While most teenagers were surfing the web, watching Friends and learning to drive, Leo spent eight years in refugee camps, after fleeing war-torn Liberia in 1998.
He arrived in Canada in 2006. A government-sponsored refugee, he was on his own in an unfamiliar (and very cold) place. “I decided I could either carry on with a victim mentality – or be a champion of possibilities.”
He applied to McMaster University and was accepted. “They gave me a shot,” says Leo, who had completed his high school education in the refugee camps. In his second year, he founded Empowerment Squared, a charitable organization that promotes sustainable change through education, social skills development, creating life long learning opportunities and groundbreaking educational projects in his native Liberia.
He graduated with a degree in political science in 2011, but not before receiving the Albert Lager Prize for Student Initiative and earning a spot as a semi-finalist in CBC’s Next Great Prime Minister Competition. He’s also received the YMCA Peace Medal and the World Citizenship Award from the City of Hamilton – and he’s been named one of the Hamilton Spectator’s Top 40 under 40.
Leo now spends his time between Canada and Liberia. His current project is the Liberian Learning Center, a state-of-the-art multipurpose facility which will house a co – working space for social innovation, business and social enterprise incubation center, community conference hall, maker space and desktop publishing platform. “It’s been quite a journey.”