AfDB to support 1,500 women traders in Liberia, Sierra Leone


Some 1,500 women engaged in informal trade across Liberia and Sierra Leone’s border are set to benefit from a programme aimed at increasing their income streams.

The traders will soon receive training and mentorship to formalise their businesses, increase and stabilise their incomes, and create safer trading environments.

The Mano River Union Secretariat, which will oversee the programme, is set to receive a $4.2 million grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to support and empower women traders via the bank’s Building Inclusive Business Ecosystem.

According to a statement by the bank, the grant is aimed at boosting business formalisation among women traders and fuel new programmes designed for gender-responsive, climate-resilient, and low-carbon cross-border value chains.

The project will benefit women entrepreneurs at two border points, namely Koindu-Foya and Jendema-Bo Waterside, where they will receive access to finance and existing market opportunities.

Gender mainstreaming

Ms Amel Hamza, the bank’s acting director for gender, women and civil society, said the project is an innovation that delivers upon their gender mainstreaming commitments.

It is also aimed at aligning with the bank’s gender strategy, specifically on enhancing access to finance and technical assistance to women entrepreneurs.

The bank’s Director General for West Africa, Ms Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, said the programme will help in bringing change for women and capacity development for the Mano River Union.

“I can’t wait to see the results. I will have my eyes on the project, to see it scaled up and replicated in other contexts,” she added.

The Mano River Union Secretariat is an international association initially established between Liberia and Sierra Leone through the October 3, 1973 Mano River Declaration. It is named after the Mano River, which begins in the Guinea highlands and forms a border between Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The project will make information on trade rules and regulations accessible, including a user-friendly guide on trade rules and regulations. It will also stimulate business linkages, for example, between transporters and women aggregators.

Soft skills

Women traders will also receive business capacity building that will be paired with soft-skills development, including decision-making and negotiation.

Medina Wessey, the secretary-general of the Mano River Union, termed the project the beginning of getting women to do what they enjoy best – to trade, innovate, and be entrepreneurs.

“We look forward to the project taking off and, most importantly, mainstreaming gender in the business model of the Mano River Union Secretariat,” said Wessey.

Women make up 65 per cent of cross-border traders living along the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, the traders often suffer from unreliable income streams, lack of social safety nets, and face other barriers, such as bureaucracy, safety risks, and gender-based violence.

According to the International Labour Organisation, 70 per cent of the union’s women informal traders said they have experienced all of the above factors and want more organisation and representation to build their businesses.