Getting to Know Entrepreneurs in Liberia

January 27, 2012

I have spent the last week interviewing entrepreneurs in Liberia.
What an inspiration.
The business environment is tough — with the usual slew of challenges facing many countries:
Power comes and goes, so if you need electricity, you have to fuel a generator.
Infrastructure is not in great shape, so transport is expensive.
Some banks do loan to small businesses, but the interest rates are often so high and repayment rates often so short that it makes it hard to take a loan and stay profitable.
Despite the challenges I met women remaking their lives through business.
Helen, a graduate of the Goldman Sachs-sponsored management training program 10000 Women, has a small company that picks up waste in wheelbarrows from people’s homes and sells that waste to larger scrap collectors. With her business earnings she supports six people, including nieces and nephews she is helping through university.  She has more than a dozen women working for her and has  expansion plans on her mind.
I also met a woman whose dress shop employs 16 men – all tailors. Demand for her fashionable dresses is so high that she recently moved into a new office. She plans this year to start a training program for girls interested in fashion.
Jackie has a snacks company that employs eight people. She wants to grow, but needs training and capital.  I tried her coconut chips and I see why she needs to grow!  I will say quite honestly it was most difficult for me to put the coconut down.  I wish I could bring a bunch of bags back with me.
What the women I met all have in common is their desire and their drive.  They see business as power for themselves and a path to a better future for their family.  And they all, to a one, say that while war brought great horrors and trials, it also showed women that there was nothing they could not do.  As one member of the African Women Entrepreneurs Program told me, “before the crisis, women were expected to be housewives and take care of the children.  Then came the war and men couldn’t go outside.  So we began to go out and sell and earn a living, because we had to.  And now you see a sea change among Liberian women.  We want to be independent and stand on our own two feet.  And we want to be in business.”