In the first of a series on entrepreneurship and development, Sam Simmons, Restless Development’s Communications Manager, meets young people starting businesses in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of Ebola.
For some entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone, business is literally booming.
In a bustling market just outside of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, a young entrepreneur stands in front of enormous speakers stacked on the counter of his shop. Alusine, 23, runs what he describes as an electronics business, and blasts a playlist of Nigerian, American and Sierra Leoneon sounds to entice his customers.
‘They hear sweet songs playing’.
Alusine Kamara, 24, Waterloo, Sierra Leone
Before Ebola hit Sierra Leone in 2014, Restless worked with young entrepreneurs, training them in skills and providing them with start-up capital to set up businesses.
But the outbreak of Ebola disrupted business across the country.
Now entrepreneurs like Alusine are bouncing back.
Alusine had little experience of business before his training at Restless Development’s Business Development School.
‘I trained and there is [now] a great change in my life, a bigger change. Before I did not know how to develop a business on my own. I can now find a way to feed myself and my family.’
A jumble of wires, phones and computer hardware gives a clue about Alusine’s business, which primarily charges phones and batteries, sells music downloads, and provides other internet services.
The Business Development School, run in partnership with UNDP, trains young people in essential business and entrepreneurship skills, such as computer literacy, financial management and record keeping.
Record keeping was one of the most important lessons for Alusine. Before getting training and starting his own business, Alusine helped his mother run a sugar business. But poor record keeping meant bags of sugar were lost and outstanding payments from customers were missed. The business started to fail. The training Alusine received at BDS made sure the same mistakes didn’t happen in his new business.
‘[The training] is paying a huge dividend. It’s creating a big impact in my life. With the skills I’ve learned, I’m confident to manage any amount of money’
‘I had to shut down my business during Ebola. It had a huge negative impact, no one was coming [to the shop]’
‘Gradually my business is getting back to the position [it was in] before Ebola. I’ve had two customers since you came. The sort of business I’m doing has the potential to help rebuild the economy.’
‘I have huge ambitions. I want to go to university and read business management. I experienced a huge turnaround after going to BDS.’
Now, with the profit from his business, Alusine can pay for his university education.
‘One major role we [young people] have to play is how best to rally friends to be going to the BDS centre and accessing these [business] programmes’.
Mariatu, 26, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Mariatu lives in a sprawling slum in Freetown. It was a hot spot for Ebola and, speaking to its residents, it seems no one escaped the outbreak unscathed.
Before Ebola, Mariatu planned to enrol in nursing school, but she could not afford the fees.
Mariatu (centre in the blue) joined Restless’s Pull Slum Pan Pipl project – which means ‘Pull the Slum out of the People’. It organises women’s groups and teaches them about their rights and essential business skills such as saving. It also gives small grants to help women like Mariatu start their own businesses.
‘Restless Development taught me how to save. I benefitted from a grant and started making soap. I buy 16 pints of palm oil, 6 pints of water, soda and plastic bags. I pour the palm oil on top of the soda and then leave it to dry. That’s the African way.’
The soap, a white powder, is then packed into bags and sold to other residents.
‘From my business, I’m saving. I want to use the saving to enrol in nursing school. Once I have my qualifications, I will find a job in the hospital.’
Business can do more than make money. It can empower and give someone control of their life. And young entrepreneurs in communities across Sierra Leone are proving it.
Read more about young people we work with in Sierra Leone.