The Public Affairs Officer at the United States Embassy in Liberia, Paul Hinshaw, said that if Liberian youths are to be stakeholders and stimulate positive change in Liberia’s development, they must not only be engaged, but also integrated into the economic and civil society fabric of the country.
Mr. Hinshaw spoke recently at a program marking the launch of Youth Entrepreneurship Training for 100 emerging youth entrepreneurs in Kakata, Margibi County.
He said that it is vital for Liberian youths to be empowered to seize opportunities available to them, and to turn ideas into actions, and actions into income.
According to Hinshaw, encouraging entrepreneurship and facilitating an expanding, inclusive economy are two cornerstones of much of the Embassy’s work in Liberia, adding that the Youth Entrepreneurship Training being implemented by Better Future Foundation (BFF), a partner of the of the US Embassy, underpins this goal.
Quoting a 2012 Labor Market Assessment conducted by the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Hinshaw said the informal sector of Liberia’s economy is a significant source of employment opportunity for youths.
He said youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security.
Also quoting the United Nations Population Fund, Mr. Hinshaw added that young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million, and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 percent.
“The young people,” he said, “must feel that their active, positive participation in civil society and in the economy are paying dividends and that a stable, economically expanding Liberia is in their best interest.”
He said one way of engaging youths to make them stakeholders is through entrepreneurship, adding, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Speaking to an audience that included senior government officials and members of the business community, Mr. Hinshaw said “Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates when he was 21 years old, and Steve Jobs was at the same age when he founded Apple, a renowned
US computer conglomerate.”
“But even closer to Liberia, examples abound. I was looking at a list from Forbes Magazine naming the top 30 entrepreneurs from Africa under 30 years of age. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya dominate the listings, which include everything from tech companies to fruit processing centers. However, there is not a single Liberian young entrepreneur among this standout crowd. Now, I have only been in Liberia less than four months, but already met some impressive entrepreneurs. One has founded a clothing line and has already shown her collection in Paris; another has founded a snack company and produces banana chips with the hope of expanding her production capabilities this year. Then there is the company which makes fair-trade-certified clothing and handbags for American retailers, provides work and education opportunities for Liberian women, and invests in community development efforts here.
“I want to add someone’s name from the group of participants here today to the list of successful youths when we talk about entrepreneurs in Liberia. That’s why I am pleased today to be here to inaugurate this first entrepreneurship workshop for Liberian youths to help them develop product ideas and business plans to help (them) gain more education and secure employment.”
In his statement, the President Pro-Temp of the Liberian Senate, Armah Z. Jallah, applauded the training program and called on the youth to make good use of the knowledge gained from the training through service to their communities, the state and the larger society.
Senator Jallah indicated that the future of the country lies in the hands of the youth, and as such, they must be educationally prepared to effectively meet future challenges.
Also making remarks, Margibi County Senator, Oscar Cooper, who is an accomplished Liberian business entrepreneur, lauded the United States government, through its Embassy in Monrovia, for sponsoring the series of entrepreneurship training programs by BFF.
Senator Cooper expressed delight with the significance of entrepreneurship training in the reconstruction of Liberia, saying, “Before I became a politician and Senator, I was an entrepreneur. And I can attest to the joy of being your own boss, an independent thinker, and especially the joy of empowering others, and the immense benefits of entrepreneurship.”
For his part, the founder and president of Better Future Foundation (BFF), Augustine Arkoi, said the training, which catered to 100 young, emerging Liberian entrepreneurs, was aimed at sharpening the skills of Liberian youth in leadership and entrepreneurship, including how to start and sustain small business enterprises.
According to Arkoi, the training was also geared towards making young Liberians develop economic literacy and freedom, career opportunities and income, promotion of learning opportunities for at-risk-youth and inspire them to seek higher education as well as development of networking skills, which would enable them to identify linkages for business advancement.
An American business development specialist, Juan P. Casimiro, who is also founder and chairman of the famous Casimiro Global Foundation, an international youth development organization that provides college scholarships, global exchange internships and social ventures in marginalized communities in developing nations, served as lead facilitator for the training.
Throughout his extensive career, and under his leadership, Casimiro has been actively engaged in creating and delivering effective entrepreneurship, financial literacy, sustainability and empowerment programs for youths and adults throughout the USA, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Arkoi said.
The latest training marked the third in a series of youth entrepreneurship and empowerment training programs implemented in Liberia by BFF, with sponsorship provided by the United States government through its Embassy in Monrovia.
Other personalities who participated in the training include Margibi County Superintendent, John Z. Buway; Bomi County Superintendent, Samuel Brown; Ganta City Mayor, Emmanuel Paye; Saclapea City Mayor, Wallace Yeedoun; and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Bomi County Head of Field Office, Mrs. Frances Alesi – all of whom underscored the importance of youth capacity-building and education for the consolidation and sustainability of peace in Liberia.
A similar training was also held in Monrovia, Montserrado County, Ganta and Saclapea in Nimba County, and Tubmanburg, Bomi County.