Wednesday, 17th April 2013, 18:00 local time: Arrival at the airport in Freetown. Add to it 5 more hours for taxi, waiting, the slowest ferry ride I have seen in my life and another taxi, that’s the time I arrived in downtown Freetown, Sierra Leone. But even though transport and a whole lot of other things are just running slow here, the Business Booster Project started off very fast with a whole bunch of interesting meetings.
After the civil war, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world. 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, the economy is poorly diversified, infrastructure underdeveloped and the education system is weak.
On the other hand, you have vast natural resources, fertile soils, entrepreneurial spirit and an enormous young population, uncountable NGOs, donors and other programs.
It is the latter set of attributes the Business Booster project wants to build on, bearing in mind the difficulties and challenges that exist. Consequently, the first step towards a sustainable approach is an assessment of the country: Which programs exist? Who are the key players? Who can support or add on to our approach? What are the challenges and success factors, lessons learned and peculiarities of this country?
The first week could provide me with the first answers. The business booster approach found broad appeal amongst stakeholders from NGO’s, government and youth organizations, and almost all institutions contacted expressed their interest in meeting me and sharing their information. I learned a lot about the Smallholder Commercialization Scheme, Agricultural Business Centers, Business Development and Entrepreneur Support and the characteristics of Salones’ Agricultural Sector. But I will come to that later.