Entrepreneurship and Accountability: The Perfect Partners for Liberia
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.