Little is known about Liberia except that it has been a peaceful country since 2013 when the second civil war ended. This is unfortunate as the city of Monrovia is rich with history and culture and a destination that should be further explored by anyone who loves beautiful people!
When the Anzisha team travelled to Liberia, we had the intention of finding young entrepreneurs to apply for the Prize. Since the inception of the prize, applications from Liberia have been few and far between. We were eager to immerse ourselves in the Liberian entrepreneurial culture and share the Anzisha Prize opportunity with young Liberians. After a few days of trying to schedule meetings with youth entrepreneurial support organisations it was evident that the subject of entrepreneurship is not at the top of the Liberian agenda. Organisations such as SMART Liberia, the Movement for Sustainable Alternatives and the Business Startup Centre are trying hard to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and entrepreneurship but they are climbing a steep and high mountain.
Conversations with these three organisations and observation of the entrepreneurial landscape in Monrovia led us to the conclusion that Liberia has other priorities and is investing in other aspects of their economy. Below are a couple of highlights of why young entrepreneurs are not prominent in Liberia. This is highlighted with the hope that the youth entrepreneurship support ecosystem can start thinking about the different interventions that are necessary for youth entrepreneurship to succeed in different countries on the continent.
Years of upheaval and civil war
Liberia was embroiled in two civil wars from 1989- 1996 and from 1999 to 2003. This left the country devastated. The scars of war can be seen on the ruined buildings and the scarcity of formally owned businesses. The memory of war is still very recent to many Liberians and their focus is to rebuild the city from the bottom up. This means that the need for Liberians is to develop the basic needs of the country. There is not a lot of investment in entrepreneurship as organisations are investing and developing in the education system.
Investment in education
Due to the civil wars, a majority of young Liberians have not been afforded access to education. There is a number of Liberians who were schooled outside of the country or did not attend school during the years of war. This was then compounded by the Ebola crisis, which affected the already fragile education system with a number of schools closing down. Due to this the government has committed to invest in education through partnerships with USAID and other donors who work with the Ministry of Education to address educational challenges. This is also a clear indicator that youth organisations who are investing in the youth are investing in their education. Basic education services to all is one of the main priorities of the country and the basis with which Liberia will develop as a nation.
Although this paints a discouraging picture of the future of Liberian entrepreneurship, it is important to note that the conversations with the organisations mentioned previously means that there are Liberians who see the importance of youth entrepreneurship and are working to invest in the youth by developing training programs and mentorship that will create entrepreneurship as viable career option for young Liberians. Once entrepreneurship starts becoming a bigger part of the conversation, the recovering country of Liberia has many opportunities to absorb entrepreneurs and support them to contribute to the economy.