My father started my awareness of Forbes Magazine. It was one of several business publications he subsribed to in order to maintain his base of knowledge on world business trends, knowledge from which he hoped to extract information on new and current business approaches on the African continent. This also included magazines such as “West Africa”, “African Business Times”, and several other foreign magazines who’s subscription prices were prohibitive, but were avaliable at DeLaurers news stand in Downtown Oakland. Very rarely would these magazines however, contain specific information about Dad’s country of expertise, the Republic of Liberia. At that particular time, Liberia was in the midst of years of Civil War and upheaval, a descent that was both rapid and long lasting, and took the country from one of the worlds fastest growing economies to one of the worlds lowliest. With this history in mind, it is hard to express how shocked and delighted I was to find President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on the cover of this months Forbes magazine, joining international luminaries such as Muhammed Yunus, Bono, and Bill Gates. The theme of the article was Entreprenuers ability to lead efforts to reduce extreme poverty in the devloping world. Knowing Liberia, this thinking is particularly fascinating.
The old Liberia, was both relentlesly capitalistic, and intractably politicized. Over his many years in Liberia, Dad launched many entreprenuerial ventures, but most were hampered because his religion precluded his involvement in politics. J. Gus Liebnow’s classic and essential book on the Liberian political system, “Liberia: The Evolution of Privelege”, documented how Liberian Entreprenuers independent of the True Whig Party political system faced a tough road in the old Republic. The governement was commited to a slow pace of societel change that prioritized the stability of the ruling class as it’s primary goal, with development lagging second. They sought development, but not in a manner that would empower opposition to the establishment.
The tearing down of the old power structure has left the nation in a unique position, which Forbes documents. The old capitalistic orientation remains, in a country that relies heavily on foreign direct investment, concession agreements, and foreign expertise in order to develop it’s resources, the “Open Door Policy” of President Tubman remains. Liberia was never one of those African states that went in for communist redistribution. However, in the vaccum of skills, services, there is perhaps an oppurtunity for Entreprenuers that did not exist in the old Liberia.
This past summer, Liberia recieved the benefits of being the focus of Forbes Magazine’s second annual Forbes 400 summit on philanthropy, a gathering of 150 billionaires and near billionaires. In October of 2013 year, many of these well heeled individuals took up a three day mission to Liberia in order to survey Liberian business efforts, assist entreprenuers, and leave programs in place to aid entreprenuers in reconstructing the nation.
Several interesting businesses operating in Liberia were featured, and assisted by panels of some of the top entreprenuers in the world. The article mentioned entreprenuer Scott Gilmore, who’s company Building Markets maintains a database on local businesses that connects them to investors. He was advised to go beyond merley compiling information and beginning to bankroll businesses. The suggestion ended in Gilmore actually deciding to partner to launch a $50 to $70 million fund to fund investors, with Building Markets serving as both consultant/go between and investment bank.
The article also featured an entreprenuer by the name of Chid Liberty, a young Liberian in the clothing manufacturing business. Some companies advised him to specialize in designing unique clothes as well as producing them for American companies, while others encouraged him to simply work on attracting more business to manufacture foreign designs. As an example of some of the difficulties in Liberia at this time, Liberty’s production operations in Ghana are successful, while he’s had to shut his Liberian factory down for a year while he plots a way forward, but he was able to secure over $1m investment.
One of the most promising and useful projects in the article, was Raj Panjabi’s “Last Mile Health.” Panjabi is a Liberian doctor, based in the United States, and a faculty member of Harvard U. He’s developed an innovative and severly needed local health initiative, designed at providing health services in the interior, which the Liberian government has struggled to do ever since it’s inception. His program trains people to serve as front line health workers in remote villages and pays them a living wage as well as performance based incentives. To demonstrate how Entreprenuers can do things politicians can’t, President Sirleaf was unaware of the program. He was advised to use mobile technology to bypass the logistical issues inherent to the situation. Panjabi has developed a plan to reach over 150,000 patients at a cost of $10m. This plan has garnerd both the support of the Liberian government as well as attention from the UN. “The Forbes summit put Liberia on the map in a big way”, Panjabi said, and his usage of the phrase “on the map”, was all I needed to know he was a Liberian for true.
For Liberians and friends of Liberia, Forbes December issue is a good outside/worldwide story about efforts to uplift our country. The most immediate positives are the focusing of world attention toward Liberia’s efforts to rebuild herself, invluding the valuable and lifesaving resources being attracted to the country by people such as Dr. Raj Panjabi. The other thing to take note of is the entreprenurial, do for self spirit Liberians continue to display in these rough, frontier like days, in effect, a rebirth or refounding of the nation. All Liberians must accept in some form or fashion at this time, the call to build, or help build, SOMETHING. As Forbes demonstrates, the world is watching, and willing to help, and move past aid into the realms of economic trade.