The phenomenal growth of the informal economy during the past three decades poses a major challenge for the decent work agenda. The development of skills and knowledge is undeniably a major instrument for promoting decent work in the informal economy. People who work in the informal sector mostly have limited access to formal education; profiles in terms of the years spent in education suggest quite low levels of training (Fluitman 1989; Lautier 2000).
Eighty six percent of Sierra Leone’s workforce are in the informal sector, mostly engaged in petty trading and agriculture. In a recent UNCDF project with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation, the mapping of Sierra Leone’s digital and entrepreneur ecosystem revealed that 70 percent of entrepreneurs interviewed were doing business only for survival, that is to take care of themselves and their families. Very few businesses cited business growth as part of their plans for starting a business. Reasons include lack of business development skill training, lack of financial and digital literacy and limited access to finance. Over 50 percent of entrepreneurs interviewed cited access to and availability of affordable finance as the main challenge to the growth of their businesses. For 65 percent of the businesses, the major source of start-up capital was their personal savings. Other common sources are loans and gift from family and friends.
In the quest to address the challenges and encourage business growth among entrepreneurs, UNDP and UNCDF partnered with the Institute of Development and Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) in a “Capacity building for entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone” project aimed at empowering entrepreneurs especially women. The joint SDG funded project aims at improving economic opportunities for entrepreneurs through trainings and access to affordable financial services and products. The project contributes to SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 5 (Gender equality) and SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities).
Initiated in September 2021, the project will support 10,000 beneficiaries from four districts in Sierra Leone by June 2022. Some of the entrepreneurs were selected among the beneficiaries of the Programme “Safety Net for Women Traders Programme” implemented by UNDP in collaboration with the Mano River Union and, the Women Cross Border Traders’ Union. Other beneficiaries in the country’s capital, Freetown were selected with recommendation from the Women Traders Association of Freetown.
The trainings are targeted mostly at women groups and associations in selected market centers and communities. To date over 5000 entrepreneurs mostly women have benefited from the training. Five hundred of the entrepreneurs have also been identified for coaching and mentorship aimed at closing the gaps identified with the entrepreneurs during the general training. The training includes record keeping, savings, setting and achieving goals, business planning and risk management. In addition, trainees are linked to financial services providers after they have been taken through financial and digital literacy sessions so they can access credit to grow their businesses.
During the project implementation period, businesses of beneficiaries will be monitored and evaluated to assess the level of growth and progress after the training, coaching and mentorship and linkage to financial service providers. Stay tuned to read more on this project and how these women entrepreneurs were able to make use of their new skills.