African Issues

Chid Liberty - "There Is Going to Be No Stopping Africa Rising"
Chad Liberty poses a question at Session 530, "Value(s) For Money?"
Chid Liberty - "There Is Going to Be No Stopping Africa Rising"
By: Alex Jackson 

The "social innovation rockstar" speaks to Salzburg Global about African enterprise

There is perhaps no grander name in young global innovation at the moment than Chid Liberty. Alongside his team at Liberty & Justice, the young entrepreneur has just been awarded the 2014 Innovation Ecosystem title at the Global Innovation Summit and he was previously the 2011 recipient of the SVN Social Innovation Award. In fact, his contributions have been so substantial that he is a Yoxi Portfolio SIR – a "Social Innovation Rockstar" – which is certainly the attention-grabber on his CV.

But Liberty makes light of his success. “I thought 'If I could bring that [change] to Liberia now given the high unemployment rate, then that would be the best use of my skills and time.' I really felt that was a way I could help,” he muses.

Liberty co-founded and is the CEO of Liberty & Justice, Africa’s first Fair Trade certified apparel manufacturer, based in Liberia. The company has rapidly expanded in its short history, offering a chance for disadvantaged and displaced women to overcome the struggles of unemployment and economic exclusion. The positive impact that the process has begun seems to be spiralling in the region, proffering stability as a stark contrast to the chains of Liberia’s fragile history.

“Surprising things to me have been the timeliness, because, in Africa, being on time isn’t really a key consideration and what’s been really interesting is as we have enforced that and really enrolled people onto the idea of being on time, we have spectacular results and a really high attendance level among line workers," says Liberty.

“We have had a 100% retention rate, not a single loss in workers. And I think that isn’t something you would see in most African countries.”

Progress is undeniable, but Liberty remains cautious, and with good reason. Liberia is still classed as a fragile state, yet is often overlooked in philanthropic efforts as other more immediate crises divert funds to other parts of the region. Internally, Liberty faces even more yokes in fostering a support for international development.

“The threat that I have is more from actors in the government that I have worked in, both in Liberia and Ghana, that aren’t really assessing how their policies affect the creation of this [ecosystem] and I think everyone gets up on grand stands and says we want more small business and jobs,’ but when you look at, for instance, not just at the policies and the duty rates in Liberia, but also how duties and exports are administered, it doesn’t foster trade. It goes against trade.”

Not that this has dampened the spirits of the larger local communities. Women in the area have rallied behind the project which provides economic freedom, and trying to get investors to keep up with the development is proving the key hurdle: “One side is saying there aren’t any entrepreneurs; the other side is saying there isn’t any capital.

“It is really a matter of how they find financing and to me we have oversimplified the problem by saying if people lend to them then they will grow, when the real problem is that people do lend to them, the commercial banks have tried, and they have failed. The payment rates are really low and it is just a disaster. So it is really finding those entrepreneurs that can both build value to equity investors and then having them match made in their capacity to the point they can take on larger amounts of capital.”  

With investment, Liberty hopes that there will be substantial transformation to the region as a whole. He points to how women in Liberia let few adverse conditions prevent them from their work, citing market women trading across enemy lines even when the war was raging in Liberia. The entrepreneurial spirit on the ground would seem alive and well.

Entrepreneurship can galvanize and promote a sustained period of investment and transformation. There are some very obvious examples, even in the past 50 years, of how to successfully and dramatically industrialize developing countries, seemingly overnight.

“People always hear me speak and say 'Are you saying that Africa will be the next Asia or the next China?' and I would say no, it isn’t going to be the next China.

“Africa is going to be the next Africa.”

It is a simple yet strong statement that accurately reflects his sentiments. As a continent that has become synonymous with ideas of under-development, instability in large areas, overwhelmed by war and famine, Africa has almost become an ignored wealth of resources, which creates massive problems in setting up businesses, but proffers fantastic opportunities.

“It is hard for us to take a look at poverty without looking at industrialization as the elephant in the room as the obvious place for us to go.

“There are tons of constraints in Africa,” explains Liberty.

“Everything from infrastructure to the political climate to the business climate. For me, it is really looking at the fact that other regions have faced those same issues and looking at what they have done to adjust and get going. But sort of like the Arab Spring, there is going to be no stopping Africa rising.”

For Africa to be freed of the shackles of Western (and increasingly Chinese) investors, who see few capital opportunities, then it has to not only recreate its image, but birth an entire new philosophy on how industrialization can shape nations.

“I think if industrialization in Africa looks like China or the West, we’re in trouble. The beauty of industrializing Africa is that it doesn’t have to rely on carbon. We have the opportunities to build that from scratch in Africa, how things will look, how workers will be treated, environmental policies, I really see that as a bit of a chance to start at least part of the industry from scratch. And then we learn ourselves from that in a dual street.”

Liberty suggests that investment in the region needs to catch up with the potential for sustainable growth and new business partnerships soon, or find Africa has developed enough to call its own deals in international affairs. With investment and scalable businesses, there will be huge financial and socio-cultural returns he suggests.

“Africa is a beautiful continent with such ecological diversity; the future is wide open.”  

Chid Liberty was a speaker at the Salzburg Global Seminar session "Value(s) for Money? Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Social and Financial Change", which was sponsored by Hivos. You can read interviews with a number of the other speakers and participants of the session on the

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Susan Kaaria - "You Can Have a Really Rich Discussion"
Dr Kaaria received a Ph.D in forest economics from the University of Minnesota
Susan Kaaria - "You Can Have a Really Rich Discussion"
By: Oscar Tollast 

UN FAO officer calls for targeted interventions to strengthen capacity of women

The Senior Gender Officer from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has praised Salzburg Global for its diverse range of session participants.

Susan Kaaria, who works in the gender, equity and rural employment division, was speaking at Salzburg Global during a session on rural enterprise development in Africa.

The session, co-organized with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), brought together a number of practitioners from the public and private sectors.

Dr Kaaria said: “This is one of the few workshops I’ve been to where there is enough private sector [representation] in the midst of people.

“I’ve been to many workshops that talk about the private sector and there’s three, two, or one [representatives], but this has enough private sector [representation] that you can have a really rich discussion.”

As part of the discussions taking place, participants looked at how the demonstrated benefit of working with women producers could become integrated in business strategies.

“The big challenge we have at the moment is that in terms of addressing poverty, women get limited [opportunities] because of these huge gaps.

“It’s called the gender asset gap where compared to men, women have less access to productive resources, to learn, to capital, [and] to resources. You want to make sure women can access these so that you can improve their lives.”

Dr Kaaria believes we have to pay special attention to issues of gender equality in terms of trying to address poverty and in terms of enterprise development.

“One of the most interesting takeaways for me here is that this is one of the times when I don’t have to tell people gender equality is important. They’ve said it. They’ve talked about it. There are some very good, very tangible examples of what we can do.”

Prior to her working at the UN, Dr Kaaria served as a program officer for Environment and Economic Development at the Ford Foundation. She believes practices and good lessons need to be documented and highlighted to be better supported.

“In FAO, one of the things that we are very concerned about now is providing good accurate data on what are the gaps, what are the inputs and interventions on gender equality.

“How do you make sure when the national statistics capture information they’re looking at both men and women so we can actually have a picture of what’s going on?”

Dr Kaaria suggested very targeted interventions were required to strengthen the capacity of women as entrepreneurs, traders, and as business people to come together and influence policy processes and improve their bargaining power.

“If you’re talking about access to inputs for example and we know that there are much fewer women than men using fertilizer, then the intervention you have must have very specific mechanisms to ensure that women can access it.

“If the intervention is broad and says poor people can have fertilizer and you don’t make very specific interventions, then you are going to lose out on women.”

Interventions can have different impacts on men and women, according to Dr Kaaria, depending on what mechanisms are in place.

“We have to think about what we are calling this gender transformative approach, to challenge the status quo, to say we can challenge cultural norms and deal with social norms that are undermining women’s productivity.”

Dr Kaaria has previously attended a number of Salzburg Global sessions, including ‘A “Green Revolution” in Africa: What Framework for Success?’ in 2008. She suggested this session’s work would build upon what’s already been discussed.

“By talking to the people who have been here you can see that many of them have been here around different sessions but everybody always comes here with experience they have.

“You can see now how that experience is adding to make this one that much more innovative. There is a lot more interest in having very tangible [and] very concrete actions.”

Mame Diene - “I Want to Go Back to Basics”
Mame Diene - “I Want to Go Back to Basics”
By: Oscar Tollast 

Entrepreneur keen to create value and growth in Africa

Mame Diene, CEO and founder of Bioessence Laboratories, doesn’t appear to stop working. Our interview is slightly delayed whilst she waits to hear via Skype if her company’s natural cosmetic products will appear on TV. A flaky Internet connection prevents her from finding out.

Whilst she waits to hear back, we sit down in Schloss Leopoldskron’s Chinese Room to discuss why she’s attended Salzburg Global for a third time, her entrepreneurial lifestyle, and her thoughts on rural enterprise development in Africa.

Diene says, “Every time I come to Salzburg, and I said it to my colleagues in here, I am really impressed by the intelligence and the value of people who intervene in the debates. Everyone is eager on actions, what can be done to have an impact.”

The session taking place at the time, ‘Africa’s Growth Engine: Partnerships for Rural Enterprise and Impact at Scale’ had brought together a number of different practitioners from the public and private sector.

Participants were building on the work of another session Diene attended in 2011, ‘Transforming Agricultural Development and Production in Africa: Closing Gender Gaps and Empowering Rural Women in Policy and Practice’.

“I want to go to basics,” Diene confidently proclaims. “This is something for the very first time that we can talk about: creating value and creating growth in Africa without any complexities. We can talk about making money and making wealth.”

Bioessence Laboratories works within the rural areas of Senegal, but has since expanded to other countries such as Guinea and Mali. Speaking from experience, Diene describes scaling up as a challenge.

“You have to sometimes deal with issues that are bigger than your own company. We have challenges that are related to the environment of business itself that should sometimes need collaboration.”

Diene suggests the regulation of barcodes was an issue before collaboration between the public and private sector helped brought about change. She says, “The US Embassy helps us to intervene with our own officials in our country and it was a partnership private and public that helped us after six year to get the barcode, which identified the products.”

Other challenges also exist and Diene likes to point out that scaling up doesn’t necessarily mean more money. It concerns a company’s assets and its value.

“As a business model, we’re an exporting company. It means regulations, certifications, meeting international standards, and this usually is very constraining for a company like mine. But at the same time, it helps you scale up in a good way because you are in a model that is more sustainable.”

Diene suggests the purpose of the session is to define the scope of intervention needed in order to create healthy businesses. She says, “That is how a country becomes richer and can maybe invest in other areas.”

Prior to starting her own business, Diene used to be a business consultant on banking risks, working within Europe. But whilst this provided her with a comfortable way of living, Diene felt she was missing something.“I couldn’t define my life as something that can benefit others. I wanted to have an impact for Africa and an impact for my country.

“Today I’m in the business of agribusiness, the business of transforming crops and products coming from Africa and that’s something that can help people.”

Diene’s family has generations of entrepreneurs. Her grandmother sold donuts, whilst her mother was in the business of rubbish bins for the government.

“Every time I talk about this business I am in I can see that it may be considered as a model for other people in other countries. It shows me that no matter how difficult the business is, we are on the right way.”

One of the session’s participants joked Diene would be the only participant leaving Salzburg Global with more money than she came with. The entrepreneur uses breaks in between workshops to sell her products.

“I came with my product because this is my third time at Salzburg and last time all people asked me about it. This time it is the same. I’m happy to be consistent in this quality business and happy to help people discover the richness and wealth of Africa.”

Daniel Amponsah - "This Could Go a Long Way"
Daniel Amponsah - "This Could Go a Long Way"
By: Oscar Tollast 

Advisor advocates new policies to help rural businesses scale up

A business advisor with the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI), in Ghana, has suggested governments can play a key role in the scaling up of rural businesses.

Daniel Amponsah made the claim after attending Salzburg Global’s session on ‘Africa’s Growth Engine: Partnerships for Rural Enterprise and Impact at Scale’.

The session, co-organized with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, brought together a range of key actors to identify opportunities to scale successful interventions across Africa.

In an email exchange, Amponsah said: “The government through its monetary and fiscal policies could alter policies that inhibit production and productivity of farming.

“This could go a long way to create the necessary environment for rural business to scale up.”

The NBSSI is the apex government body for the promotion and development of the micro and small enterprises (MSE) sector in Ghana.

Amponsah’s responsibilities include translating the body’s vision, which is to develop and promote micro and small scale enterprises.

“We seek to do this by contributing to the creation of an enabling environment for small scale enterprise development, [facilitating] access to credit for small enterprise, [and providing] non-financial support for sustainable small scale enterprise development.

“The mandate to transform entrepreneurship has been the core function of my organization since 1985.”

The NBSSI is currently implementing a project with the Export Development and Agricultural Investment Fund (EDAIF) to develop the capacity of rural enterprise to access export markets.

Amponsah has been associated with rural enterprise activities for the past 9 years. He believes Africa’s prosperity has the potential to affect many generations.

“The development and sustainability of rural enterprises has the potential to improve incomes, lift the majority of our rural people from poverty and enhance welfare.”

During the three-day session, Amponsah and his fellow participants discussed some of the main barriers facing rural enterprise in their regions. For Amponsah, this included access to cheaper credit facilities, post-harvest management, inadequate storage, poor road networks, and uncoordinated agricultural policies.

The action steps Amponsah’s group came up with centered on deepening youth capacity building as a scale up in enterprise. This could be done through strengthening apprenticeship training, linking coaching and mentorship to agri-business and documenting role models.

“The whole discussion was done in a more serene and camaraderie environment. As such, it was a very insightful, thought-provoking collaborative, experiential learning methodology and very educative.”

Amponsah said his three biggest takeaways from the session included networking, a new up-scaling framework and the cross fertilization of ideas from other countries and cultures.

“There are few words capable of encapsulating the measures of the masterful experience of Salzburg, except to say a real paradise on earth, a replica of the Garden of Eden.

“The ambience and serene atmosphere interspersed with its historical backdrop makes it a place to savour, an abode fit for the gods.”

Sheka Forna - "The Various Players Need to Be Consulted"
Sheka Forna introduces himself to the rest of the session's participants
Sheka Forna - "The Various Players Need to Be Consulted"
By: Oscar Tollast 

Businessman discusses challenges facing rural enterprise in Sierra Leone

The chair of Sierra Leone’s first mobile payment operator has stressed the significance of having an enabling environment when looking to form multi-sector partnerships.

Sheka Forna, chair of Splash Mobile Money, spoke to Salzburg Global whilst attending the session, ‘Africa's Growth Engine: Partnerships for Rural Enterprise and Impact at Scale’.

Forna said: “The various players need to be consulted and we have to have a good understanding of what it is that they’re bringing to the table and how they can work together.

“All of that theory is fine but ultimately one has to put it into practice.”

Participants at the three-day session looked at how African rural enterprise development could be expanded and scaled up through multi-sector partnerships.

“We have to have some sort of reaching out to rural communities to ensure they’re going to be receptive of the developments that are being put in place or conceptualized.”

Forna admits whilst he’s not a professional in rural development, he has worked with players in that arena. He has helped facilitate the movement of money from urban to rural areas and vice versa.

Speaking in the context of Sierra Leone on the challenges facing rural enterprise, Forna said: “We’ve been inhibited first of all by having a large rural population who are for the most part uneducated.

“We have a government who are attempting to put in place an enabling environment, [but] that enabling environment itself has taken a long time to be come into place and it hasn’t yet percolated down to some of the lower levels, in terms of the rural economy.”

Forna believes urbanization is “inevitable” and something that will transpire irrespective of public and private sector actions to stem the flow.

“I think where it is problematic in the case of a country like Sierra Leone is that you’ve had a mass movement of people from the rural areas to the urban centers.

“The urban centers themselves aren’t geared up to cope with that influx of people and what you’re doing is actually transferring poor people from a rural environment into an urban environment. They remain poor irrespective.”

Forna questioned the form of agriculture participants were discussing at the session, and whether conversations strictly centered on small scale agriculture.

“What we’re witnessing is that large scale agriculture is coming more to the fore and that is not necessarily providing jobs for all but it’s certainly providing an element of rural development.

“Through CSR programs, some of these companies are engaged in road building and health care services and the provision of education.”

Forna said he hoped to bring third party experience and provide private sector insight to the discussions taking place at Schloss Leopoldskron.

“The discussions have been absolutely fascinating and they’ve given me a real insight into some of the thinking that has been done in regards to developing rural communities. It’s not my area of expertise, so for me it’s been a real learning experience.

“The private sector has to be involved and the profit element has to be there in order to incentivize and sustain long-term change.”

Fatima Bousso - "There Are a Lot of Concrete Steps"
Fatima Bousso speaking at a workshop session in Parker Hall
Fatima Bousso - "There Are a Lot of Concrete Steps"
By: Oscar Tollast 

Independent consultant believes there is much to take away from session on rural enterprise in Africa

A former Wall Street trader has revealed to Salzburg Global why she decided to switch her career focus to rural development in Africa.

Fatima Bousso, now an independent consultant, spoke whilst attending the session, ‘Africa's Growth Engine: Partnerships for Rural Enterprise and Impact at Scale’.

Bousso said: “Every summer I used to go to Africa to one country. I was like, how can I work directly with these people? How do I help them develop?”

One of her first projects in development work was to assist rural vegetable growers (of onions and hibiscus), a move away from being a quantitative analyst. During one of the workshop sessions, Bousso talked about this experience, which was based in the Senegalese village of Potou, part of the Millennium Village Project.

“We were trying to make the onion producers of Senegal be able to meet the market demand because the market demand is quite large for onions in Senegal.

“We trained them to be good negotiators with the government, which they have done and had an agreement (put in place) to close the borders for eight months so that we don’t have any more imported onions.”

Effective from February 2013, the government of Senegal introduced a temporary ban on onions in order to promote local production. But this measure has also included unwanted side-effects.

“It has not worked quite well because they are now doing a lot speculation and playing with the market when the border is closed and trying to sell their onions five times more expensive.”

Participants debated what role each sector could play to scale up small rural businesses.

Discussing the situation in Senegal, Bousso said: “It’s the government who should step up. They regulate the price, so they should regulate the market and make sure those prices are respected, which is [currently] not the case.”

Bousso praised the session for affording her the opportunity to learn about a number of areas in rural development, from gender education to market development.

“The legal framework: I did not think about that. Things that I thought would be really accessible for example for the private sector and development people that are here, it has been a hassle for them.

“It’s been very difficult. It’s something that I didn’t think about until they explained to me what they go through for years for just one paper, a label for example on their products.”

The discussions that took place brought forward a number of experiences, some relevant to specific countries. Despite this, Bousso believes there is still much to take away from the session for all of the countries represented.

She said: “There are a lot of concrete steps that can be taken, working in partnerships with governments, creating cooperatives for [rural entrepreneurs] and making sure when they are trying, they respect the standards of the market and they are able to export their products.

“What I want achieved is the government to be able to give [rural entrepreneurs] information – reliable information – so that they have access to information and can play a greater role in the market.”