Building Markets Liberia Takes its Show on the Road
After driving for two hours on the paved road to Buchanan, the trip to Sinoe County cuts through the jungle along a red, rutted road. Between stretches of deep green foliage are villages, colorful with drying laundry and goods to sell and lively with children playing and animals wandering. Located in southeastern Liberia, Sinoe is one of the country’s least populated counties.
At dusk, Greenville, Sinoe’s capital, has something akin to Midwestern small town charm—a water tower presides over the town square and people gather at the local “drive-in” (chairs set up in front of a television in a gas station’s work bay, complete with popcorn maker). Established by the Mississippi Colonization Society in 1822, Greenville still boasts the wide streets and steepled churches of that era. Two of Building Markets Liberia’s projects, USAID’s Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia (SMI-L) and Human United’s Supplier Diversity Project, currently conduct activities in Sinoe and so the team has lately become quite familiar with the road to Greenville.
Though it is somewhat difficult to get to Sinoe, the county has much to offer in terms of natural resources, including timber, palm oil, rubber, mineral deposits and a long coastline. Logging companies and palm oil concessionaires operate in Sinoe and UNMIL maintains a presence there. Other UN agencies and various NGOs also implement programs in the county, so the potential for supplying these entities with various goods and services is high. Nevertheless, most businesses in Sinoe are small and often struggling in terms of access to finance and business management skills. This constrains their capacity to expand their operations and win new contracts with larger buyers.
Building Markets recognizes both the opportunities and the challenges for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) in Sinoe County and is bringing its signature services to the area. On recent trips, the Building Markets verification team visited and verified over 30 businesses, in sectors including construction, woodwork, hospitality, wholesale and retail. These businesses, which have an average of less than ten employees, now have profiles on the Supplier Directory and can be found by anyone using the directory to search for goods or services in Sinoe. At the end of August, 20 business attended General Procurement training, the first SMI-L training session held in the county.
“The training was so good [and] actually helped our business in the area of customer services. We lack this in the Liberian business setting,” said Daniel E. Thomas, owner of Forum, a collection of businesses in Greenville including a guesthouse, bar, restaurant and filling station.
The Supplier Diversity Project focuses on communities where concessionaires operate and works to increase the skills of the Liberian workforce so SMEs and individuals can capitalize on economic opportunities within concessionaires’ supply chains. Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) is a major palm oil concessionaire in Sinoe and, based on discussions with GVL and assessments in the county, Building Markets is currently implementing targeted skills development programs.
Building Markets recently concluded a week-long training (facilitated by a local communications consulting company) for Sinoe residents in communications skills to prepare them for potential job opportunities with GVL and GVL-funded entities.
“I was encouraged by another female radio announcer [to get involved in communications work],” said Olivia D. Weah, a new announcer at community radio station Voice of Grand Kru. “This training was very timely for me.”
In addition to increasing the skill sets of training participants, Building Markets programming aims to make this knowledge sustainable by equipping trainees with the capability to pass their knowledge on to others. For the Sinoe branch of the Liberia Furniture and Carpentry Development Union (LIFCADU), Building Markets is implementing a Training of Trainers (TOT) in Financial Management and Customer Service for five union members. After completing the course, these individuals will be prepared to train others in the skills essential for any business to flourish.
The Building Markets Liberia team will return to Greenville in the coming months to continue the activities of both projects. As the rainy season ends, the trip will seem shorter not only because the road is easier, but also in anticipation of hearing stories of business success in this beautiful corner of Liberia.