Few months ago, in May 2012, I spent a couple of weeks in Liberia, exploring some of the possibilities to start a Mobile Entrepreneurship project in Monrovia. The aim of our visit was to conduct a field assessment to evaluate the potential of a mobile entrepreneurship initiative in Liberia, like the one we have in Ghana or Kenya. This study is very close to the one we ran in June 2010 in Accra, Ghana, and the one done for Rwanda in 2011.
More specifically, this mission had the following goals:
- Discussing with representatives of all stakeholders/actors and getting their feedback on the hypotheses and plan mentioned above;
- Understanding the specific barriers that Liberian mobile entrepreneurs encounter, from both technical and business perspectives;
- Collect market information and identify the most promising technologies to focus on, based on what network operators offer as deployment platforms, the profile of potential end-users, etc.
- Identifying the target audience for training sessions, and determine how to reach and involve them;
- Identifying potential local funders for the project, and potential future local sponsors of the lab;
- Define a clear action plan to implement a potential future project.
It was a real marathon: approximately 25 meetings in a little more than a week (thanks to Kate Cummings and the iLab Liberia guys for supporting this effort). We met a very good set of representatives from different sectors: private IT companies, Universities, NGOs, students, entrepreneurs, government representatives, some of the telecom representatives… Obviously, this would not be enough by itself to grasp 100% the local context. With the integration of a desk research (very interesting – just to name a few – the article by Michael Best et al. “Uses of mobile phones in post-conflict Liberia“, as well as Darren Wilkins’ “A digital Liberia“), and a series of participatory qualitative researches in some of the key spots of the capital, we have a broad understanding of the current Liberian situation, and we have identified a series of crucial challenges and opportunities where a Mobile Entrepreneurship project would clearly make a difference. We have identified some key actors in the Liberian ecosystem (like the above mentioned iLab Liberia) that would be core part of the initiative, and other actors that can benefit a different levels and be involved as much as they can. Among the most interesting opportunities, it’s worth mentioning:
- Create the first advanced centre in Liberia with the goal of educating people about the potential of web and mobile technologies for content & service production.
- Create a space where developers can push themselves to better levels of expertise: open community with strong peer to peer learning component.
- Help kick-start a nascent IT sector, by supporting the first proper service producers in Liberia, once the high-speed Internet cable arrives.
More of the identified opportunities, together with the challenges identified are available in the public version of the assessment. Feedback and comments on this are obviously appreciated, as we plan to refine it and detail it further.
Considering the findings in our research phase, we think that the involvement of the Web Foundation in the creation of a lab in Liberia would be beneficial for the development of the industry and the country; as a consequence, we are planning to work on the fundraising part of this project, and the consolidation of the consortium of entities working directly on the project. Get in touch if you are interested in supporting this project, it’s going to be a great journey!