The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the J-Palm Liberia, Mahmud Johnson, has stressed the need for government, investors and partners to take a portfolio approach in investing in Liberia to circumvent the failing of some businesses in the country.
Mr. Johnson made the assertion yesterday when he served as keynote speaker at the 2015 Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) Conference held at the Monrovia City Hall.
The MSME Conference was held under the theme, “From Vision to Implementation, Buying Liberian, Building Liberia,” and featured 50 Liberian SMEs.
Mr. Johnson said some Liberian businesses will succeed while some will become unsuccessful, “but with the right guidance and management, there will be more marking perennial progress in serving Liberians as well as reaching their benchmarks.
“We cannot solely use the past as a basis to create the future,” Johnson told conference participants. “If we insist only on funding enterprises that have shown a solid track record, we will never end up with the kinds of breakthrough innovation that can really make a huge impact in shaping our future,” he explained.
According to him, in order to create thriving youth entrepreneurship ecosystem in Liberia, business owners have to become comfortable with the concept of risk.
“A perennial problem we face is financing. To mitigate risks, traditional financial institutions in Liberia require loan applicants to possess a strong track record, and assets to serve as collateral. As young entrepreneurs, most of us have only been alive for maybe two or three decades,” Mr. Johnson said.
He said that most youth businesses in Liberia are creating the enterprises of future, which are using technology, internet, social media, and innovative marketing strategies to better serve their customers, and seeking “to address emerging social problems in innovative new ways.”
Mr. Johnson said there are many other Liberian businesses that are creating immense livelihood opportunities for hundreds of other families, and need more assistance to reach even more families.
“By empowering us through financing, mentorship, training, and your networks, you are not just raising our individual profiles, but you are also helping to raise many families from poverty. You are helping to create livelihoods for hundreds more as employees, service providers, suppliers and customers,” he said.
Mr. Johnson further explained that business owners cannot speak of innovation without talking about failure, because innovation and failure really are two sides of the same coin.
The truly game-changing innovation of this world are those that come about through trial and error, through a messy process of tinkering with different components to ultimately arrive at that breakthrough product or service, he observed.
“Of course, this kind of innovative, entrepreneurial ecosystem cannot be financed through traditional banks. It’s far too risky and complicated for their business models. It requires our government working together with development organizations and charities to create tailored financial instruments to fund Liberian innovations,” he said.
Mr. Johnson added that his company J-Palm Liberia is consistently thinking about value-addition, how they can maximize the value they create for customers, suppliers, employees and the country as a whole. “That’s why we have decided to move beyond processing crude palm oil and palm kernel oil,” he added.
In remarks, Minister of Commerce and Industry (MoCI), Axel M. Addy, said the celebration of the 2015 SBA National MSME Day is a clear demonstration of changing the Liberian story from destruction to transformation.
Min. Addy has described the MSME conference as a true investment of the country’s transformation story, adding: “Today we are celebrating the unsung drivers of our economy, our heroes who, day in and day out, dare to take a leap of faith and invest in our transformation story, one with a noble aspiration to achieve growth that is equitable and inclusive.”
“This event brings MSMEs, officials of government, multi-nationals, our friends and partners from the international community and members of the private sector to discuss how best to develop Liberia’s MSME sector and showcase the best Liberia has to offer. This year, I am particularly proud of the focus on youth innovations for economic empowerment and the launch of the E-Plus (E+) program and E+ first class,” he said.
Liberia’s Commerce Minister lauded USAID Liberia, the government of Japan, the World Bank Group, Lonestar Cell MTN, the Market Place, among others, whom he said are key partners in supporting the program.