Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 February 2020:
President Dr Julius Maada Bio, who is also the Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone (USL), yesterday urged thousands of young graduands of the university to become the entrepreneurs who will pioneer innovative local solutions that meet the needs of Sierra Leone and the world at large, and improve the competitiveness of the country.
Addressing the 2020 graduands at the National Stadium in Freetown, president Bio said: “We can roast locally grown Arabica coffee to various tastes and package and label those as organic products from the rainforests of Sierra Leone.
“When marketed accordingly, it will create a Brand Sierra Leone, contribute to GDP, create jobs, and create wealth for the entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone.
“Whatever efficient technologies you use, whether adaptive or disruptive, your objective is clear – create and pursue goals that others are not seeing or can see but have not taken advantage of,” he said.
But he said that for entrepreneurship to thrive, government must create a conducive entrepreneurial ecosystem that would increase participation in entrepreneurship.
“You see our economy, as it was constituted over the last decade and more, is characterised by low to no diversification, low productivity, mainly survivalist – ‘han-to-mot’ – petty trading or microcredit schemes, and a teeming surplus of labour in urban areas. There is also rural poverty.
“And all of this, as we sit on over 1.5 million hectares of fertile, arable land traversed by more than half a dozen rivers and with over 7 months of rain, a generous coastline and natural deep harbours to boot,” he said.
Putting on his political hat and mindful of the next general elections in 2023, the President told the students that he saw an opportunity in some of those concerns, adding that as they graduate he wants to challenge them to be bold entrepreneurs and to relieve themselves of the old and stale logic of – “the other party say the gron dry, so leh we vote for dem neks tem”.
“Adopt a new logic that says ‘I or we can develop a solution for adding value to agricultural products and market those locally and internationally’ or ‘We can develop solutions or products to cater for tourism, transportation, or other services’.
“I am gratified beyond all measure this morning because you are graduating at a time of great expectations from family, your community, and your nation,” he added.
President Bio further stated that this year’s graduation, which has as its theme: “Education toward Entrepreneurship,” especially resonates with his vision for the future of the country.
“The Vice-Chancellor, in his address, referenced the young entrepreneurship programme that will benefit from the NUFFIC Orange Knowledge Grant to the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture and the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. I implore university administrators and faculty to develop home-grown entrepreneurship training programmes too that will foster a culture of entrepreneurship among our tertiary education students.
“In that way, our students and graduates will see that there is a lot more wealth in establishing and running a viable business than in looking for or complaining about the lack of public sector jobs. Government recognises the value of entrepreneurship to national development. That recognition is embedded in the medium-term national development plan.
“We have set our sights broadly on creating an inclusive, diversified, and thus resilient economy with broad policy imperatives that favour scaled-up investments in agriculture and agro-value chain development, tourism, fisheries, renewable energy within a green economy among a huge compendium of other opportunities.
“We believe that we can make it easier for young entrepreneurs to breakthrough by opening up access to credit and expanding credit guarantee schemes, supporting infrastructure and capital development schemes, and guaranteeing innovative but low-interest financing products and loans that will support growth sectors.
“Of course, we now hear the refrain, – ‘Pappay, the gron dry,’ – from the teeming population of young persons in mainly urban areas of Sierra Leone. Graduates are not excluded. ‘All man dae ala say the gron dry.’ But what are you doing ‘for make the gron soak for you’ and for your community and nation?
“Global entrepreneur and my friend, Bill Gates, would say that ‘your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’ The phrase – ‘the gron dry’ – by young people has given me pause for thought especially on the great potential and limitless possibilities for young Sierra Leoneans in Sierra Leone.
“Thinking deeply about this, to me, is not about winning the next elections. To me, it is about how we permanently transform our nation for our own good,” president Bio concluded.
The Pro-Chancellor of USL, Professor Hector Morgan, said that in line with last year’s theme of “Restoration of Excellence,” they have been able to establish partnerships with other universities abroad for sharing and upgrading their materials and human resources, create a centre for technology innovation and entrepreneurship and a functional business centre outlet in each campus.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the USL, Brigadier General Professor Foday Sahr, said that the event was another graduation ceremony for the purpose of conferring academic awards to deserving graduands who had worked so hard over the years to achieve their dreams. He added that they are also celebrating with the graduands, their parents and loved ones for realising those remarkable achievements.