Women Entrepreneurs Network Kicks Off in Liberia
For the ordinary woman living in Liberia, starting and running a successful business means creating opportunities for her family, which can help pave the road out of poverty. In a county emerging from several years of conflict such as Liberia, women entrepreneurs are faced with a number of challenges that make it difficult for them to reach their full economic potential. But business women in Liberia are emerging.
With the support of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the World Bank Institute (WBI), (by the BNPP) the Liberia Women Entrepreneurs Network (LIWEN) was launched in the capital city Monrovia on March 2013. As a network of community of practitioners (CoP), LIWEN aims to serve as a platform to empower women entrepreneurs to undertake business initiatives. They would work together to keep abreast of issues affecting women in business and seek solutions to shared concerns, namely women’s access to rights, resources, and voice.
Nearly 50 Liberian female entrepreneurs were present at the launch. “For economies emerging out of conflict like Liberia's, women’s contributions to business development are vital. Fortunately, Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction is taking place in a policy environment with a strong commitment to gender equality. This enabling environment makes it easier for you to contribute to tangible economic empowerment outcomes for yourselves, your families and for Liberian society as a whole,” said WBI Vice President Sanjay Pradhan in his address. “It also makes our roles as development partners relatively easier, as it encourages us in the World Bank Group to come together with bilateral development partners to support initiatives like yours.”
LIWEN’s mission is to accelerate women entrepreneurship in Liberia through networking, knowledge, and information-sharing. By tailoring its services to meet the demands of women entrepreneurs, LIWEN will address the main challenges women face in Liberia: accessing profitable business opportunities, hiring capable and qualified employees, and accessing adequate funding to expand.
“Since 2007, IFC has been working to unleash the potential of women business owners in markets where we work,” said Rashad Kaldany, IFC’s Chief Operating Officer. “In a business world that is still male-dominated, LIWEN will be a platform where women entrepreneurs can meet, where they can learn additional skills, where they can get advice on how to get access to capital and how to market their business and gain visibility.”
Roughly 34% of Liberian businesses across sectors are owned by women.
LIWEN member and entrepreneur Fatu Addy has managed a family-owned wood shop for the past 10 years. Despite knowing the business inside out, she often finds herself understaffed due to lack of skilled carpenters available. “Because of the longevity of the war, vocational centers were all destroyed, so most of the people who have the training and skills to succeed are much older and thus retiring,” Addy remarked. “Through this network, I hope to be able to build the capacity of the younger generation of Liberians with limited resources.”
In its first year, LIWEN’s goal is to have at least 25 percent of registered women SMEs become members, with plans to double by the second year. IFC’s support to LIWEN will include access to training through its renowned business management program, Business Edge, and access to other networks outside of Liberia.
Since July 2012, IFC and WBI have been working with women entrepreneurs in Liberia to create a network that would enable them to access skills, increase their access to voice, finance and business opportunities, and mentor one another. Created as a platform to empower women entrepreneurs to undertake business initiatives, LIWEN aims to provide a conducive environment for women-owned SMEs to be active and productive participants in the Liberian private sector and in the economic growth of Liberia.
WBI's contribution is part of the BNPP-funded knowledge exchange on women's access in fragile states. The LIWEN initiative is part of the BNPP project entitled Lessons on Gender Inclusion in Fragile and Conflict Affected States: Improving Women's Access to Rights, Resources and Voice. It is a knowledge exchange initiative on the gender-conflict nexus, implemented by WBIRC to showcase women's access to services and how that access can contribute towards achieving and maintaining development, peace and security. The other beneficiary countries for the project include Papa New Guinea (PNG), South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
For more information contact Waafas Ofosu-Amaah at email@example.com.