. He was part of the Honors Program, was a student worker in the Morris Library and Center for Diversity and Innovation, and won a grant at a leadership conference in Istanbul, Turkey, that allowed him to spearhead the creation of KCC’s YES-KCC Community Garden.

Marah was also the recipient of several scholarships and awards while at KCC, including the Lindsay B. Draime Business Scholarship and Robert L. and Lois H. Brenner Memorial Scholarship from the KCC Foundation, and the Heart and Soul Award from Michigan Campus Compact and the Service-Learning Commitment Award from KCC for his service work on campus.

Always an ambitious learner and champion for community service, Marah’s aspirations have only grown since graduation: His goal today is to run for president in his home country of Sierra Leone.

Why did you choose your major/area of study?

In 2038/2043, I will be vying for the Office of President in Sierra Leone. My main reason for going into public office at that level is to make my country better. Sierra Leone is blessed with enormous resources, but due to corruption and greed, we have been a country languishing in poverty and constant suffering, which bothers me. This greed dragged us into a devastating civil war that I was born and raised in which destroyed 50, 000-plus lives.

I believe in the power of education as one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is on that backdrop and desire that made me choose the diverse fields of study I have chosen as I am utilizing all the key components each program of study brings to make my short- and long-term goals a success.

Over the next decade, I am intending to use entrepreneurship as a private citizen to effect some tangible changes and be better prepared to bring my successes from the private sector in 15-17 years’ time to build our foundations utilizing my public sector background to combine the entrepreneurial mindset for a better Sierra Leone.

As I pursue more academic knowledge, I am developing my business ideas in Joemana LLC and Kindle Solar LTD, two companies I have established and am seeking investment in to scale up operations. Both businesses will be operated in Sierra Leone and the U.S. My areas of studies significantly impact these career goals and make me a better business and political leader. 

Why did you choose to study your major specifically at KCC?

Kellogg Community College provided me with the right environment pertaining to cost, curriculum (transferability of my courses to a four-year university) and classroom size. At KCC, I had a perfect balance between being in a classroom space that I could work in one-on-one with my instructors. They were able to hear my story and help me bring my career interests into my schoolwork. I could also live at home (with my host family) while attending KCC, and that saved me money on rent and food.

What are you doing now, and how did KCC help you on your path?

After KCC, I started my own nonprofit, the Joseph Marah Arnold Foundation, back home in Sierra Leone to help students from grade one to undergraduate level with need- and merit-based scholarships. It does not cost much to go to school in Sierra Leone if you are looking at it from the lens of the West. However, for folks there, it is pricey as the income earned does not add up to expenses.

My foundation tries to help students as much as possible to keep them in school. We do not want money to get in the way of the next lawyer or doctor or teacher getting his or her education. Outside my nonprofit work, I spent two and half years as the Branch Manager for Ignite Power Limited, a solar loan financier company in Sierra Leone.

While I was at Ignite, I incorporated Jomana LTD, trading in produce business (this venture is now being modified to do largescale agriculture, using the agritourism model, and it was recently incorporated here in Michigan as Joemana LLC; I am in the market for investors to take it forward).

My education at KCC enabled me to do those, but I was limited and wanted to be more, so I decided to return and complete my schooling. I am currently back in Michigan studying at Central Michigan University.

Was your favorite part of your time at KCC, and why?

Working with the Service-Learning Department to establish the YES-KCC Community Garden was by far my favorite part. Service has been a big part of my story and I consider myself a servant leader. That project helped me learn and combine so many different elements together. I particularly loved how it brought KCC and the Battle Creek community together as it allowed me to partner with the team at Sprout Urban Farms and KCC faculties, staff and other students with the greenhouse design and actual garden work. Everyone was involved. That collaboration was a significant learning experience, and I was grateful to KCC for providing me the land and expertise to do that project.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned at KCC?

It is difficult to pick one thing. I enjoyed my Philosophy classes with Dr. Jakway, as well as History classes with Professor Michelle Wright. Professor Williams with a few Political Science classes was also interesting learning. I gained so much knowledge in the classroom from all of them. Even to the ones not mentioned.

I guess to be precise, I will go with the garden project and my direct working relationship with Kate, then Service-Learning Manager. That was my first big project to lead, and she was immense in providing me resources and guidance from the grant writing stage to planning events on garden days to collaborations with Sprout Urban Farms and the Chemistry Department with the help of building the greenhouse. Those project management skills came in handy in my first managerial job with Ignite and later as I established and ran my own nonprofit. 

What advice do you have for current or future KCC students?

Do not take anything for granted. Treasure the moments and experiences and make an impact wherever you can. KCC is a family, and the smaller classroom sizes help students to get to know their professors and vice versa. They are there to help, so always ask for help; they want you to do so. And get out to volunteer at the community garden or any other places of interest as that experience of volunteerism can go a long way in building networks and friendships that would serve you well in the future. Lastly, enjoy our beautiful campus and the awesome staff and faculty that work there. Seek help when in need; you would not regret it.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I am grateful for my time at KCC as it helped shape the leader I am today, and that I aspire to become. For friends that I have not stayed in touch with since I left, please let us connect and catch up. I am just two hours away from Battle Creek now. Let us join hands to make the world a better place; it does not require much. One day at a time, we will get there.

An excerpt of this Q&A will appear in the June 2024 edition of BruIN magazine. To read the issue online when published, please visit kellogg.edu/bruinmagazine.