A Highly Innovative Growth-boosting Challenge is Launch in Liberia Today
MONROVIA — Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) comprise the lifeblood of economies the world over, but especially in developing ones such as Liberia.
By Luther D. Jeke and Robert O. Davis
“The largely informal Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) constitute the backbone of Liberia’s economic landscape. Women [and youth] entrepreneurs have the high[est] concentration in this sector,” reads the July 2021 recalibrated Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), Liberia’s current five-year national development plan. MSMEs account for most businesses and are important contributors to economic growth, job creation, and poverty reduction in Liberia.
But a key constraining factor to MSME growth is limited access to finance, which exacerbates poverty and inequality. In Liberia, more than 50% of the population lives in poverty, particularly in the rural areas (71.8%) as compared to urban settings (31.5%), according to data from the Liberia Institute for Statistics & Geo-information Services.
The Growth Accelerator Liberia programme is an innovative and practical initiative aimed at supporting impactful ventures and cooperatives to scale up through access to technical assistance, mentorship, and co-financing grants of up to US$40,000. Running until 2024, the programme contributes to the reduction of poverty and inequality by targeting youth, women, and persons with disabilities in supporting the creation of resilient livelihood and income-generating opportunities for poor and vulnerable populations.
This growth-boosting challenge principally targets seven (7) counties, namely Montserrado, Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba. However, applications are open to all 15 counties of Liberia. Applications can be found at the various community radio stations and County Service Centers as well as online at www.growlib.org.
Entrepreneurs and agricultural cooperatives, especially those in the targeted counties, are highly encouraged to apply. The application period opens on the 2nd of June 2022 and closes on the 16th of June 2022.
Last year, the inaugural launch of the growth challenge witnessed five (5) winners from a pack of 167 businesses across nine (9) counties. Eighty percent of the successful ventures “were established and are being run by young people aged between 26 and 35 years. Each of these secured business development grants ranging between US$ 36,500 and US$ 40,000, amounting to 81% of the US$194,750 grant funding awarded in December 2021” (Want to read more on the inaugural winners? See here)
Building on the success and lessons learned from the implementation of Cohort-1, this year the programme adds a special cohort for Agricultural Cooperatives. A total of 10 Agricultural Cooperatives will be selected from across Liberia to go through a series of activities aimed at strengthening their capacity. The contracted local and international business development services providers, Agro Tech Liberia and East Africa Market Development Associated Ltd will work with iCampus to advise, provide expertise, and bring to the programme the knowledge required to enable the cooperatives to ensure sustainability over time.
During the Programme, ten (10) cooperatives will be equipped with professional skills, business development capacity, and opportunities to interact with potential business partners, investors, and financial backers. Cooperative development in many countries has shown that farmers who are effectively organized can benefit from aggregated links to markets and services, from accessing centralized services that can help them achieve higher yields and higher incomes, and from speaking with a collective voice to advocate for their needs. At a global level, studies have proven that countries with the highest share of cooperatives in marketed outputs (e.g., Taiwan, Korea, the Netherlands, France, etc.) also have high average yields for staple crops like rice and wheat, as well as substantial cash crop exports. Some of the problems faced by agricultural cooperatives in Liberia have been, among others, poor management, lack of capital resources, inadequate training, extension and education programmes, lack of communication and participation among members, unclear and inadequate government policies on the development of agricultural cooperatives, high fragmentation of land holdings, and weak linkages among the activities of the cooperatives.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and with funding from UNDP Liberia, the Growth Accelerator Liberia Cohort II Programme is run by iCampus Liberia in partnership with Accountability Lab Liberia, Growth Africa, Business Startup Center-Monrovia, East Africa Market Development Associates Ltd., and Argo Tech Liberia.
What is needed, in the end, is local ownership of practical programs such as this growth challenge. The prospects are hugely significant and consequential for economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction in Liberia. With a strong enough support to, and the participation of young entrepreneurs in all sectors of the economy, the Liberian economy is likely to supercharge into a new era, from extractive to inclusive value-added economy. This, we believe, is achievable in our generation given (for e.g.) this awareness and practical innovative solutions such as UNDP Liberia’s MSMEs Growth Accelerator Programme.
The authors, respectively, are Chief Executive Officers of iCampus Liberia and ROD Group of Strategists. The views expressed herein are those of the authors. Follow them on Twitter @lutherjeke and @realRODavis. Correspondence at [email protected]