Mrs. Eyvonne Harding-Bright, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sharks Entertainment Incorporated, a Liberian-owned business, will today deliver the keynote address at the opening of the 2016 Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) conference, organized by the Small Business Administration (SBA) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in Monrovia.
The conference, according to Commerce Minister Axel Addy, will address over 500 business people, local and international partners, youths and a cross-section of people, among them officials of the Ministry and partners.
Today’s conference will be held under the theme, “From Vision to Implementation, Buying Liberian, Building Liberia,” with special focus on “Promoting Women Entrepreneurship for Economic Empowerment.”
Ministry Addy spoke yesterday at the Jorkpen Town Market in Sinkor where the Ministry has renovated for the new Liberian Marketplace to showcase Liberian products.
Until her selection as keynote speaker for today’s program, Harding has been in the vanguard to uphold an embattled “Liberianization Policy,” which assigns 16 specific businesses to Liberians and protects them from foreign competition.
She believes that over the past decades, the policy aims in part to create an exclusive space in the private sector for certain business categories to be owned by Liberians and enable them to thrive without competitive interference from foreign-owned businesses, which she said has been violated.
Among the 16 business categories that the Liberianization Policy declares should be owned and operated exclusively by Liberians, one key business – local production of ice cream – has had some foreign business people up in arms for the right to play.
Harding is CEO of Shark’s Ice Cream and Catering, the largest producer of ice cream in Liberia, located on the James Spriggs Airfield road on the edge of Sinkor. Shark’s has established outlets in central Monrovia and other parts of the city. However, efforts to have Shark’s Ice Cream sold at supermarkets have been undermined by biased placement of her product in favor of imported alternatives.
Harding and others did win the support of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) in defending the exclusive right of Liberians to locally produce ice cream, but in some cases, where foreign players took great risks to invest in local production with the hope of securing leniency to operate, has hampered the fight.
As for today’s program, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will officially open the MOCI and Small Business Administration flagship 2016 Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) conference.
The President, according to Minister Addy, will address over 500 businesspeople and executives, including international partners.
Since its inception in 2013, the SBA through the MSME conference has focused on different topics and allowed SMEs to explore partnerships to get financing to expand their operations.
The conference, Addy said, has facilitated over US$1 million of investments in SMEs with several new innovations such as the Liberia Innovation Fund for Entrepreneurs and the Liberian marketplace.
“Each year,” Minister Addy said, “the conference has had a specific focus, where the theme emphasized youth innovation for economic empowerment as a vehicle for youth participation in economic development and showcased their creativity and innovations at the trade fair.”
The upcoming conference will highlight all 100 SMEs that exhibit in the fair, who will receive international finance corporation (IFC) business edge training and a one-year tax clearance to facilitate contracts.
“In 2015, youth innovation was the topic under discussion where the President renewed Executive Order #64 under which SMEs in the agriculture sector benefited from tariff exemption on certain agricultural equipment to spur growth in the sector,” he added.
This year’s conference will be an annual capacity building conference, networking and business linkage event aimed at providing a forum for Liberian women entrepreneurs to participate in a comprehensive way.
This year’s conference will also showcase the Rubberwood Furniture Hall where carpenters, especially young female carpenters’ innovations will be showcased with awards for best innovations.
Today’s standard trade fair will also showcase 100 SMEs from all over Liberia.
The conference will be climaxed with a sumptuous awards dinner on Friday, November 18, graced by the presence of Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.