IFC hosts investment forum for private sector investors

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February 19, 2019

By Ibrahim Tarawallie

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Participants at the investment forum

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), an agency of the World Bank Group, on Monday February 11 hosted a forum at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown with the objective to facilitate the matching of commercial investors with mid-sized, scalable companies seeking investment. The event, dubbed – ‘Investor CONNECT Sierra Leone’ – brought together private investors to discuss options to address solutions to difficulties facing private sector growth, from both investors’ and business owners’ perspective.

‘Investor CONNECT’ is a networking platform created by the IFC to link the growing number of investors and financiers in Sierra Leone and Liberia with dynamic, sustainable companies. The initiative builds on the agency’s experience through the IFC SME Ventures Program and Cordaid, which in 2010 invested in a pilot fund – the West Africa Venture Fund (WAVF) – that has since invested in 25 companies across Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Country Representative of the IFC, Frank Ajilore, said the purpose of the forum was to showcase key investment opportunities in Sierra Leone and connect investors to those opportunities.

“You are here to ask as well as to answer to questions about indicators that will help us improve the business climate in Sierra Leone. We are also here to know how we can crystalize such opportunities into realities,” he told participants, who were drawn from small, medium enterprises in the country.

He stated that the economy of the country had demonstrated some level of resilience despite facing significant downturn from 2014 to 2016 due of the Ebola crisis and the fall in commodity prices in the world market, as well as other shocks such as inflation.

Mr. Ajilore further noted that Sierra Leone had experienced a steady gross domestic product (GDP) average of 4% and a shift from mining to services which, according to him, was a good sign of adjusting the economy towards sustainability.

“We are starting to see significant improvement towards making Sierra Leone a better place to do business despite the doing business ranking of 163 out of 190,” he said. “A good sense of governance is visible, coupled with the experience of foreign direct investment into the country.”

He also spoke about the diversification of the economy with very little reliance on iron ore as it used to be, and a speed in infrastructural development, especially in electricity.

Regarding the IFC’s activities in the country, the Country Representative said – in collaboration with the Corporate Affairs Commission and the government – The Corporate Governance Code for Sierra Leone has been launched, which was a major milestone for the establishment of a financial market.

“We worked with the Bank of Sierra Leone to launch the Collateral Registry. We are also pushing finance leasing and some banks and microfinance institutions have adopted it. We are working towards supporting the government to look out for long term financing beyond what it is currently,” he added.

Earlier, Sam Akyianu from IFC’s SME Ventures, an initiative supporting entrepreneurs and high growth companies through investing in private equity funds that deploy risk capital in fragile states, spoke about plans to replicate such forum to other African countries, starting with Liberia. According to him, the idea was to showcase what Sierra Leone can offer in terms of business opportunities and for investors to see Sierra Leone as an attractive destination for doing business.

The forum featured two presentations on success stories. The first was from WAVF, who spoke from an investor’s point of view; and the second from Sierra Agra International, which presented from an investee’s point of view. These were followed by two panel discussions. The first discussed the topic:

‘Growing a business in Sierra Leone – lessons from the past shaping the future’, and comprised of participants from Gemini Capital, the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation, Vitafoam – SL, Ram Shankerdas, and PKF Mason Hill – SL.

The second panel, which discussed the topic: ‘Investing in Sierra Leone – lessons from the past shaping the future’, featured participants from CORDAID – SL, Hilton Hotel – SL, the Corporate Affairs Commission, Presidential Adviser on Economic and Financial Policy, Macauley, Bangura & Co and Synergy Capital Managers.

In closing the event, Shruti Chandrasekhar, Head of the SME Ventures, mentioned that though these markets are tough, there was hope for both the investors and investees.

The forum afforded participants the prospect of exploring partnership opportunities, sharing best practices and lessons learned, and proffering solutions to current hurdles faced by the private sector. It was concluded with a networking cocktail, which provided business leaders with the opportunity to further engage with investors.