Cordaid, in partnership with USAID, and development agencies- Resolve and ReGrow, launched its third Resilient Business Development Programme in November last year, with a cohort of 33 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from all over Sierra Leone.
The RBDS programme is set up to improve SMEs’ financial, social and environmental business performance in challenging environments. Recognising that access to capital is a key bottleneck to growth, the 6-8 month programme of group training, individual coaching, expert meetings and peer consultations is geared towards making SMEs ‘investment ready’. The first RBDS pilot programme was held in 2015, with 15 SMEs. With a total amount approved of SLL 3.5 Billion for six SMEs from Cordaid’s investment arm - Cordaid CIMBV, its success led to a second programme also with 15 SMEs, which has just concluded.
With approximately 70% of Sierra Leone’s youth either underemployed or unemployed, impactful businesses, who can create a cycle of employment and growth are considered to be essential to Sierra Leone’s path to a resilient middle-income economy. The RBDS programmes recognise the importance of entrepreneurship as a catalyst for job creation and the socio-economic empowerment of young people, ultimately helping to reduce unemployment in fragile contexts such as Sierra Leone.
Entrepreneurs are also catalysts for innovation and can introduce different and creative solutions to social problems. This stimulation in innovation can bring about cultural change by showing that there can be profitable and impactful solutions to socio-economic problems.
Entrepreneurs and their businesses can also serve as apolitical agents in highly political contexts - or as the Harvard Business Review puts it –they are systempreneurs, bridging different groups and creating access across diverse lines. For example in Sierra Leone, a climate of entrepreneurship can serve as a unifying front between political parties and ideologies, inspiring the change mentality and ‘can-do’ attitude that is highly needed now.
As Mohamed Wurie, the Private Sector Development Manager at Cordaid states, “SMEs are key players in the private sector; they power the activities of larger firms, create employment and enable individuals to become empowered and contribute to society. Our RBDS programme aims to support this ecosystem by supporting these MSMEs to become resilient drivers of rebuilding post conflict economy and make them investment ready. History has shown in times of crises these SMEs continue to operate, unlike larger firms that may relocate due to risks- so it’s essential they get the necessary support required to help then gain structure, grow and realize their full potential.”
However, entrepreneurs need the capacity and the resources to expand. To foster the necessary climate of innovative thinking, the Cordaid RBDS programme provides entrepreneurs with coaching for access to finance and business support-services.
Key interventions for the Cordaid/Regrow RBDS Programme are as follows:
Impact training in management; operations, internal management and business planning, human resources, marketing, risk management, rule of law, supply chain and access to finance.
Technical advisory services from consultants on setting up plans and frameworks in management. Sometimes placing a professional in the business to increase the operational capacity of the business. SMEs also have one free choice consultant—in addition to the consultants hired by Cordaid - with whom they can work with on any identified weaknesses or opportunities.
Coaching services for all SME owners on planning, setting and reaching goals, resilience, and other key areas of management that are identified to have additional coaching needs.
Forums, seminars, and workshops that improve access to information, opportunities for linkages, and knowledge sharing amongst diverse participants in the private sector.
Business clinics which are fortnightly workshops followed by consultations between BDS providers and owners of small and growing businesses.
Pitch Nights Partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network and Insight. Monthly Pitch Nights give entrepreneurs a platform to practice their business pitches while connecting them with the mentors, advisers, and business experts they need to grow their businesses.
Entrepreneurs in the RBDS programme say they have seen improved processes and better business practices when judged against the baseline when they first entered the programme.
Pettima Alusine Sherriff, CEO and Owner of Big Things Poultry in Makeni, saw a significant improvement in his marketing and human resources operational systems. As part of the second Cohort of SMEs working with Cordaid, he had very little experience about best practices when it came to hiring staff before joining the RBDS programme. However, after attending several Cordaid training sessions as well as working with a Human Resources Consultant, the visibility of his business has improved and led to better hiring strategies.
The RBDS programme has also created new and improved channels for information and networking - which is critical to opening markets and strengthening a market based economy. RBDS seminars and public events have provided opportunities for increased sales, business partnerships, entrance to new markets, and new sales points. Mustapha Klah, owner of Sweeties of the Forest, a honey production company enrolled in Cohort 2 of the programme, has seen a significant increase in the visibility of his business, since he started attending the Doing Business Better Seminar Series. The seminar, which occurs every six weeks, is a platform for SMEs who are part of the Cordaid RBDS programme as well as other entrepreneurs and business experts to engage, learn and share knowledge about doing business in Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, The RBDS programme ensures that supported SMEs are on the path to becoming investment ready and can have access to better structured facilities that match their needs through Cordaid's Investment arm - Cordaid Investment Management BV (CIMBV). This is done through a thorough assessment of business potential for growth, potential for poverty alleviation and job creation, and commitment for the entrepreneur to basic values of business ethics, honesty and integrity. This is a unique approach to development aid, which complements grants-based development aid, by turning the beneficiaries into customers, and thereby maximizing social impact.
By providing resilient business support to entrepreneurs in a fragile context, Cordaid, in line with the Government of Sierra Leone’s economic goals, is ensuring that entrepreneurship and the private sector will help Sierra Leone move from a level of fragility to a middle-income economy by 2030.
“Private Sector Development approaches should be wider than just helping SMEs and creating linkages to increase sales. For Private Sector Development to be successful in Sierra Leone, we need to not only focus on scale but also on creating premium and unique products and services. This premium will help overcome the scaling challenges in small populations and open export markets. A focus on quality, uniqueness and national competitive advantages for goods and services will be the key success factor in employing this approach,” concludes Mohamed Sesay, Country Director -Cordaid.