Liberia ranked 176 out of 189 countries on the UNDP 2019 Human Development Index. Our country has faced stark challenges in addressing the issue of poverty and poverty inequality. In 2020 COVID hit! The global pandemic affected and ravaged even some of the best economies globally. Our already ailing economy took a nose dive further down, as local businesses were forced to shutdown. After we successfully slowed the spread, and the country could breathe a sigh of relief, the harsh consequences of the lockdown became evident.
In a timely response to the challenge to recover and rebuild; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with iCampus Liberia, Growth Africa, and Accountability Lab Liberia to support impactful Liberian entrepreneurs and help them to scale their businesses through access to technical assistance, mentorship, and co-financing of up to 40,000 USD. Coined as the “Growth Accelerator Liberia Programme” this initiative has been established to aid our long-term recovery efforts and support measures that reduce social-economic impacts on the vulnerable and contribute to economic development. The initiative was officially launched on August 31, 2021, with the opening of the application process for interested entrepreneurs, and will end on September 10th, 2021. But wait, you’re probably wondering, what kind of businesses can apply for this? What do you need to do to become eligible?
For the inaugural cohort, the Growth Accelerator Liberia Programme is inviting Liberian businesses, but specifically targets growth stage and established businesses that are viable, effective, and impactful, particularly in accelerating economic growth and activity amid Covid-19 recovery efforts. This cohort will prioritize entrepreneurs and businesses in the following counties: Grand Gedeh, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Nimba, and Sinoe. After the application process, ten businesses will be selected to advance to the semi-final stage. The 10 semi-finalists will receive tailored business development training and access mentorship/technical assistance from the UNDP and partners. Okay, but what about the money? The access to co-financing of up to 40,000 USD? And who are those that can benefit from the grant?
Here’s what’s going to happen, after these entrepreneurs have completed the series of training designed for them, they’ll all be invited to pitch their businesses –shark tank style- to a panel of independent judges. These judges will then be tasked to select the 5 best ventures, and only then will those businesses be
able to access the grant. The Accelerator is being set up to support growth stage and established businesses that are viable, effective, and impactful, particularly in accelerating economic growth and activity amid Covid-19 recovery efforts. At the launch of the applications, UNDP’s Liberia Assistant Country Representative and Team Leader Dorsla D. Farcarthy said this new initiative will look for ventures with both innovative solutions and transformative business models, services, and products that are post-revenue. “We are happy to be part of anything that will improve the lives of our people. UNDP is elated to initiate this program across Liberia, the bread and butter issue is cardinal. Its core at the hearts of the Liberian people,” Mr. Farcarthy said. Growth Africa and Accountability Lab Liberia’s strong track record of working to alleviate hardship and strengthen organizations and individuals shows much promise. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of iCampus Liberia, Luther Jeke, said the Accelerator program will enable selected businesses a mix of mentorship, technical assistance and financial incentives to enable them to grow and make them sustainable. “For instance, Covid-19 has starkly highlighted how having access to digital assets and connectivity as well as a bank account, and digital ID is key in the increasingly integrated global economy. The growth accelerator is a proven model that works,” Mr. Jeke said.
Mr. Jeke said Accountability Lab has held similar programs that continue to be impactful, stating “UNDP has launched accelerators in several countries to help enterprises to scale.” He said the partnership among Accountability Lab Liberia, iCampus Liberia, and UNDP seeks to build up innovative solutions and business models to address the poverty and inequality in Liberia, especially amidst the Covid-19 crisis. Accountability Lab Liberia’s Country Director Lawrence Yealue said iCampus is Liberia’s first multi- disciplinary, innovative, and community space for change-maker focusing on the intersection of technology, accountability, and social change… “Our 4,000 square foot campus in the heart of Monrovia provides the space, resources, support, and cutting-edge technology that can make change possible in Liberia.” Mr. Yealue also added that the Accountability Lab Liberia is always looking out to see opportunities for young people and to be able to work with them, especially promoting accountability. “As we go forward, I know our support to entrepreneurs will be not just to enlarge their businesses but to do business in line with best business practices that enhance credibility and integrity. This is strengthening businesses and collaborating for the growth of Liberian businesses,” Mr. Yealue said.