Liberia has suffered 14 years of civil conflict that brought devastation and destruction to many lives and property. The country’s economic and social sectors were in ruins. The oldest country in Africa, once a society where people from all over the world came to acquire high quality education, was broken and set back. The country’s top institution for advanced studies, the University of Liberia, once one of Africa’s most prestigious universities for undergraduates and post graduates education, lacked the capacity to the human capital to resuscitate the economy.
On a conservative estimate, 60 per cent of Liberia’s population is under the age of 35. The youthfulness of Liberia’s population is even more pronounced in the capital Monrovia, a city of 1.5 million people. After years of civil war Liberia’s economy is recovering but employment is scarce. Young people yearn to work, but lack the opportunities and often also the skills. Monrovia alone has hundreds of thousands of students enrolled at the different universities, but many find themselves struggling to stay at school and make ends meet for lack of opportunity.
As Liberia moves on the road of recovery and development, there’s a huge demand to promote economic development. SPARK is contributing to this by developing and running activities for their target group, young and ambitious Liberian students. For these inspiring entrepreneurs and already existing entrepreneurs SPARK and its local partner BSC Monrovia organise Business Plan Competitions, Business Development Services, and inspirational workshops etc. These activities have proven to be quite successful and the results are very promising, SMEs are started or grown and new staff is hired by them amounting to the impact of our program.
SPARK is also ideally positioned as an intermediary between entrepreneurs in fast-growing, underdeveloped markets like Liberia, and the investors, corporations, and other private-sector operators from Liberia and West Africa, as well as overseas, like the Netherlands, who seek to partner with them. Dutch entrepreneurs think and operate internationally. This approach provides many opportunities for expansion and international trade. The possibilities for Dutch companies to have a considerable impact in Liberia are enormous. These possibilities lie in joint ventures with local businesses, trade and distribution, agriculture and infrastructure projects. West Africa is a region in a growth spurt. Liberia, for example, now has seen an annual GDP growth between 6% (2010) and 9% (2012). These are figures that make China jealous nowadays. But business in Africa has its challenges, where we need to be open and transparent about. Infrastructure, rule of law and corruption are challenges that one can encounter. That is precisely why it is important to work with an organization like SPARK. SPARK has major advantages to act as a catalyst for business between these local SMEs and larger international partners, including: