From the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship:
Entrepreneurial ties between Liberia and South Africa received a boost recently when a group of 15 entrepreneurs from the West African state attended a foundation course at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship (BCOE) in Johannesburg. It was the first time that BCOE has opened its doors to entrepreneurs from other countries in Africa.
While the course covers fundamentals, such as accounting and business planning, the approach is “truly Virgin”! Entrepreneurs are taught the art and science of breaking the rules to capture the imagination of customers and investors alike. In addition to insights from the Virgin Group of Companies and its British billionaire founder, Sir Richard Branson, there were practical tips and real-life experiences from a number of sought-after guest speakers. Among them were:
· Paul Smith, South Africa’s foremost authority of entrepreneurship;
· Clive Butkow, former COO of Accenture South Africa; and
· Tracey Webster, Executive Director of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s African Leadership Initiative.
The Liberians were also given the opportunity to engage South African entrepreneurs who have been trained by BCOE and will act as mentors moving forward.
Although Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, its entrepreneurs are finding solutions that have the capacity to grow the economy and improve peoples’ lives in the future. Some of the entrepreneurs in the group are in agriculture, food manufacturing/processing, renewable energy, transport and water/sanitation. For example, Agro Inc. links farmers to markets, so Liberia can “eat what it grows” and We Trade Liberia specialises in renewable forms of energy. Since electrification is a major issue (statistics put it at 5% nationwide and 50% in cities), solar lighting is an accessible, cost-effective alternative. At the same time, the socio-economic environment is conducive to the emergence of service industries, like beauty, catering, fashion design, marketing, printing and tourism. A strong commitment to social upliftment and the empowerment of women were prevalent throughout.
The entrepreneurs are due back in South Africa in a few months to do BCOE’s advanced course. According to Jane Rankin, the Chief Executive of BCOE, this is where the rubber meets the road. “Between now and then, the entrepreneurs implement their business plans. Once everything is in place, we give them the tools they need to take their businesses to the next level.”
While BCOE provided the training, funding was received from Humanity United, an American NGO focused on overcoming the legacy of conflict and slavery in Liberia and Sudan. The Programme Manager from the University of Liberia in Monrovia, Wilson Idahor, says that the entrepreneurs were identified by means of a print media campaign. “Approximately 250 applications were received. After interviewing the shortlist of 25 applicants, 15 were chosen.”
BCOE plans to offer its courses to other NGOs involved in the fields of entrepreneurial development and job creation. Programmes can be designed around audiences, budgets and timeframes. In the case of the group from Liberia, the foundation course was done over a period of five consecutive days instead of one day a week for six weeks.
BCOE launched in Johannesburg in 2005. Its primary aim is to help entrepreneurs become innovative business leaders who create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
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