Leveraging Liberia’s Expats
“Awesome!” is the common reaction when I explain what I spend my days at Peace Dividend Trust (PDT) doing. How could working to improve the lives of people recovering from conflict and disaster by building marketplaces not be awesome? It’s important and goes to the heart of what everyone is talking about today: jobs and the economy. But I can tell that most people don’t understand what this means in practical terms. But there’s an app for that.
Liberia Expats is a Google group that illustrates perfectly what building marketplaces in war-torn countries means. I stumbled upon it while doing research on the country after we received an amazing challenge grant from Humanity United, a philanthropic organization committed to building peace and advancing human freedom.
Liberia Expats sprouted organically in September 2007 by an expat who had just come from Abuja, Nigeria where a similar Yahoo group had existed. It is a forum for questions about living and working in Liberia and a platform to exchange ideas about the country. Posts vary widely, from discussing cultural norms, to announcing a newly created kickball team in need of members, to soliciting opinions on which hotel offers the best accommodation in Monrovia. Interestingly, most posts center on connecting people who need goods and services with those that are offering them. That’s exactly what PDT’s marketplace program does.
The PDT marketplace is a yellow-pages meets Match.com. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are approached by PDT to be included in a massive database that acts as a virtual yellow pages. Once PDT reviews and verifies them they then wait to be connected to buyers or to hear about notices that the buyers put out in the form of tenders. That’s the matchmaking and tender distribution process that has led to over $650 million in USD back into Afghanistan’s economy. Awesome indeed.
The Marketplace directory is divided into sectors, each with a detailed listing of contact info, size and goods and services provided. Due to the rapidly changing business environment in developing nations’ economies, regular confirmation of each business is a major part of the Marketplace’s success. The directory is a simple tool that helps people easily find what they are looking for.
The Liberia Google Group has over 700 members, and within one month – between Jan. 4 and Feb. 4, 2011 – the group received almost 150 posts. People in search of telecommunications services and equipment, household services like nannies and cooks, health and medical care and transportation were among the most popular categories for this month. That is just from individuals alone. Imagine the needs companies, NGOs and international organizations based in Liberia have.
Imagine if the members of this Google group would utilize the PDT Marketplace, search for local businesses who could meet their needs, use these local services and buy their local products, put money into the local economy, and in turn spur more people in Liberia, both expats and locals, to use the service, thereby stimulating and strengthening the Liberian economy. That is what the PDT Marketplace was set up to do. Awesome, right?