With a little help, businesses
thrive after Ebola

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In the bustling heart of Makeni’s market, in the north of Sierra Leone, business is picking up at Karim’s clothes shop.

“See the sign?” Karim says, pointing at his shop front. “It says, ‘the original AKK’. That’s me – the original Abdul Karim Kamarra.”

Karim started out selling clothes from a small market table. “But with the help of almighty God, and some training, I’ve got my own shop now,” he says.

Trade slumped during the Ebola crisis, as fear, curfews, checkpoints and other emergency actions kept buyers away. In 2015 alone, the national economy is expected to contract by 23 percent.

Highlights

  • The Ebola crisis has reversed economic gains in Sierra Leone. The national economy is expected to contract by 23 percent in 2015.
  • Through a three-year youth employment programme, five business development centres provide coaching in entrepreneurship.
  • More than 4,000 business owners have received training in key business skills like financial management, record-keeping and spreadsheets.
  • The project has helped more than 3,400 young entrepreneurs create business plans, develop market information and access start-up funds.
  • UNDP leads the UN’s support for recovery in the three countries hardest-hit by the Ebola crisis.

Yet through sound planning, Karim and many others in Sierra Leone are holding on to hard-won gains. “Business didn’t go the way we expected. It was difficult, but it’s getting a little better now,” he says.

Karim is one of over 4,000 business owners who received training in key business skills with support from UNDP. Through a three-year youth employment programme, five business development centres across the country provide coaching in financial management, record-keeping, spreadsheets and word-processing to young business owners.

Project experts have also helped more than 3,400 young entrepreneurs create business plans, develop information on their markets and access funds to get started.

“Now whenever I buy [stock] I take an inventory, and when I do sales I keep all the records,” Karim says. “I know from the book-keeping if my business is doing well or not.”

Alena Kallon runs the business development services centre in Makeni. She says many trainees, even those with years of experience, often lack proper record-keeping and computer skills. “Business and finance go side by side. If you don’t know how to manage your business properly it will fail,” she says.

Kallon says UNDP is helping to improve the odds for entrepreneurs in a difficult economic climate, by giving technical and financial support to make the business centres run. “They also give us training, I personally have been trained to help young people access finance,” she says.

Molla Alemu, UNDP’s youth employment programme manager for Sierra Leone, says “support like this boosts business and employment opportunities, helps get people back to work and ties in skills and education for longer term development.”

“The project also helps protect the environment,” he adds, “as remote communities are being trained to turn waste into sellable products.”

The project is set to grow as UNDP kicks off its action plan to boost Sierra Leone’s recovery from the Ebola crisis. Over the next three years, 25,000 young entrepreneurs from across the country will receive training, mentoring and support to access start-up funds.

“It’s vital we build on proven projects like this,” says David McLachlan-Karr, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Sierra Leone, “as the Ebola crisis has negatively impacted on thousands of livelihoods.”

“The men, women and children of this country have gone through a very dramatic economic downtown,” he says, adding that “the international community must stay with Sierra Leone as it works to finally stamp-out Ebola and bring about a full, robust and lasting recovery.”

The plan will strengthen the government’s capacity to coordinate the recovery and help the country to get to, and stay at, zero Ebola cases. It helps to address the huge socio-economic impact of the crisis and aims to build the resilience of hard-hit communities.  

UNDP leads the UN’s support for recovery in the three countries hardest-hit by the Ebola crisis: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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