TEM lab Liberia got off to a running start soon after we stepped off of the plane and into the wall of humidity and heat of the tropics…Literally. The chaos of the baggage claim area resembled the buzz of the busy market downtown with workers jumping around and flinging bags while passengers of all types searched the narrow carousel and floors for their bags. Unfortunately, we did not find all of ours. All but one team member checked two bags, and for the four whose bags didn’t come, the missing luggage happened to have all of their clothes…so we headed off with one set of travel clothes and bags of soccer balls to begin our consulting engagement.
We eventually made it to our apartments and met with our client after dinner at 10pm. With missing bags, a tropical downpour, a sick team leader, and no sleep…we had begun our project. Liberia promised to be an exciting adventure, a genuine challenge, and an impactful project. Monday was getting supplies, tracking down luggage with all dress clothes, meeting our partnering University of Liberia team, and preparing presentations to government Ministers on Tuesday.
Liberia is recovering from a two decades-long civil war that ended only ten years ago. Monrovia, the capital, was virtually destroyed in the war but now new construction, buzzing motorcycle taxis, and new businesses all point to the economic growth the country is experiencing. Street cleaners make sure this city is one of the cleanest of trash in all of Africa. Monrovia presents a tantalizing paradox of wealth, new construction, and order mixed in with poverty, decrepit buildings, and chaos.
We have found a large community of expats here with NGO’s, the UN, Embassies, and Multi-National Companies extensive presence in the country. This is a relatively small country (4 million people, roughly 1.5 million in Monrovia) so circles run small and it seems that everyone knows everyone. These tight-knit circles impact the way you do business in Liberia, as relationships are how anything gets done. People we have met are happy to introduce us to anyone they know who might help our project. That has basically been how our week has gone. We started meeting people who Charles Reeves, the TEM Lab Program Manager, had already connected with when he came to set up the project in March. Soon the introductions started flowing and our contact list burgeoned. Further evidence of how small the local community is appeared when virtually every conversation brought up mainly connections we had already heard, often from the previous conversation. Though each new person we met somehow gives us at least one new lead to contact. No surprise then too that when we went to meet one local business manager, a person they wanted to introduce us to happened to drop by and soon we are in the middle of a wonderfully informative impromptu meeting. Soon we were being connected to relatives of the President, Ministers, and business leaders…Later, we had dinner with contacts who wanted to introduce us to leads they knew, who happen to be friends with the Minister who, by the way, stopped in for dinner too… yes confusing yet normal. The circle of relationships is doing business in Liberia.
We have already begun a heavy schedule of meetings mixed in with administrative work sessions in the apartments and hotel lounges, aka expat offices. Writing this post in the restaurant of the Royal Hotel, we have already made new connections inviting us to popular local hangouts, where we will undoubtedly meet more people… At this rate, by the time our project is done in five weeks, we will be among those who know everyone… The project began with a rush of activity and has not let up. The next five weeks promises to be a relentless whirlwind of meetings, dinners, interviews, and organized pandemonium.
Until next week…..