Saluting Sierra Leone Women Entrepreneurs

March 8th was International Women’s Day.  Here’s a story about two Sierra Leone women entrepreneurs starting up small businesses in Freetown.  These are women we should recognize and salute for taking the risks of starting a small business from scratch. And for helping build the middle class in Sierra Leone from the ground up.   The story is from Politico Sierra Leone.

Main street in Freetown where small traders line the streets outside traditional businesses.

Main street in Freetown where small traders line the streets outside traditional businesses.

We’ve seen a surge in small entrepreneurs here in the US with the economic downturn. If you can’t find a job, well, create your own and start a small business.  In Sierra Leone, lack of paid jobs in business and government is the norm.  What’s new is women stepping out to be the ones starting their own business and creating the jobs.  Paid jobs; not market traders and farmers in the informal economy.

But here’s the kind of  things they have to struggle with.  When I hear these stories, I’m once again counting my own blessings.

Mariatu Jusu started the Leleima Women Development Association (LEWODA) to process and package agricultural products like juice, jam, and yoghurt.  They now have 20 employees.  Finding capital to start a business is the problem in any country.  In Sierra Leone, banks won’t give loans to small businesses like this.  If you could get one, commercial bank lending rates are 22 – 28%.  Private money lenders people are forced to use charge are even more.  The water supply in Freetown is so unreliable, LEWONDA has to buy water from porters who hand carry to them so they can operate.

Gladys England started a juice bar and restaurant in Freetown with $4000 she saved.  The business has grown to $50,000 and employs 13 people.  I’ll leave the math on wages to your estimate.  This is a country where Le 200,000 per month is a going minimum wage.  Sounds like a lot, but this is not quite $50.

Electricity is so eratic in Freetown (if your neighborhood has it), Gladys is forced to use a generator to run her restaurant.   Most people don’t realize that Freetown is still largely a dark city in the year 2014.  It runs on an alternative energy source, otherwise known as generators.  Fuel for the generator eats away at Gladys’ earnings to the tune of about $30 a day.  $30 A DAY.  I just spent a lot less than this heat my house in one of the coldest months on record. Imagine what Gladys’ profits would look like without this huge drain on earnings.

Read the whole Politico Sierra Leone story.  It’s most interesting. And then salute Mariatu and Gladys, and the rest of the women in Sierra Leone slugging it out as new entrepreneurs.