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Speech by Dr. Sylivia Blyden at IAMTECH event

26 January 2016 at 10:53 | 3391 views

Developing Entrepreneurship as a means of Proseprity, Development and Youth Empowerment in Sierra Leone.

Keynote Address Delivered by Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden at launch of Students Entrepreneurship Programme (SEP) on IAMTECH Campus in Freetown,Saturday 16th January 2016.

I want to thank organisers of this programme for inviting me again to this eminent college campus for us to launch a programme which aims to empower youths to gain the skills they need to be among the next generation of Sierra Leone entrepreneurs.
But first, what really is an entrepreneur?

There are various definitions but all agree that an entrepreneur is one who first has a vision to start an innovative business and despite great risks involved, goes on to successfully use initiative to execute that vision into a profitable business that normally will benefit the entrepreneur and community.

These young Sierra Leoneans seated here today hope to be soon joining a long line of eminent trail blazing Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs from the likes of Sir Ernest Morgan who established a small entrepreneurship in Blama, Kenema and built it into the biggest indigenous pharmaceutical enterprise to the likes of Mama Princess Eccles James who established a produce business that spanned from Kailahun and Kono right into Guinea.

The list of Sierra Leone entrepreneurs is rich and includes one who sadly we just lost in the person of Vincent Kanu, the entrepreneur hotelier who with his execution of his vision of building a high-star hotel in a formerly ’sleepy’ Makeni, almost single-handedly converted Makeni into a city capable of hosting international conferences.

Right here where we are all seated is another prime example of the power of a visionary entrepreneur: Prof. Paul Kamara and his wife, Dr. Paula Kamara, who conceptualised and brought to reality this IAMTECH educational campus where we are all gathered.

Today, with efforts of Masterpeace SL and funding from the Dutch foreign ministry through the MIGRATION DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANTS, we are here to launch the STUDENTS ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAMME AT IAMTECH. This is an educational programme to be delivered by IAMTECH and which is organised by the NETWORK UNIVERSITY in HOLLAND that will grant certification to the graduating successful students after a period of 9 months training delivered through IAMTECH. There are full scholarship awardees plus other students who will self-fund themselves.

Today, we start a process to have mostly very young people to receive knowledge and skills in becoming entrepreneurs.
Among the SEP objectives are:

- To address the problem of youth unemployment

- To instill in young people the culture of entrepreneurship through training, counselling and business clinics

- To create links and partnerships for young start-ups and potential investors locally, nationally and internationally.

- To create a forum for business competition and other socio economic activities.

In my view, all the above objectives will enhance the increased participation of Sierra Leone youths in the formal business sector and uplift them away from the informal business sector. With adequate book-keeping and structured administrative systems, the end result will make our youths-led businesses to be more viable as entities that can attract grants and loans to make them more prosperous than they would have been within the informal, non-registered sector.

Such objectives of this programme perfectly fit into our country’s national agenda known as the AGENDA FOR PROSPERITY (AfP) This our national agenda aims to not only have its citizens live safe, healthy and productive lives but places emphasis on prospering its citizens and most importantly, on empowering its youths and reducing the vice of unemployment.

Let me use this chance as one who shares the vision of Sierra Leone’s AfP to call on the Dutch Foreign Ministry, the International Organisation for Migration, MasterPeace Foundation and all local and international entities supporting similar programmes to not only continue but to see great importance in promoting such a combination of Education and Commercial Business.

What we are launching today will not only empower the young people gathered here today but it will also make them develop the ability to prosper, which is the over-arching desire of the AfP. Over a period of nine months, successful students will attend classes in structured business related modules prepared and delivered jointly by NETWORK UNIVERSITY and IAMTECH.

In the first three months they will grasp the basics of book-keeping, business management and administration, risks analysis, basic taxation and similar subjects related to entrepreneurship.

In the second phase of another three months, the classes will continue but in this second segment, all students will now have to register a business enterprise; if they had not already done so. The programme will ensure the students can use the speedy national business registration facilities now available under this government. I reiterate my call for more support to this programme especially in area of financing the cost of registration of businesses of these students.

By the third phase which is the last three months, all registered businesses of students will be enhanced with a scaling up of the business through providing support and opportunity exploration. One such opportunity will be the provision of products manufactured in Holland that students will be given upfront on credit at a heavily discounted price. Their businesses will then get a chance to sell these products at realistic prices and the huge profits are kept by the students while the cost price is paid back to the programme. The cost price income will then become the means of empowering the continuation of the programme - with the next set of graduating students being able to benefit from the cycle.

Naturally, this involves a high level of Trust and Integrity which are amongst the key aspects I will highlight at end of my statement.

Now, I have myself been blessed to be a pioneer in this country, opening enterprises that were thought as impossible. I had a vision that my country could operate a 24 hours non-stop Internet Business Center. I had that vision as a student in America. I had graduated as a medical doctor in Sierra Leone and went to USA to take the United States Medical Licensing.

I was enrolled at KAPLAN college in Washington DC which had computers available for students during the day time. However, back at my apartment, I was just a poor African student who had no personal computer to call my own and so, in the night, I used to go to other university college library computers to browse the internet and do my homework but I could not use their printers as I was not enrolled on their campuses and only their students with ID Cards could use their printing facilities.

One night, I had to urgently print out my homework and by then, the KAPLAN COLLEGE libraries were closed. I went to a popular business center known as KINKOS in downtown which was operated 24 hours a day. As I paid to use their computers and print my work, I saw how full the place was even at that hour of 2am in morning and realised KINKOS was making good money.

I visualised that I could one day open a similar 24 hours business center back in Sierra Leone. That was in the very early part of the year 1998. I kept my vision in my head and 5 years later in the year 2003, I did what many thought was an impossibility!

In the midst of the potent blackouts and very shameful non-provision of electricity supply by the former SLPP Government, I not only opened a 24 hours non-stop Internet Business Center in Lumley, West of Freetown, that was fully electrified with generators, but within two years, I opened a second 24 hours Internet Business Center in the heart of the capital city. Recalling my days as a student in America, I instituted free night time browsing for anyone who could produce evidence that the person was a student or pupil. This is how I empowered many young people who today all still call me ’MUMMY’ because their first contact with thrills of computers and Internet was at my Internet Cafes where ’Mummy Blyden’ showed them how to empower themselves.

Today, you have some critical writers who will spend a huge amount of time on the Internet making a caricature of everyone in politics from the President downwards but you will never see them attack me. The reason is simple. I was the mother-figure during their ’internet formative years’ so today, despite their placement in international organisations like Commonwealth or AU or ECOWAS and though many are now Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, etc., uptill today, I am just their ’Mummy’.

One such person has today turned out to be the Country Director of MasterPeace Sierra Leone, Ambassador Charles Boye Jnr. I am very proud of the work that he does both locally and internationally. He is today world-recognised as one of the ’YOUNG NELSONS’ of Africa meaning he embodies the qualities of late Nelson Mandela. He has had several international publications featuring him. Ambassador Boye is why I am here today. I could not turn him down. He is evidence of how my entrepreneurship has benefitted my community.

I am also a newspaper entrepreneur who owns the influential AWARENESS TIMES NEWSPAPER and my entrepreneurship has seen many remote parts of this country equate the word ’newspaper’ with AWARENESS TIMES. That is how effective my foray into the newspaper business has been. Due to personal bereavement and other restructuring reasons, my newspaper has been closed for many weeks now but will soon re-open. It is not a boast but a truism that as soon as it re-opens, it will resume its place amongst the most valued opinion makers and trusted news sources in the country. The reason why it was the highest and fastest selling newspaper in the country is simple. It was built out of diligent entrepreneurship.

I also have my other little known entrepreneurship programmes wherein I empower others to be co-partners with me in their charcoal business or palmoil business or fishing boat business and other such trading activity. Many a time, I meet up with dishonest people who steal from me in our ’gentleman’s agreement’ but such has never dissuaded me from continuing to empower those whom I can afford to help become entrepreneurs. That is why I am so thrilled today to be launching this programme that can only produce good.

Let me now give some advise to you students.

Community Development
If you are an entrepreneur, you should be able to ensure your business can develop your community and not just yourself and your family. If you are an entrepreneur making lots of money but you do not use your skills and your profits to help your community, then you are a failed citizen. You might be a successful entrepreneur but a failed citizen. Patriotism must be a hallmark of your trading.

Obey the laws of the land
No matter how tempted you might be to bypass paying your government dues such as Income Tax, make it a policy to always avoid succumbing to such temptations. A good entrepreneur is a good citizen. A good citizen pays his taxes and obeys all the laws of the land.

Using the media
You should be able to use the media to advertise and promote yourself. Without telling the world about your business and what you have to offer, you will lose a chunk of potential customers. So flaunt your wares and push your products using the media. I hereby stand ready to assist with any way in which you might need my assistance. In that vein, I want to make a promise to the lady entrepreneur who spoke earlier about her yogurt and cupcake business at Jui junction on the road leading from the capital city. My newspaper has been closed for several weeks now but will re-open shortly. Your product and location will be regularly featured free of charge in my newspaper henceforth. Mark my words that you will notice the dramatic difference in your sales. This is the power of the media.

Integrity elicits trust
A good entrepreneur has to focus on key aspects of not only business development but good character development. If you are an entrepreneur but you have a bad character then you are really destined to eventually fail. This world is one where you can only reap what you sow. No matter how long it takes, if you reap from what you did not sow, KARMA or what we call HAKEH in the local parlance, will hunt you down. You will rise and rise in business and get glory but your ending will be sad and disgraceful. Why? Because you reaped what you did not sow. There can be no two ways about it. If you make a profit out of another man’s labour and if you defraud another person to build up your business, you are going to eventually fail in not only your business but you will fail in life. I repeat: YOU ARE GOING TO EVENTUALLY FAIL IN LIFE. The temptations to be a crooked entrepreneur will come your way but if you stand firm, you can overcome them.

Believe in God
No matter how impossible your dream might be, believe in it. If you can conceptualise it, you can bring it to pass through the power of Prayer. Whether you are a Muslim or a Christian or Hindu or Buddhist, reach out to God; bend down your knees and ask him to empower you to turn your vision into reality. Believe that God will do it for you and the impossible can become the possible. That has always been my anchor in this life. My belief that the God I serve will make the impossible into the possible in my life. This has never failed me and I have blazed many paths as I turned the Impossible into the Possible. However, if you walk in the dark and in the paths of evil, you cannot expect the light of God to shine through to you. Keep yourself spiritually clean and trust in your God. He will make your dream come true. Just pray and believe! You can do it. If I can do it over and over again, then YOU can also do it.

On that note, allow me to thank you all for your kind attention so far. May God bless us all and may God bless your endeavours now and in the future. Amen.