UNDP Empowers Small Business Owners Across Liberia

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Monrovia – Josephine Gono, 23, is looking forward to her wedding day scheduled for this May. She proudly shows her wedding dress design and smiles when she thinks of sewing it herself.

She is a local business owner in Sanniquellie, Nimba County who is well known for her skills in dress-making and sewing. But after a UNDP-supported training, she says her business is much better than before.

“I learned how to plan. When you know how to plan and keep good record, you can make a good business. To make a very good business you must know how to plan,” Josephine said.

She was part of a business skills development training organized by UNDP for local entrepreneurs. The training covered basic business development skills like customer service, record keeping, basic accounting and reporting among others.

“They prepared me to keep a record of my business, how to talk to my customers. Now I know that business pays when you know how to keep a good record and talk to your customers,” she said.

But Josephine also hopes to inspire young women in her community.

“I want to empower young girls in the county by giving them skills to be self-reliant. I also want to inspire them. At 23, I can own a business of my own. Even most of them say to me, I am blessed.”

She said prior to the training, she had no knowledge on how to keep record of her business, income and expenditures. “Now I’ve a book where I keep a record of everything I get and whatever I spend every day.”

Josephine now has seven people in her employ, six women and one man. Her fiancé, a theological student at the African Bible College (ABC) in Yekepa comes to help as well. Since her mother died in 2012, she’s also been supporting her six sisters and brothers. Josephine dreams of owning a big company one day. “I am proud that I can own a business for myself now.”

Local business owners in Sanniquellie, Nimba County have benefited from business development skills from the Business Opportunities through Support Services (BOSS), a community empowerment project funded by UNDP.

BOSS is a UNDP-supported project in partnership with the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Commerce and was established to enhance decentralization and support micro, small and medium enterprises policy implementation in Liberia through the establishment of Business Support Service Centres at the county levels, to strengthen the capacities of youth, women and agri- producing enterprises. The project is said to be key to the implementation of the small business empowerment act and the micro small and medium enterprise (SMEs) development in Liberia.

“The intent under this project is for socio-economic empowerment of rural enterprises that are faced with multiple constraints through decentralization,” said Marcus Zarway, UNDP-BOSS National Project Manager.    

Eva Gomeh, 47, and Nyan Yargawon, 65, her fiancé, also benefited from the UNDP training.  The couple runs a tailoring center just outside Sanniquellie. Eva had had no proper accounting and record keeping system prior to the UNDP business development training. “Now I know that if you keep good record in a business, you are aware of what you are doing. Record keeping is one important thing that I took from the training.” She now has a record of her annual income, daily and monthly expenditures. Offices are now being created for accountant and the administrators for the business. However, Eva said access to loan remains a challenge for them.

One of UNDP’s priorities in the upcoming year is to help Liberia’s small business owners to access bank loans and properly manage the repayments. This is a welcome activity, seeing as many small businesses lack capital, which stifles any potential growth.

“We are hoping the commence the access to finance component of the project by February or before the end of the first quarter. Our assessment team is going out in the field beginning today to assess and hold talks with financial institutions who would manage the fund on our behalf,” Zarway said.

They employ 10 people and are never short of work. They are contracted to sew school uniforms across the country and looking to expand their business by industrializing the machines to double their output and ensure quality control is paramount.

But it’s not just about the business. Just like Josephine, it’s about giving back. They provide free uniforms for some of the most needy families, who could otherwise not afford to buy the necessary kit.

They also want to become a major source of employment in an area desperate for economic activity. Several of their current employees have been able to save enough money to build houses, and stand on their own two feet. It’s important, says Nyan, that they have access to savings, so he started a pension fund for those who work for him and Eva longer than 5 years. For every Liberian dollar they save, he matches it.

“I want to have 150 employees and make one million dollars. That’s my dream,” Nyan said.

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