The Corporate Philanthropist: Stakeholders' Expectations of Business - Page 6
Page 6 of 12
Foreign Leader Perspective: Open for Business, but Not Business as Usual
Liberia is on the move. After decades of economic mismanagement and 14 years of brutal civil war, Liberia’s national nightmare is over. Progress is underway toward the vision of achieving rapid, inclusive, and sustainable growth articulated in our bold, three-year national development plan—the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).
The sheer quantity of projects, programs, and policy reforms that the Government of Liberia, with the support of its many key development partners, aims to deliver in the coming years is staggering. And
yet, at the heart of Liberia’s PRS is an understanding that the private sector holds the key to the country’s future.
Historically, Liberia has always been open to free enterprise and outside investment. But the picture is complicated, to say the least. Liberia’s economy posted steady economic growth following World War II and GDP vaulted from us $36 million in 1950 to $500 million in 1972. However, most of these gains were concentrated within the elite, and the majority of Liberians saw little benefit. A group of
American academics in the mid-1960s famously described the situation in Liberia as “growth without development.”
So what’s our plan today? Keeping in mind our nation’s unfortunate history of consolidated economic power, we are seeking to quickly revive Liberia’s traditional sources of growth – rubber, timber, mining, and cash crops – while ensuring that the benefits accrue to all Liberians in a sustainable manner. We’ve already made important strides on this front. After taking office in 2006, my administration conducted a critical examination and renegotiation of our largest investment contracts with ArcelorMittal and Firestone. A recent Revenue Watch case study praised our constructive engagement with private sector partners in these renegotiations which successfully secured a better deal for our nation and people, while also bolstering trust and building investor confidence in our administration. This effort has paved the way for new investment agreements in the mining, forestry, and agriculture sectors.
But to ensure inclusiveness and sustainability, we must go beyond encouraging investments from international companies in our extractive industries. We must take strong steps to diversify the economy over the medium term into the competitive production of labor-intensive downstream products, manufactured goods, and services. We hope to see this as the focus of new investors. Returns may be slower, but for the socially minded investor, there are still excellent opportunities. One example is that of Buchanan Renewable Energies using old rubber trees to produce electricity and providing seedlings for felled trees—sustainable development with a positive environmental impact.
My government’s commitment to a robust private sector is starting to pay off. Critical infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, is improving. The strengthened business climate is reflected in the fact that Liberia has been one of the fastest improving performers on the World Bank’s Doing Business Survey over the last three years. And a recent report from Transparency International shows significant progress in the fight against corruption. As government strives to do its part, we remain acutely aware that it’s the private sector that will ultimately determine whether we reach our goal of rapid, inclusive, and sustainable growth.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s first elected female president, as well as the first elected African female leader.
CECP asks today’s business leaders to consider:
- How can the private sector work with government to simultaneously support business and societal growth in emerging markets?
- Is there a link between a business’ commitment to making socially-minded investments and that company’s long-term prospects for success?
- How can business shift its strategy to encourage sustainable development with a positive environmental impact?