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A Jack-of-all-Trades Meets SMI-L

Friday Ojo is a man of ingenuity and hard work. He began his business, Kum-Jo International Enterprises, in 2009 by selling cassava products and charcoal. But that wasn’t enough.

He used all of his profits from the charcoal business to launch a secondary business, collecting and selling automobile scraps. Piles of car bumpers, gas tanks and oil drums are piled high in his junkyard. The scrap business is hard work, especially without a machine to break down the materials. Just one ton of scrap will take two weeks to crush by hand using a hammer. Despite the manual labor, Ojo wanted more business. He just wasn’t sure how to get it.

So he enrolled in USAID Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia’s (SMI-L) general procurement training. “I now know how to talk to people, how to build relationships and my business, how to write a business proposal,” Ojo said. He also learned about SMI-L’s services. One of which was tender distribution. He receives emails about relevant tenders and often comes into the office to pick up the bidding documents.

After bidding on and failing to win several tenders, eventually Ojo’s hard work paid off. He won a $12,000 contract for auto scraps with Afcons Infrastructure Limited. The contract allowed him to hire six more workers and expand his business to include aluminum and plastic scraps. A few months later, Kum-Jo won two more contracts, which Ojo attributes to SMI-L training. One was for the supply of charcoal to AFCORES and the other for used tires, 200 empty drums, and 20 drums of used oil to GRILL – IMPREX.

All of his newly-hired workers are neighbors in the Air Field area of Monrovia. “Before I employed people…they would come to me for food,” Ojo said. “I wanted to give them more than food. I wanted to give them a job.” His workers include five females and four males, all of who can care for their families now. They collect empty soda cans and broken plastic chairs, tubs and containers, all of which are ubiquitous in Monrovia. They hammer them down into inch-long pieces.

Ojo hopes to send two of his workers to the next SMI-L general procurement training session. In particular, one worker, who runs his branch in Saclepea, Nimba County, will take the training in order to expand that branch.

It’s not only SMI-L’s training and tender distribution that benefited Kum-Jo. Most recently, a Chinese company and a Japanese company contacted Ojo separately via e-mail requesting 18 tons of aluminum and plastic scrap each. The companies found out about his business from SMI-L’s online Supplier Directory.

Ojo is currently in negotiations with each business. Because one ton of scrap takes two weeks to break down by hand, he doesn’t have the capacity to perform both contracts. He must choose one, and he is hoping that he can convince one of the companies to pre-finance a mechanized crusher to do the job. Such a machine will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to crush one ton, allowing Kum-Jo to fulfill more contracts.

Ojo won’t stop there. He wants to continue to expand his business both geographically and across sectors. Next, he’d like to focus on poultry. To do so he would need a loan or a significant amount of profits set aside. In the meantime, Ojo is happy that his job is meaningful. “Kum-Jo improves my life and improves the lives of others,” Ojo said.

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