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Liberia Progressing Forward

This post was written by Stephen Lee, Building Markets’ 3FP Fund Director.

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I’m back visiting the Liberia office this week, and I’ve noticed a newness about Monrovia.  I was last in Liberia in late October and early November of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy turned parts of New York City and New Jersey into disaster areas. Our headquarters office is in New York City’s Financial District, which was hit particularly hard — our office building was on generator power for several weeks, many businesses were closed (some are still closed), and certain subway lines were shut down (the 1 train is still shut down at South Ferry).  Though parts of New York City are still not fully restored, the city has made good progress.  Apparently, so has Monrovia.

One of the first things I’ve noticed are the newly paved roads. Just as late October and early November was a wet time for New York City, it was also the tail end of the rainy season here in Liberia. We got a lot of rain. Monrovia gets so much rain that it is the rainiest (or at least in the top two) capital city in the world. You can imagine how difficult it gets for construction when it’s that rainy. But it’s the dry season now, and Monrovia’s made a lot of progress — back roads whose potholes became ponds after the heavy rains last year are now freshly paved streets. I hear the roads to Buchanan and Robertsport, two key cities along the Atlantic Coast, are practically finished as well. Although this probably doesn’t help chiropractors out very much, it serves the rest of the population just fine.

There are now street lights in Monrovia, and they are, for the most part, respected by drivers. There are new restaurants, new tourist sites, and new stores. Even my hotel went through a major makeover.

Things look a little different here at the Building Market’s office in Monrovia, too. Last year during my visit, the SMI team was here but there was no 3FP team. The SMI team here is as strong as ever, but now we have a 3FP team — I was introduced to them in-person for the first time during this visit. Javier is our Country Director, and we got to spend a few days together in New York City when he first started. But I’m meeting our new 3FP employees, Titus and Felecia, for the first time. By Wednesday, having worked with them for a few days, I was already impressed. We’ve had brainstorming sessions around how we can better assist SMEs gain access to credit, and we’ve also been meeting with specific businesses to discuss their needs and how we can assist them. I’ve particularly enjoyed hearing their thoughts on innovative ways to provide value to both banks and borrowers and overcoming seemingly intractable problems here in the Liberia lending market.

The 3FP team in Monrovia

I’m really excited about our team’s potential to assist Liberian SMEs in gaining access to credit. The challenges are many, including a need for more training for entrepreneurs, a high costs of doing business, and corrupt practices, not to mention high collateral requirements and a whole host of other issues related to banks’ wariness of lending to the SME sector.

However, Liberia is making progress on these issues. And the SMI team, with their wide and deep knowledge of the local marketplace, coupled with the strength of the 3FP team and our partners, I believe we can make real and lasting change for SMEs here in Liberia. The next time you come to Liberia, I hope you too will be able to see the positive changes taking place.

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