The United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom along with a U.S. Department of State and USAID Liberia delegation Thursday, 19 June visited USAID Liberia’s Investing for Business Expansion Program (IBEX). Madam Higginbottom and delegation met with local IBEX/IESC staff and 10 Liberian women entrepreneurs. The meeting afforded her an opportunity to hear the women’s stories and learn about what’s happening in Liberia and understand what opportunities and challenges are so as to see how best U.S. development assistance and resources provided through USAID-funded programs like IBEX can be improved and enhanced.
“A big team is investing in Africa,” Madam Higginbottom said, “And a big component of it is how do we really move forwad on our initiatives like Power Africa; drive forward development, increase investment in various places, and what are the obstacles to growth,” she added. The women entrepreneurs who are engaged in various types of business such as food processing, general merchandise trade, manufacturing, solar energy supply, business and life-skills development, shared their experiences in doing business in Liberia. They cited the lack of finance to either import or procure equipment locally to increase production, high tariffs and interest rates, short term loan repayment schedules and commercial banks’ unwillingness to lend to MSMEs, as being among their key challenges. They, however, spoke of IBEX’s continued support through its financial services to them such as technical assistance and capacity building that have significantly helped and continue to help them overcome some obstacles that prevent them from achieving their business goals. According to them, there are good business prospects and many market opportunities. They thanked USAID for its continued support to IBEX and appealed for more funding for the program to their benefit.
Earlier, IBEX Chief of Party, Mrs. Watchen Harris Bruce formally welcomed Madam Higginbottom and delegation. Mrs. Bruce gave a brief project overview. She informed the U.S. delegation that over the last year IBEX assisted Liberian SMEs obtain loans valued at $608,000. IBEX works with SMEs operating in seven sectors: Agribusiness, Clean Energy, General Merchandise Trade, Construction, Infrastructure, Transportation/Logistics and Hospitality. Mrs. Bruce appealed for more support from the USAID to assist IBEX and business development partners in setting up a National Business Development and Advisory Center that will continue providing SMEs financial services after the project ends and a Liberian SME Fund to capitalize Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) for on-lending to MSMEs. “We can do all of the trainings and capacity building, but if the people cannot have flexible, below market financing to help them demonstrate that they are bankable or investment ready they will not be able to access commercial credit,” Mrs. Bruce pointed out. At the end of the meeting, Madam Higginbottom and delegation were afforded the opportunity to view and sample the women’s locally-produced products displayed, including Liberian aromatic coffee, cocoa, coconut and plantain chips, liquid soap, sheer butter cream and African dolls.