By Robert M. Sammie
According to Goivana E. Rayes, development is a social condition within a nation, in which the authentic needs of its population are satisfied by the rational and sustainable use of natural resources and systems. Liberia is naturally endowed with beautiful beaches, rainforest, iron ore, timber, diamond, gold, rubber, etc. It is the oldest republic on the continent of Africa, 170 years old. The population is very youthful, 65% is below 35.
But sadly, it is abjectly a very poor country. It ranks 177th in the UNDP Human Development Index. The average years of schooling is put at 9.9; $683 as Gross National Income (GNI) per capital; vulnerable unemployment is rated at 78.7%; and 89% are working poor people (UNDP, 2016). The question is, do we lack the rationality to sustainably use our natural resources and systems to develop our country as Goivana Rayes has tasked? Well, answers to this question will vary, but one thing remains agreeable, that the living conditions of the people are unbearable, and that there is a need for intervention with considerable level of exigency.
Therefore, my effort at this piece of manuscript is to ardently endeavor and advance some modest rationales that we can use to tap into our natural resources and systems to provide sustainable means of dealing with youth development and unemployment. I will focus on how we can leverage on linking agriculture, tourism and entertainment industries to youth empowerment through entrepreneurship development in Liberia.
Entrepreneurship and Youth Development
Everywhere across the country, there are potential young Liberians who are looking beyond the horizon for any blink of opportunity for self-actualization. In recent years in Liberia, many young people see government as an easy target for job opportunity. Unfortunately this concept only blots social and economic development that leave vast majority of young people unachieved, simply because government has never been and can never be the biggest source of job creation, but rather create enabling environment for the private sector, which is the biggest source for employment, to thrive. Notwithstanding, we need to strike a balance between young people seeing government as a source of employment and government’s failure to place more emphasis on entrepreneur development, something this government has cosmetically and feebly attempted at.
Obviously, many of you might have read about the Micro, Small, Medium Entrepreneurs (MSMEs) program as well as the Liberia Innovative Fund for Entrepreneurs (LIFE), introduced in the late 2011 at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry by government. The SMEs was intended to coordinate and stimulate the participation of young Liberian entrepreneurs with the private sector for inclusive growth, while the LIFE program was meant for youth empowerment and to encourage innovation that would create and encourage more Liberian entrepreneurs’ involvement in the Liberian economy.
With no intent to discount government achievements in this direction, comparatively, I must say that much is left to desire in terms of achievement under these programs. We are yet to see young Liberian entrepreneurs who are made from this initiative as living testimonies to inspire others.
These are brilliant ideas that have helped in developing other countries such as Japan and Botswana. In Botswana, for example, there is a national development program that puts aside special funding, called ‘Youth Development Fund’ to encourage innovation and creativity in certain sectors such as tourism, entertainment, agriculture, etc. It is being implemented by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. They set the standards for accessing the funds and goals to achieve in terms of development in said sectors. Since Independence in 1966, Botswana has over a period of time created young entrepreneurs who are major actors in their booming economy. Botswana’s GDP per capita is $18,825 and has a population of 2.2 million with 83% literacy rate.
Why then is the Liberian scenario so different? Here are a few important reasons why these programs have not been assertive to impact the people that need empowerment most to bring about the needed economic and development stimulant in post-conflict Liberia. Firstly, the program is misplaced. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry should not have been the lead government agency on these programs, especially the LIFE program that is meant to motivate innovation and youth entrepreneurship development.
It would rather have been the Ministry of Youth and Sports that is directly responsible for youth development since the focus of the program is youth empowerment and young Liberian entrepreneur development. Second, the programs were poorly publicized, not many people are informed about these processes and the procedures leading to accessing the program were are not readily available to the public.
Third, this program does not have direct link with any business college, including the business college at the University of Liberia that is supposed to breed entrepreneurs through innovative and creative thinking. Fourth, the policy paper guiding this program did not categorize the targeted youth the program intended to empower. The categorization of targeted beneficiaries would well inform policy decision and strategies for successful implementation of the programs.
With that said, before delving any further, it is appropriate to give you a fair appreciation of some characterization of young people we are dealing with under this subject matter that we had expected the supra programs to have considered. We have youth of five categories, including those we consider: (1) youth of formal academics: those who have graduated from high school or college or are in college; (2) youth with skills: those who have graduated from trade or skill training schools or are in trade or skill training schools or those with some kind of natural talents; (3) youth without skills: those who are school dropouts with no visible show of any natural talent; (4) youth in subsistence farming: for the most part, these are youth in rural communities involved with low-skilled agriculture activities; and (5) Risky youth: wayward youth.
Considering that these are imaginary categorizations, there are no existing statistical data references, except for their ages, which fall between 15-35 years, that constitute more than half of the population. In other words, the focus of job creation and empowerment must be directed at these people in order to propel Liberia to its destiny of inclusive sustainable development and rapid economic growth. If these programs were more focused with definite direction and synergies with relevant institutions, it would have brought about maximum productivity aimed at developing young Liberian entrepreneurs to actively participate in the Liberian economy.
Take for example, if the SME program is linked to the Business and Agriculture Colleges at various universities and other colleges of various disciplines to encourage innovative business thesis projects that would be supported and transformed into real time business establishment; in no time this concept would format a new dynamic to cultivate the culture of innovative and creative thinking which would lay basic foundations for entrepreneur development, where students graduating from colleges with distinct business thesis project/plan would have access to finance to implement such plans that could create jobs and provide employment opportunities even for other young Liberians.
Linking Youth Development to Tourism, Entertainment and Agriculture
However, all is not lost, the basics are there and the expertise in grasp. With the coming into power of a new government that should have a masses’ agenda, we are but more hopeful for an immediate twist to redirect these programs to their original objectives to create more Liberian entrepreneurs and provide employment and job opportunities for the youthful generation.
As I earlier said, the prime objective of this paper is not to criticize but to ardently endeavor and advance some modest rationales that we can use to tap into our natural resources and systems to provide sustainable means of dealing with youth development and unemployment. To keep to this promise, I would like to consider three untapped sectors of our economy: tourism, entertainment and agriculture.
Tourism across the globe is a multi-billion dollar industry that many countries like Botswana and Tanzania have depended on to diversify their economies. Take Tanzania for instance, in 2014 alone, tourism generated about 25% of foreign exchange earnings and contributed 17% percent to Tanzania’s GDP; just imagine an economy of 47.43 billion USD. The tourism sector directly employs around 600,000 people and up to 2 million people indirectly in Tanzania (Tanzaniainvest.com).
To be cont’d…
About the author: Robert M. Sammie is a development practitioner who is passionate about Liberian Youth Entrepreneurship development and has worked to improve active youth participation in the Liberian economy. He holds a certificate in radio broadcast and public relations, a certificate in computer operation proficiency, BA in Sociology, a Master candidate of Peace and Development Studies at the University of Liberia and a Master Degree Study of Public Administration at UNICAF University, Zambia.