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Mohamed Salia, a young entrepreneur from Sierra Leone, participated The DO School’s Sustainable Cup Challenge in 2014.

Since then he has founded SEED, a non-profit organization that facilitates access to microloans for small businesses in the region. It also provides management services for rural women and young people living in mining communities.

We checked in with Mohamed to find out how his venture is progressing.

How is SEED doing at the moment?
Presently SEED is operating in the eastern and southern provinces of Sierra Leone. The organization is currently providing microloans to a total of 280 beneficiaries (250 women, 30 young people) with funds from the German government’s GIZ as well as through The Social Business Foundation and The DO School SEED Award. As a non-profit organization, our microloan scheme provides credit to beneficiaries at a low-interest rate. Each beneficiary receives the equivalent of 50 USD, to be paid at an interest rate of 5 percent for a period of five months.

What results have you been able to see so far?
The SEED microloan program is helping rural women increase their economic opportunities and gain control over their own finances, which in turn is providing them with new skills, information and organizational capacity (i.e. an expanded network of people). All of this is resulting in social and political empowerment. Women are now able to improve their status within their community. Together with other women, they are able to work jointly to promote increasing levels of gender equality.

Apart from our loan program, SEED is also providing training to communities to better equip them to negotiate with mining communities and push for the fulfillment of their corporate social responsibilities. SEED is providing trainings for community authorities in the area of environmental protection and land reclamation. We are also dividing these trainees into groups as environmental monitors so as to check up on the operations of mining companies.

What are some of the biggest challenges you presently face?
One of our biggest challenges is in the area of logistics. We find it difficult to access hard-to-reach communities, especially when it rains. SEED operates in one of Sierra Leone’s poorest districts (Bonthe District) which has a very poor road network. In order to overcome this challenge, our staff is using a single motorcycle and two bicycles to access over 30 rural communities.

Secondly, we are facing difficulties in funding the expansion of our loan program. SEED currently operates on a shoestring budget. At the same time the demand to join our loan program continues to grow beyond our expectations. As a result we have more beneficiaries on our waiting list for new loans. In order to solve this problem, we are currently recycling the loans from one group of beneficiaries to the other.

Finally, we face funding problems. There is currently no funding to cover SEED administrative costs. At the moment SEED funding is only intended to support loan beneficiaries. The program faces huge challenges in paying for costs such as office rent, communication, fuel etc. SEED is using interest from loans to partially solve this problem but this is mostly not enough.

What trends do you see in entrepreneurship in West Africa?
Entrepreneurship in itself is a new concept in most countries in West Africa. Young entrepreneurs in West Africa are gifted with entrepreneurial and creative skills as anybody else, but they have often been limited in their work due to a lack of access to training, startup capital, mentorship and an enabling economy. Fortunately young people in West Africa have started taking advantage of international entrepreneurship training opportunities offered by institutions such as DO School, StartingBloc, Echoing Green etc. They are coming back home and starting new businesses which are injecting more funds into the economy and changing lives for mostly vulnerable and marginalized people.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Putting a new idea into action and making it sustainable can take years and often involves failure. Never be afraid of failure. I have learnt that each time you fail, you are one step closer to success. Don’t hate failure, use it as a learning point.

How can the DO community support you?
SEED’s running/administrative costs include: the provision of a volunteer stipend in addition to paying for office rent and utilities, all of which is currently being paid for directly from the total interest earned from loans per annum. This amounts to 1,400 USD. Our annual running costs are however 2,040 USD. This shortfall in funds is creating a challenge for the smooth running of our project. This might mean, for example, that the project team might go without a stipend in a particular month. There are also times when it’s very challenging for us to pay our office rent because the interest is not enough to cover the total running cost.

In order to overcome this challenge, SEED is would like to invite anyone willing to support our work.

What are your future plans with SEED?
Small businesses in Africa are always faced the problem of securing loans from traditional banks or other financial institutions because they have no collateral to support their applications. In the next ten years SEED intends to establish rural community banks for small scale business that don’t have the collateral to secure loans from traditional banks.

To know more about SEED and support the project, please visit their website, facebook page, or contact Mohamed directly via email.

20 Mar 2018