Entrepreneurship and Accountability: The Perfect Partners for Liberia

The BSC and Accountability Lab office in Monrovia

The BSC and Accountability Lab office in Monrovia

By Briana Thompson, Accountability Fellow. One of my favorite economists, Abhijit Banerjee, presented an approach to economic growth at the 2008 Brookings Global Economy and Development Conference that’s fairly consistent with my beliefs: “maybe all that happens is that something goes right for once… and then that sparks growth… The best we can do in that world is to hold the fort till that initial spark arrives; make sure that there is not too much human misery, maintain the social equilibrium, try to make sure that there is enough human capital around to take advantage of the spark when it arrives. Social policy may be the best thing we can do for growth to happen.” In particular, fostering the innovation and competition that leads to economic growth in developing countries involves bolstering education, ensuring accountable systems and decision-making, providing social safety nets for entrepreneurs to fail, and encouraging business as a desirable career route.

The obstacles to doing business in Liberia are particularly formidable, as the fourteen-year civil war not only devastated the majority of the country’s physical infrastructure; it also destroyed the economic, social, and moral composition of the nation. About 80% of the working population garners a livelihood from the informal sector and the World Bank’s Doing Business 2013 “Ease of Doing Business” report ranks Liberia towards the bottom at 149 out of 185 countries globally. However, the Sirleaf Johnson administration has taken a number of measures to encourage formal sector business development. For example, the creation of the Liberia Business Registry, the National Investment Commission Act of 2010, and the first national MSME policy have been enacted to enhance entrepreneurship and business creation.

Unfortunately, Liberia’s education system remains vastly underdeveloped and fails to deliver the knowledge, skills, integrity and training for business creation, as we talked about previously through the Council on Foreign Relations here. Moreover Liberian development is thwarted by an apathy that borders on disdain towards business as a career trajectory. Starting an honest business is viewed as less profitable and more difficult than simply seeking out a sponsor and working ones way up the patronage system (See: “Cultural Attitudes” in this Liberian Ministry of Commerce and Industry MSME Policy Plan.)

This is where the focus on accountability is critical- to mobilize existing systems in more positive ways, and provide support for creative ideas at the intersection of accountability and entrepreneurship. The Liberian tradition of establishing and perpetuating patronage through familial and communal ties has resulted in an existing system of social networks across the country that could be exploited by young entrepreneurs as business contacts. Furthermore, organizations like the Business Startup Center (BSC) in Monrovia are working to spur both entrepreneurship and education to empower young Liberians to lead business development.

The Accountability Lab is partnering with the BSC and beginning to think about “accountapreneurship” in the Liberian context too. This involves identifying Liberians with creative ideas for accountability solutions, acting as a sounding board for those ideas, and providing catalytic financial, training and networking support. It is these kinds of approaches at the intersection of economics and social policy that will allow young people to spark the real transformation their country needs.

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About Accountability Lab

Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

One response to “Entrepreneurship and Accountability: The Perfect Partners for Liberia”

  1. John Weah Kamma says :

    Hi. Briana!

    I do appreciate efforts of the Accountabilitylab in Liberia and its partnership with the Business Startup Center in Monrovia (BSC) to identifying Liberians with creative ideas for accountability solutions. After fourteen years of civil war that saw not only physical infrastructure been destroyed but also affected the econmic, social and moral fabrics of the Liberian society, the venture to promote creativity is worth it and plead for donor support to the lab so as to serve as a catylysts wherefrom Liberians can potently drive to the kind of transformation that the country really needs. Without doubt, this kind of innetiative will create an environment where ideas can flourish as a result of networking which could give rise to many sparks in a positive way that underpin government development and security efforts. Thanks for the post and links.

    Best,

    John W. Kamma
    Executive Director
    Citizens Bureau for Development and Productivity/Liberia National Police

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