Hilary Clinton, the 2016 presidential rival of Donald Trump and onetime U. S. Secretary of State once said, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”. Clinton’s assertion is a sad truth. Women all over the world have continuously battled inequality and illiteracy. Although some counties are doing remarkably well to balance gender disparity, the ratio of women to men in the employment sector is a disgraceful challenge.
In Liberia, the percentile of women in the legislature has never exceeded 15% since the county’s formation over a century three scores and ten, while the average participation of women in the cabinet and other government institutions is experiencing a drastic free fall. A recent LISGIS Report shows that more males of 77.0 percent are literate as compared to females of 54.0 percent. With all of these, women remain the major drivers of the local market in Liberia with a whopping 80% active participation.
Although women play a major role in turning Liberia’s economic wheels, tremendous efforts have not been made to enhance their entrepreneurial dexterities. For this reason, many women abandon the market and end up with men who physically assault them on a daily basis, while a privileged few experience market growth. Most of these women live in slum communities and serve as the bread winners of their families- they send their children to schools, pay house rents, and provide the daily meal for their homes. For them, business is the only route for survival in Liberia’s challenging economy.
But what can we do to address this situation and ensure that Liberia produce productive women entrepreneurs within the next 5 to 10 years? This puzzle does not only rest on the shoulders of the government but the private sector as well.
Recognizing the growing need to improve the business sector and enhance the entrepreneurial dexterities of women in Liberia, Youth Crime Watch of Liberia with partnership from Peace Child International, created the Be Change Academy with the sole purpose of nourishing illiterate women with basic entrepreneurial skills and creating a Friendly Avenue that will guide them in making smart decisions for the future.
Established in 2004 with the mandate of towering grassroots’ participation in leadership and peace building activities in Liberia, Youth Crime Watch of Liberia’s Be The Change Academy program has trained over 3,194 illiterate women since 2013. The program which is sponsored by Norad seeks to train 1440 illiterate women in Liberia by the end 2018. The first cohort which is expected to graduate 330 illiterate women from five local communities in Paynesville will be followed by the second cohort to be conducted in Sanoyea Bong County and Paynesville, Montserrado County.
The program primarily target illiterate women from local communities, these women are nurtured in informal gatherings: creating a space for them to keep focused and collaborate with one another. Trainers conduct trainings through interactive sessions with the aide of tools- a descriptive poster innovative designed to print pictures in the trainees’ mind while helping them to relate to happening in their local markets.
Figure 2: Mr. Kwaih conducting BTCA’s business management training in Garza community.
“At the beginning of the training, the trainers found difficulties in understanding the model. The model is tailored in a way that it helps to create picture in the trainees mind and enable them to think as well,” Haja one of the BTCA trainers said.
“The topics we covered were market research, business plan, budgeting, profiteering and loss. These interactive lectures guided the trainees to understand the importance of laws, culture, competition and environment before starting a business as well as budgeting, marketing and profiteering techniques to improve their businesses. At the end of the six weeks training, the trainees recognized their pitfalls and clearly understood the significance business management.”
For his part, Mr. Kamara, program manager of Youth Crime Watch of Liberia said 1500 business plans have been written since the inception of the program. Mr. Kamara said that Youth Crime Watch of Liberia has worked with both the ministries of education and youth and sports in enhancing their technical and vocational programs. “We have conducted trainings in three counties: Sayonea Bong County, Paynesville, Monsterrado counties and Buchana, Grand Bassa. The second phase of the business management training is expected to complete 30-35% of this year’s target”, Mr. Kamara continued.
In addition to the training, Youth Crime Watch of Liberia negotiates loan opportunities for its beneficiaries. The organization is currently negotiating with financial institutions to solicit loans for its graduates.
Darlyn Quaye, a resident of VOA community and beneficiary of the BTCA program said that the training was helpful in a lot of ways and appreciated the organization for such an amazing initiative. “We learned in a friendly environment that united and connected us with the lecture”. She said. Ms. Quaye who is owner of a soup making factory catalogued the lessons learned during the training and said she is thinking about opening a beauty salon. “Due to the lack of boutique in our community, many women walk long distances and to fix their hair”, Ms. Quaye. “I am going to use my business and beautician skills to run the salon”. She stressed.
Certainly, Hilary Clinton was right, for too long we have neglected the untapped reservoir of talents in women, especially those illiterate and below the poverty line. The Liberian government needs to invest in the BTCA program and similar programs crafted at empowering women with basic management skills to improve their lives and expand their businesses.