Becoming High Impact Citizens: A Winning Proposition for Liberian entrepreneurs, Part I
By: Jackson Fiah Doe Jr.
The above-mentioned scenario is quite possible. Whether it becomes a reality will depend on the willingness of entrepreneurs to be high impact Liberians. Who is a high impact Liberian? A high impact Liberian, in my judgment, is a Liberian who makes a significant positive contribution to his country or community. Such a person recognizes a problem besetting his community or nation, and then strives to solve it. For instance, my late father, Jackson F. Doe, was undoubtedly a high impact Liberian. A well-known and respected politician, my dad had a huge impact on the Liberian educational system. During his tenure as Minister of Education, - He was the first truly indigenous Liberian to hold such a high ranking position lots of schools were built in the hinterlands, giving many indigenous Liberians the opportunity to pursue education, a luxury not previously available to them. Also, while my father was Education Minister, many scholarships were given to deserving students to pursue higher education in the United States and other countries. Many of these individuals have become very successful both at home and abroad. By making educational opportunities available to many Liberians who would have otherwise not been so privileged, my father made a significant contribution to his country. He was therefore a high impact Liberian.
In contrast, many successful Liberian entrepreneurs have fared very poorly in positively impacting their communities. Unlike their counterparts in the United States and other countries, who donate thousands if not million of dollars each year to various charities, scientific research, education and so forth, Liberia’s successful entrepreneurs are not benevolent. Instead, they are self-absorbed and engage in ostentatious living. It is very rare to find a Liberian businessperson who has given hundreds or thousand of dollars to charity, or to solve problems plaguing his community.
In this paper, I will mention some attributes requisite to becoming a high impact Liberian. I will also examine why many Liberian entrepreneurs have not made significant contributions to their communities or country. Additionally, I will highlight some reasons and benefits of being high impact Liberians.
Characteristics of a high impact Liberian
To become a high impact Liberian, it is imperative, in my view, that one has vision and a plan; the person should also be a doer, have passion and perseverance. Without these qualities, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a Liberian to truly have a significant positive impact on his community or nation.
According to Webster’s dictionary, vision is defined as something seen otherwise than by ordinary sight; an unusual wisdom of foreseeing what is going to happen. Vision is a mental picture of the future. It is worth saying that no major achievement or breakthrough has taken place in the world without vision. In the words of Dr. Myles Munroe, a well-known Christian leader in the Bahamas, “Vision makes the unseen visible and the unknown possible” (Principles and power of vision, 2003). He further asserts that throughout history, progress has been made only by people who have seen things that were not yet here. For instance, a Liberian with a burning desire to rid his community of absolute poverty, could make a significant contribution to his country, should the vision become a reality, as does another who wants to build a large company in the hinterlands to help reduce ruralto-urban migration.
It is simply not enough to just have a vision; one must also have a plan so as to effectively executive the vision. A plan is a process of coming up with a set of decisions for implementation in the future. It shows someone the steps needed for the vision to come to life, and is a framework for making informed decisions. For example, if a Liberian living in the United States has a vision to provide people in and around his hometown with clean drinking water, he will need a plan. The plan will help him determine how many wells to drill, where to drill the wells, how and when to drill the wells, the persons that should be responsible to perform the tasks, how long the project will take, and who will pay for the project. This way, the vision will be carried out in a systematic fashion. The plan sets priorities and focuses on what is important. It subsequently enables a person to work effectively to achieve the vision. Without a sound plan, the vision may not come to past. It is therefore safe to assert that a plan is critical to the success of a vision.
After the vision is written down, it has to be put into action. This is by far the most critical stage to becoming a high impact Liberian, for the future of a vision depends on it. No matter how great a vision is, without the necessary funding, it may never come to fruition. .It is therefore imperative to get the needed funds needed to make a vision come true. This requires finding a funding source. Some people might have to solicit funding from a financial institution or a non-for-profit organization to fulfill their vision, while others, like successful Liberian entrepreneurs, could use a portion of their wealth to pull this off. In executing the vision, however, it is important to follow the plan accurately. If this is not done, the vision may not be achieved correctly and completely.
It is undoubtedly true that without passion, one’s vision will not be realized. Passion is the fuel that propels a vision. It is a boundless enthusiasm. People with passion always put their heart and soul into whatever they are doing or seek to do. Passion is the proverbial “fire in the belly”. For instance, when I started my company - TopFlight Incorporated, a building service contracting company six years ago, I had so much passion for the business that I was always up late at night thinking about ways to grow the business. I told everyone about what I was doing. I spent hours on the computer researching the cleaning industry. Without passion, I would not have established a successful business.
Finally, to become a high impact Liberian, one must have perseverance. It is the ability to thrive in the midst of obstacles. It means never giving up when faced with trials and tribulations. Too many people tend to “throw in the towel” when things get tough. But, as the saying goes, “ tough times don’t last, tough people do”. Thus, a high impact Liberian never gives up, even amid a mountain of problems.
Liberian Entrepreneurs Poor track record of impacting their communities or country
I am of the conviction that many successful Liberian entrepreneurs have not impacted their communities or country in a very positive way. These entrepreneurs have not deemed it expedient to give back to their communities or nation. In other words, they are not benevolent. There are a number of reasons why I believe most Liberian entrepreneurs are not considered high impact Liberians
Lack of interest in improving their communities
Unlike their counterparts in the United States and other developed countries, who often live in mostly rich neighborhoods or communities, many affluent Liberian entrepreneurs live alongside poor families. One rarely finds exclusively rich neighborhoods in Liberia. It is not uncommon to see a mansion surrounded by zinc shacks in various neighborhoods throughout Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Thus, these entrepreneurs are aware of some of the problems afflicting their communities. Yet, many of them have done nothing to help solve them. I strongly believe in the maxim that to whom much is given, much is required. Therefore, it is incumbent upon these wealthy Liberians to do what they can to assist the needy in their communities. Some problems plaguing people within these communities may not necessarily require a lot of money to solve. They may simply require someone taking a leadership role as well as providing a little bit of money in tackling them. For instance, teenagers in the same neighborhood as a wealthy entrepreneur might not be in school because their single parents have no money to pay their tuitions. In such a case, a rich entrepreneur could opt to pay the school fees for some of the kids. This may not cost a lot of money, as the tuitions in many public schools are fairly low. However, such a gesture would go a long way to positive impacting the lives of these young people, who would otherwise not have such opportunities. Unfortunately, many wealthy Liberian entrepreneurs don’t scan their communities to ascertain the types of problems facing their communities that they can help solve or address.
Involvement in subversive activities
Some rich Liberian businessmen have financially supported insurgent groups who either attempted or succeeded in destabilizing Liberia over the years. They provided some of the funds needed to train, house, feed, and arm these groups. Some of these individuals, for instance, helped bankroll Charles Taylor’s rebel movement in its attempt to topple the Doe government. They assisted in purchasing arms and ammunition for Taylor’s group. In essence, these individuals were not interested in using peaceful means to deal with the country’s political crisis. Rather, they favored the use of force to dethrone Samuel K. Doe. As a result of their financial support, Taylor succeeded in destabilizing the country. Subsequently, thousands of Liberians lost their lives, while many fled their homeland and become refugees in neighboring countries including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. Additionally, many were internally displaced, meaning they fled their hometowns and settled in other parts of the country.
These entrepreneurs opted to support Charles Taylor’s NPFL and other rebel groups in order to get lucrative business deals, if the rebels succeeded in overthrowing the government. They did not care about the many lives that would have been lost as a result of the insurrection. Their motives were purely financial.
Perpetuating societal dysfunctions
Like many government officials and other well- to- do individuals in the country, some Liberian entrepreneurs tend to have relationships with women other than their wives. In most cases, these entrepreneurs have affairs with young girls whose parents don’t have the means of supporting them. It is not uncommon to see an entrepreneur having a sexual relationship with a girl as young as sixteen years old. In such cases, these girls in turn become the breadwinners for their families. They usually receive approval from their mothers to engage in such relationships. As a result, these young girls become the de facto heads of their families, because they are the ones financially supporting their parents and siblings, which should not be the case. In a functional family, the father is the head and primary provider for the family. However, when a young girl is the main provider for the family, there is a power shift. She then becomes the head of the home. No one dares tell her what to do, for fear of losing financial support from her. Thus, by having sexual relationships with young women who are not their wives, these entrepreneurs are in a way perpetuating dysfunctions within family in Liberia, which have serious ramifications for the society as a whole.
Also, a number of entrepreneurs have what is known in Liberia as “Wives on the Ground” (WOG). Basically, a wife on the ground is a mistress of a Liberian married man whose wife and children live abroad, especially in the United States. These men, in a sense, have relationships with these women tantamount to marriages. In some cases, these men provide more financial support for their mistresses than they do their own wives, which is not right.
Some Liberian entrepreneurs spend thousands of dollars on their mistresses, money that could have been allotted for their wives and kids, or better yet, spent to improve the lives of others in their communities. Instead, they use their wealth to perpetuate dysfunctions in the Liberian society.
It cannot be gainsaid that some of Liberia’s most affluent entrepreneurs did not earn their wealth the right way. Instead, they amassed their affluence by embezzling thousands, if not millions of dollars from the Liberian government while working in the public sector. During past regimes, some government officials embezzled lots of money from the public sector with impunity, which they then used as seed money for their business ventures. The stolen money could have been used to develop the country. Rather, it was diverted into establishing businesses, to the detriment of the Liberian people. It is also worth noting, though, that not all successful Liberian businesspeople have unearned wealth. However, a large number of them have used illegitimate means to enrich themselves.