The role of SMEs in reversing the trend of unemployment in Sierra Leone through Social Enterprises and Corporate Social Responsibility
By Jamil Jaward - June 2019
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates 212 million people will be unemployed by 2019. Reversing this ugly trend will require not only the efforts of the government but the private sector, especially SMEs. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) recognises that SMEs are critical to economic development role, noting that SMEs account for 90 percent of the world’s enterprises, translating to 50 to 60 percent of employment. However, in Sierra Leone, SMEs find it difficult to effectively play their role. Lack of access to cheap finance, poor infrastructure, high taxes, and poor economic conditions all diminishes SMEs contribution to the national output.
Nevertheless, a number of private organisations and individuals are rising to the challenge under difficult economic conditions to provide the necessary conditions and skills training for disadvantaged populations in Sierra Leone. One such example is the Founder and CEO of AFRiLOSOPHY Isata Kabia, whose foundation The Afrilosophy Foundation, creates learning opportunities for disadvantaged rural populations in Sierra Leone, especially amongst women, for the sole purpose of making them self employed or employable.
AFRiLOSOPHY is a Social Impact Enterprise that specialises in the manufacturing of health and beauty products mainly from natural and organic ingredients grown and processed in Sierra Leone and the sub region. Using these local materials, the company enhances them to meet international standards, but at affordable prices. The company operates a manufacturing centre staffed by Afrilosophy Foundation’s training program.
The foundation’s mission is to create learning opportunities for disadvantaged rural populations in Sierra Leone, especially amongst women, with the goal of creating more business owners, better employment chances, and better business managers through their skills and financial management training. Through the Rural Enterprise Development Initiative (REDi), they provide the necessary technical and financial skills training to rural women and girls to better prepare them to establish and manage their own businesses successfully.
To get a well-rounded view on this commendable initiative, Hidden Voices Salone conducted and interview with the company’s CEO and Founder Isata Kabia and here is what she had to say.
Are you broadcasting these programs across multiple channels and do you analyse feedback from key stakeholders? So far, it is been local, through our radios but the launching of the centre was covered nationally on 2017.
How do you use these feedbacks? We interact with those who are directly impacted: the trainees and the feedback is that they want more of it so we are now trying to build networks for sustainability.
How many people would you say the program has helped since it started? 150 Women trained on financial management, about 100 on skills training. The impact is on those families, and that’s an encouraging number.
Of that figure what percentage gained employment elsewhere, what percentage gained employment with Afrilosophy, and what percentage became self-employed? 150 Women own their own businesses. They were able to grow their businesses as well as the financial management at home to ensure they school, feed and manage their families’ health through the loans and savings scheme.
Looking at these figures would you say you are encouraged, or do you feel there is much more to be done? I am very encouraged and there is more to be done. And we are not trying to do everything. Part of publicizing our work, and the need to do so is to inspire others to do the same. So for me scaling up does not mean I am doing it all, it involves inspiring others to do the same so we can have more impact on our communities.
In terms of effectiveness, do you think your social impact model with a school construction CSR program is tenable in the long run or will partnering with a large organisation’s CSR
scheme provide more effectiveness? Our social impact model includes training for jobs and business ownership. Our foundation builds schools. And collaborating with larger corporations can only bring faster results; our job is to bring attention to the problem.
While teaming up with large companies isn’t a silver bullet, what do you think will create meaningful impact for an effective social enterprise and CSR program, collaborating with more businesses or better government engagement? I see CSR as a private sector initiative towards positive community impact. I believe government has their own role.
Finally, has the social enterprise business model increased your brand recognition and do you think it is enough to keep your business afloat for years to come? We want to be more than afloat. We want to take our African brand to the rest of Africa, starting with our West African sub region. Our model has also created jobs in Ghana where we buy some of our raw materials; we have created opportunities in Sierra Leone we buy locally extracted lemon grass oil instead of importing it. We have produced shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion for three hotels in Sierra Leone. If we are to produce these guest items for all the hotels in Sierra Leone we can create 100 jobs, and build as many schools. If we were buying these items and importing them we would only employ 2 or 3 people. We are socially responsible, but we are not a charity. Our sustainability is crucial so our business and financial model is sound and we are determined to grow organically. We will do more than stay afloat because we know that many lives can thrive through this enterprise. We are determined to do well and grow with our communities.