A Call to Business first came to Sierra Leone in 2006. At that time UN sanctions and roadblocks were in place, following the eleven year conflict that had torn the country apart at almost every level. The capital, Freetown was thrown into darkness every night, with no power to generate lighting and the country was vying with Malawi for the dubious distinction of being the poorest nation on the globe. Great strides have taken place since that time, with successive democratically elected governments moving the country forward.
Business has a key role to play in alleviating poverty and social ills, particularly when blended with Christian principles and values.
A Call to Business Trading Ltd was established to begin to work out the belief that business has a key role to play in alleviating poverty and social ills, particularly when blended with Christian principles and values. The strategy we have used has included:
The trading company is now the second largest microfinance operation in Sierra Leone, with over 8000 clients receiving loans through six regional offices. There is a strong component of mentoring alongside the loans, with many clients growing in confidence and expertise and seeing their businesses grow, some even moving into the SME space.
As well as microfinance A Call to Business has evolved its commercial operation to encompass a wide set of business activities and a rural community development programme. Joe Abass Bangura, Chief Executive Officer of the ACTB Group who oversees all aspects of these operations sums it up:
We believe that growing high quality, ethical, people-focussed and profitable businesses has a key role to play in alleviating poverty and the inevitable social problems that comes along with it. We focus therefore on growing businesses that build our nation and leave a legacy that makes our communities better than we met them.
C2B Print & Publishing Ltd started operation in September 2013 to provide a full line of offset printing services to the Sierra Leone market. Products include full colour printing of magazines, corporate identity stationery packages, brochures, annual reports, calendars, posters, flyers etc.
Committed to delivering the highest quality printing at competitive pricing, the business maintains an array of top quality Heidelberg presses which are of precision German engineering. The team of professional operators have combined experience of more than 15 years in the industry with local and international expertise.
Clientele to date includes Africell, Zenith Bank, First International Bank, Eco Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and Access Bank, as well as many other organisations and individuals.
The Life-by-Design Multimedia Production is an all-purpose video production house with enormous capacity in scripting, shooting, editing and producing TV shows, promotional videos and short films. In addition, the LBD Multimedia Production designs and implements communication strategy, public relations and public education media campaigns. These services are marketed to individuals and organisations. Follow Life by Design on Facebook.
The Life by Design Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is a nest for nurturing entrepreneurial ideas, seeking to support entrepreneurs’ creative innovations. Staffed by business development professionals with vast experience in the industry, the Centre provides services to individuals and organisations to enhance excellence and performance, including:
While Sierra Leoneans themselves are strongly innovative and entrepreneurial people, opportunities to develop these skills into effective businesses are lacking. The Centre aims to see many more people equipped to fulfil their potential, particularly
All operations in Sierra Leone are overseen by Joe Abass Bangura, Chief Executive Officer, with David Kamara, a highly qualified and respected expert in the field of microfinance the Managing Director of that company.
Alongside the business activities is a community development project based in a rural area some 26 miles from Freetown.
Microfinance is the provision of financial services, primarily but not exclusively loans, to poor communities and individuals. These are usually regarded as unattractive risks for mainstream financial institutions, meaning those people therefore struggle to get access to capital to build small businesses which are a key building block of any economy.
A Call to Business Trading grew from a seed of two $1,500 loans to two individuals who were asked to multiply and steward that money. When we first visited Sierra Leone we discovered that man "ate" (stole) the money, while the second met us with 10 others who had shared the benefits of that loan. This good stewardship became the building block on which the microfinance company was established.
Building a microfinance operation in post conflict Sierra Leone was never going to be straightforward, and even for a team with a record of 'getting things done' in developing nations, it was an important education. We embarked on this journey because the need was clear to us. Whole communities were denied access to the capital, the training and the support needed to run any type of enterprise. They were simply too big a risk for the banks and even the existing local microfinance institutions, yet the demand was overwhelming.
There have been challenges along the way. We have addressed the issues of fraud and bad debt that attend the growth of a business in one of the poorest countries in the world. As a result we have created more robust business practices, a more resilient operational model and a stronger management team.
Undaunted, the business was set up in 2008 and began to grow, in the course of six years becoming the second largest microfinance in the country, with over 8000 clients receiving loans via one of six regional offices. The business is headed up by David Kamara, who ensures that it continues to adhere to the original principles of the charity, his team going to great lengths to ensure that clients are provided with more than just the capital they require. Regular training sessions are held to equip them with the skills to run a business and regular meetings/seminars allow the exchange of ideas and news.
There have been challenges along the way. We have addressed the issues of fraud and bad debt that attend the growth of a business in one of the poorest countries in the world. As a result we have created more robust business practices, a more resilient operational model and a stronger management team
The demand for microfinance in Sierra Leone far exceeds the supply of capital and the key for David is to maintain the quality of the loan book against a background of almost exponential growth. Loans are invariably short term (six months or less) with a good payment record allowing clients to repeat the cycle and qualify for higher amounts. The business is now looking to expand its product range.
Further fundraising and the deployment of USD 1 million of capital was planned for early 2015 to sustain continued growth and ACTBT is well positioned to become the premier microfinance organisation in Sierra Leone.
The Ebola crisis severely hit Sierra Leone on many fronts. In addition to the devastating loss of life, the virus has caused enormous damage to West African economies, draining budgetary resources and slashing economic growth. Efforts to contain the epidemic are creating an economic slowdown and the fear of contagion has driven both government and private organisations to close businesses, transportation infrastructure, and critical air and sea links.
An estimated 30% of the Sierra Leone microfinance market had been temporarily suspended. A Call to Business Trading kept all its offices open, helping to keep the Sierra Leonean economy moving by facilitating essential business loans with mentoring and business skills advice, even maintaining profitability. Further fundraising and the deployment of USD 1 million of capital was planned for early 2015 to sustain continued growth and ACTB is well positioned to become the premier microfinance organisation in Sierra Leone.
If you are interested to know more about investing please contact Marjie Sutton
Yama Samura is a fishmonger with about 20 years’ experience, and has been a client of the microfinance business for the past few years. Over the past 12 months she has been managing two fishing boats for other people, as well as continuing to run her fish business in the busy Waterloo market.
This additional experience was a vital key in finally achieving her dream.
Yama’s long-term dream has been to own her own fishing boat, and with the help and encouragement of the ACTB team she has steadily continued towards this goal. This additional experience was a vital key in finally achieving her dream, as her loan officer and the team at Head Office agreed that she was now well able to take on this new challenge and expansion.
The picture shows Yama receiving her 50-foot fishing boat with outboard motor and fishing nets from the team from Head Office – Joe Abass Bangura, David Kamara and Prince Kandoh. The boat, named by Yama “A call to business, a call to shine”, will provide employment for at least five people.
From our first visit in 2007 two strands of philanthropic engagement emerged, which have become part of a major community development initiative.
A donation was given to A Call to Business to build a school, which led to partnership with Emmaus, an organisation working in Rogbere Village, a rural area some 26 miles out of Freetown where a 63-acre site had been purchased from the local community to set up skills training programmes. The Rogbere School of Excellence (Junior Secondary) was built and opened in September 2010. Today there are some 300 students, around 200 of them boarding. The school is run by EducAid, a UK charity providing high quality education and achieving great results.
The school and orphanage are key ingredients in the Rogbere programme, the vision of which is to create a self-sustaining centre providing education, health care, vocational training and enterprise.
The second strand was with an orphanage for physically and/or mentally handicapped children. As our financial support grew along with the relationship, it became clear that the house was far from ideal in either size or location. Another donation enabled the building of a new purpose-built home for the children on the Rogbere Site. The Ro-Seleneh Home (House of Hope) was officially opened in September 2013, and is now home to 40 beautiful children and young people, providing a stable and secure environment where they can be helped to achieve their full potential. For some this will be into an independent lifestyle in the mainstream of life. However, there are some children who will need support and care throughout their lives – something as yet barely available in Sierra Leone.
The school and orphanage are key ingredients in the Rogbere programme, the vision of which is to create a self-sustaining centre providing education, health care, vocational training and enterprise. In addition to the school and children’s home, this will be by means of:
The intention is that all activities in Rogbere will ultimately be supported by the businesses established there, together with the main businesses in Freetown. In the meantime, if you would like to help, particularly with support for the orphanage and school, follow this link.
Over the past few years a number of volunteers have travelled to Sierra Leone to work with the team there, staying from a few weeks to several months. For many, these have been life-changing experiences, and the opportunity to give much-needed additional support for the emerging businesses and development work in-country.
For more information about internships contact Marjie Sutton