You have to do something that feeds your soul. Period. The rest is just bonus.
-Elfreda Mason, Jola House
She was passion personified. This could be said about so many of the business people that we have met here in Liberia, including Elfreda quoted above. Here, we profile one businesswoman that particularly inspired us this week, Tina Kpan.
As we sat with sweat pouring off of our faces in the dark shop, Tina, an internationally known fashion designer, lit up the room telling her story. Tina started selling clothes in order to feed her young son as a refugee in Ghana. She would sit in front of nice hotels with a stand trying to sell her wares. When no one was buying, she began giving them away for free. “Take it. Wear it. Just tell people who made it when they ask and send them to me.” And ask they did. They still are today.
When Tina came to meet with us, she had just gotten out of the hospital and was on her way to receive an award for her designs in Spain. Talk about a determined, committed entrepreneur. As she told us her story, she became more and more animated.
Sweat dripping, huge smile. How could this woman who started out using her skills to simply survive be now sitting in her own shop about to leave for one of her many trips abroad? Simply put, she used her passion and skills to teach others, develop
Liberia’s economy, tighten human capacity gaps and help to be one of the every day Liberians, pushing and pulling and designing their country into a more developed future.
The team has packed our schedule full of meeting after meeting working to understand the Liberian business landscape—25 in two weeks! We hear time and time again about the challenges of doing business here due to hard and soft institutional voids like access to financing, the human resources gap, poor roads, access to health care, clean water and the list could go on. However, we have also been blown away by the resilience, persistence and downright creativity of the tight knit community we are getting to know here.
In fact, we are working on our own inner team creativity by testing out our baking skills with limited kitchen supplies—more to come on Liberia and baking things in pots!