MOCI Gears Up for Annual MSME Confab

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Commerce Minister Addy (center) and an international guest interact with an agripreneur at a past MSME conference in Monrovia.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) will on Saturday, November 25, launch the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) annual Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) conference in the Monrovia.

During the MSME week, the government of Liberia will offer US$20,000 in Prizes for ICT Exhibitors, E+ Business Plan Competition with US$100,000 in grants, which will be held at the Liberia Marketplace and Trade Fair in Monrovia.

The conference is the largest annual gathering of small businesses with the chance to exhibit their products to a larger audience.

The SME Week will commence with activities by GIZ and the tradition of the conference opening and closing by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.

The Liberian leaders will be accompanied by members from the Cabinet, members of the Legislature and the Judiciary.

According to MOCI, they will address Liberian entrepreneurs, business executives, local and international partners, members of the diplomatic corps, youths and a cross-section of stakeholders at the Liberian Marketplace, Nancy B. Doe Jorkpen Town Market, 8th Street Sinkor.

This year’s annual MSME Conference, according to authority from the Ministry of Commerce will be held under the theme “From Vision to Implementation, Buying Liberian, and Building Liberia” with a special focus on “Promoting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Liberia.”

Flashback: (L-r) President Sirleaf, Minister Addy and other government officials observe as ICT entrepreneur Caesar Morris leads a demonstration at the MSME conference in 2016.

Since its inception in 2013, the SBA MSME Conference has focused on different topics and allowed MSMEs to explore partnerships and receive financing to expand their operations.

The conference has facilitated over US$42 million in public procurement from SMEs in FY2015/2016 and led to several innovations, such as the Small Business Empowerment Act which created the Small Business Administration, the E+ project, the Lofa Women Weaving Center, and the Liberian Marketplace, funded through the Liberia Innovation Fund for Entrepreneurs (LIFE).

Each year the conference has had a specific focus. The last year’s conference centered around ‘Women Entrepreneurship’ and covered topics such as financing options available for MSMEs; the role of Government in support of MSMEs; challenges and opportunities faced by MSMEs today.

The theme for 2015 emphasized ‘Youth Innovation for Economic Empowerment’ and was a platform for young entrepreneurs to showcase their creativity and innovations at the Trade Fair.

This year’s emphasis is on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) and will showcase ICT professionals/innovators that have developed business solutions that can resolve challenges and transform businesses in Liberia.

This year’s conference will, again, be the annual flagship conference organized by the MOCI and provide opportunities for capacity building, product exhibition, networking with investors, partners and clients and business linkage events.

With the business competition, the conference also provides the chance for innovative Liberian ICT professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs to win US$20,000 prizes through a business competition in which applicants showcase their solutions that help solve community and business problems. Four prizes of US$5,000 each will be awarded in the following categories: Agribusiness, E-commerce, Education and eGovernment.

Besides showcasing ICT innovations, in partnership with Mercy Corps and the Embassy of Sweden, the second annual E+ Second Class Business Plan competition will be launched. E+ is a flagship program that selects, train and promotes ten entrepreneurs through a competitive process that results in grants of $100,000 to be shared among the winners of E+ to start their own businesses.

This year, the trade fair will also showcase other SMEs from all over Liberia. Like last year, all exhibitors will receive various trainings including IFC BusinessEdge training by BSC. The conference will climax with an event, including the Liberian Marketplace/Trade Fair and concert on Saturday on December 2nd, 2017 hosted by Orange Liberia.

The Annual MSME Conference is the flagship conference of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Small Business Administration (SBA) and takes place this year in collaboration with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication.

Hosting partners include Orange Liberia, Mercy Corps, Embassy of Sweden, USAID and the Government of Japan.

Sponsors include CEMENCO, the National Port Authority and supporting partners include K-3 Inc., the Business Start-up Center, Cookshop.biz, SMARTLiberia, Blue Crest University, HAK Technology, Albright Liberia, British Embassy, Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LIBTELCO) and Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC).

It may be recalled that, the MSME Conference was first launched in 2013 as a pillar of the Ministry of Commerce’s new administration, under the watchful eyes of Minister Axel M. Addy and the Senior Management Team.

The annual MSME conference was introduced as a core strategy for the implementation of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Policy, which was the country’s first National Policy on Poverty Alleviation and Wealth Creation for Liberian MSMEs.

The Policy was endorsed as critical to inclusive growth given that small businesses are at the heart of the country’s private sector. They make a significant but often unaccounted for contribution to Liberia’s economy; as such, there was every reason to devote public resources to strengthening small businesses in Liberia.

As the main source of income for 80% of Liberians, microenterprises are the cornerstone of family welfare in Liberia. Households with successful microenterprises that generate steady revenues are positioned to provide better health services, housing and education for their families.

Founded primarily by Liberians with the desire and potential to establish and grow their own businesses, small and medium enterprises are the emerging core of the domestic corporate private sector. If an enabling environment is provided for them, they will contribute substantially to national growth, job creation and exports.

The conference has become one of the main national platforms that address the four pillars of the 2011 MSME Policy including legal & regulatory reform, access to finance, access to market and Access to Capacity Building.

As such, the conference provides capacity building training for selected Liberian-owned businesses that produce for local and international consumption; crucial market linkages as international and local buyers express their needs to vendors and panels on access to finance in the form of ‘breakout sessions.’

Several policy statements that came out of discussions at the MSME Conference directly impacted Liberian SMEs. For example, the President issues Executive order #73, which was renewed during the 2015 Conference, under which SMEs in the agriculture sector benefit from tariff exemption on certain agricultural equipment.

Trade fair winners walk away with US$5000 each and many SMEs get connected to local and international financial institutions. Success stories of the Annual Conference have been told by participants of past conferences, such as SEGAL Security Firm, Efficient Logistics, Fabrar Rice, Falama INC, and J-Palm Liberia, only to state a few.

The competence of Liberian MSMEs to progress within the Liberian local markets depends on their ability to improve their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge in all aspects of commerce and trade.

Although the four pillars of the MSME Policy are critical challenges which form the basis of MSME development in Liberia, among them, building skills and knowledge are of particular significance and are a priority area for the Ministry. The Ministry’s willingness to propel and sustain private sector development requires the devotion of public resources in the generation of knowledge, fostering stability and sustaining growth.

This year’s Conference, as with the past ones, aims to address these issues by fostering new ideas, exhibiting new innovations and sharing knowledge of best business practices amongst ICT MSMEs.

David A. Yates contributed to this story.

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