The Minister of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), Axel M. Addy, said an innovative economy is a dynamic and attractive one, and showcasing progress on the Information Communication Technology (ICT) front can help Liberia to attract investment and promote micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) across the country.
Minister Addy made the assertion Thursday at the kickoff of this year’s MSME conference held at the Liberian Marketplace in Sinkor, which was graced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; United States Ambassador Christine Elder; John B. S. Davies, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI); Frederick B. Norkeh, Minister of Post and Telecommunications; Chief Executive Officer of Orange Liberia, Mamadou Coulibaly; as well as members of the National Legislature and innovative entrepreneurs of Liberia among others.
He called Liberian innovators, MSME stakeholders and policy-makers to embrace this year’s MSME conference to exchange ideas and share lessons learned, in order to derive innovative solutions and policy recommendations to ensure ICT’s full potential will be exploited.
“Through ICT innovation, MSMEs can combine growth with social impact, uplifting not only the economy, but also solving the social challenges our fellow Liberians may still face. Because of this inclusive growth it generates, ICT innovations hold a great promise for the future of our country and of our people,” Minister Addy said.
He observed that in order to fully seize this opportunity and continue to push the frontiers of technology, this year’s focus on “Promoting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Liberia” will highlight the vital role of innovation in our economy.
Minister Addy said the MSME conference is also intended for key stakeholders from the public and private sectors to meet to discuss the challenges the country still faces to fully play a role in the digital revolution and what policy-makers, business community and civil society organizations can do to encourage and facilitate innovation in Liberia.
“We all share a responsibility in exploiting these new opportunities and expanding our productive frontiers through innovation, in order to truly enable Liberia to take off. MSMEs need to adapt innovative solutions for their business development. Policy measures and public programs must encourage ICT usage and innovation by fostering a conducive business environment,” he added.
He said “To create a middle-income Liberia, both grand and small innovations are necessary. This conference is not only the opportunity to proudly present cutting-edge innovations, but also to prove that innovation is accessible to all. Marginal adaptations of technology to everyday products can profoundly impact our routines.”
Minister Addy said this year again, “Our Entrepreneur-Plus (“E+”) program, a two-year business incubation program awarding US$100,000 in seed funding to reward the most promising young entrepreneurs, will take place in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden and Mercy Corps. We are also hosting a business innovation pitch competition to award prizes worth US$20,000 to ICT innovators.”
Minister Addy said Vice President, Amb. Joseph N. Boakai will reward the best innovators on Saturday, as everyone enjoys a day of shopping and music at the concert organised by Orange.
He said “From international marketing strategies to streamlining daily processes, inventory tracking, e-payments and cashless transactions, ICT is already present in many aspects of our MSMEs lives. But seeing that the sector already represents 7% of Africa’s jobs, and that 12% of the world’s cross-border trade in goods happens through e-commerce, it becomes evident that while digital innovations have impacted everyday life in Liberia, much of the revolution’s potential remains untapped.”
Christine Elder, United States Ambassador to Liberia, said while the conference focuses on ICT, entrepreneurship is only partly driven by technology, stating “Entrepreneurship involves having a vision and taking risks.”
According to her, technology can help entrepreneurs to be more efficient and successful, whether working in a market stall, storefront or from the kitchen table, describing info technology and this year’s location as excellent choices for the conference.
She said a modern ICT sector has the potential to contribute to Liberia’s progress from increased economic growth to improved agricultural productivity and enhanced access to education and health.
“The United States applauds Liberia for committing to develop a robust ICT sector and for acknowledging the central role this can play in strengthening the country’s economy and development, adding “The United States remains committed to help Liberia achieve this goal.”
In addition, Madam Elder said the United States provides support for e-government and digital financial systems that can bring financial service to Liberians currently not being served by the formal banking sector. “We are also providing technical assistance on policies to help Liberia develop the regulatory and policy environment to grow its ICT sector.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she was impressed with the level of contribution made to the sector MSME by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), and its partners which has impacted the sector largely.
“The present of entrepreneurs here today and our partners demonstrate the gains being made and will continue to contribute to the development of the sector. I am proud to see our market women speaking and demanding of what they want,” she said.
Keynote speakers Mlen-Too Wesley and Charles D. Cooper, founders of Cookshop.biz, called on Liberian innovators to partner in order to make progress within the sector.
“Liberia needs more ICT innovators and working together as innovators will greatly help in achieving such a milestone. Liberia can make serious progress within this sector when everyone comes together and continue to build collaboration,” they noted. They said Liberia will achieve more within the ICT sector if innovators can see partnership as key to the general development of Liberia.