Liberians Who Wish to Become Entrepreneurs, Come Forth, Seize Elumelu’s Offer

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We are today calling on all Liberians, between the ages of 16 and 40, who want to start their own businesses, to come forward. To do what? To apply to the Entrepreneurship Program of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). The TEF has pledged to train you in realizing your ambition to start and grow your own businesses.

Our Business Reporter David Yates, who wrote the story about this challenge in Monday’s edition, said the aim of the Program is to enhance and materialize Tony Emelelu’s philosophy and vision of africapitalism, aimed at “positioning Africa’s private sector and most importantly entrepreneurs as the catalyst for the socioeconomic development of the African continent.”

But first, let us explain what an entrepreneur is. An entrepreneur is one who, according to the wealthy Nigerian business tycoon, Tony Elumelu, “wishes to grow his own business in order to realize his ambition and vision. We are,” Mr. Elumelu continued, “showing what the African private sector can achieve, how hard work and enterprise can catalyze real, sustainable development.” Mr. Elumelu is a major investor in United Bank Africa (UBA).

Reporter Yates also quoted TEF Chief Executive Officer Parminder Vir Obe as saying, “The program will continue to surpass the expectations of entrepreneurs and its success is palpable (real, profound).”

The TEF journey, she said, “begins when you make the decision to complete the application. We are seeking real entrepreneurs, people who can take risk and reap rewards, not just for themselves, but their communities and countries.”

Reporter Yates named three successful entrepreneurs who have successfully gone through the program. One is a Gambian, Mass Taal, who turned his US$5,000 seed capital into US$1.2 million in revenues.

Another is Tanzania’s Bukhary Kibonajoro, who used the TEF mentorship to create within a year 34 new jobs in education and training for over 100 new local businesses.

A third successful entrepreneur is Chioma Okonu, whose waste management business has created ancillary revenue for over 6,000 households, creating 40 jobs and a US$50,000 profit.

The Daily Observer is today calling on Liberians between the ages of 16 and 40 to apply to the TEF Entrepreneurial Training Program for fellowships to enter its mentoring program. You may apply by using the website www.tonyelumelufoundation.org/teep/faqs. We at this newspaper have long been calling on our people, Liberians, to plunge into business by choosing a business sector, be it a grocery shop, a building materials store, an agricultural enterprise such as poultry and eggs or a vegetable or flower garden, or whatever. Plunge out into the deep, take a risk and start a business of your own, no matter how young you may be.

We need, at this time, to tell you how the Daily Observer newspaper got started. When Kenneth & Mae Gene Best resigned their jobs in Nairobi, Kenya, he from the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and she from a philanthropic organization, they returned home with the aim of starting Liberia’s first independent daily newspaper.

The couple had no money, except for US$4,000, which was all they had been able to save after working six and a half years in Kenya. That was the seed money we used to start the newspaper. We were also able to convince a few Liberians to take shares in the business, valued at US$10 per share, with shareholders averaging US$75 to US$150. We were also able to obtain a loan from the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), which was approved on October 30, 1980.

The newspaper was launched on February 16, 1981. But it was scarcely six weeks before we ran into serious trouble with Justice Minister Chea Cheapoo who, angry at a story we had carried on him, threatened to hunt down the newspaper publisher, Mr. Best, and shoot him! The
Minister also deported three of the staff back to Ghana and Nigeria, demanded that the newspaper, an entirely new business, cough up US$3,000 to pay fines he had levied against the three deportees and also to pay their transport fares back home. Three months later, in June
1981, the military junta shut down the newspaper, arrested Mr. Best, Mrs. Best and several of their staff, including three other female employees, and imprisoned them; the men in the Post Stockade and the women at the CID cell.

The newspaper suffered three more closures, in August 1983, January 1984 and January 1985, this time for nearly two years.

But that was not all. In 1987 President Doe, who though having been elected President was still behaving like a military dictator, ordered his Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, who was also Chair of the board of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), to cut the Observer’s electricity!

In addition to all this, three times the government attempted to burn the newspaper’s office. At the third attempt, they burnt the building to the ground, and we lost everything!

By that time the war was on and Mr. Best and family were in The Gambia trying to establish another newspaper, which they did successfully—until the new military head of state Yaya Jammeh, deported Mr. Best in August 1994.

But despite all of these trials and tribulations, the Daily Observer was able to maintain a staff of 40 full time staff and employed over 400 newspaper vendors, most of whom paid their own way through night school and many built their own houses and supported their families.

The Daily Observer management was also able to pay back its LBDI loan.

We wish to assure all young entrepreneurs that you will NOT suffer the same fate as befell the Daily Observer. The political and business climate has dramatically and positively changed; and we have and will continue to have for the foreseeable future, a democratic and a very business-friendly government.

So we urge our young people to go forward and apply to the TEF, become entrepreneurs and create your own businesses. One day you will succeed, become your own boss, and be able to employ others and make a constructive and meaningful contribution to national development.

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