James Mulbah, winner of the BSC Monrovia Business Plan Competition 2012, tells us about his experience starting and growing his company ‘Compost Liberia’, and his plans for his impending trip to the Growing SMEs Conference in the Netherlands.
How did you get the idea to start Compost Libera?
The idea of Compost Liberia started around 2008 when I first started a youth-based initiative called Concern Youth Organized for Development and Progressive Actions (CYODPA) Inc. This organization worked with war-affected youth in the area of Transformation (Self-reliance). In order for us to achieve our objectives – creating job opportunities, a clean environment, and a psycho-social program for war affected youths – we started the community clean-up program in Paynesville City with young people every weekend. In doing this, CYODPA was recognized by the City Mayor of Paynesville City as the most outstanding youth-based initiative.
In 2010, the Gates Foundation, through CHF-International, visited the city and asked the Mayor to recommend a youth group that they could work with to create opportunities for young people. I received a call from the Mayor inviting me to a meeting with CHF International. After this meeting, 25 young people were selected in and around Monrovia to do training in composting, and I did training in financial management and composting. It was from this training that we organized a youth-based cooperative called Compost Liberia Cooperative Society Limited where I became the president. After the training, most of these young people left the cooperative to do things in different areas.
In 2011, I was able to transform the cooperative into a business called Compost Liberia. After the completion of Liberia’s first waste segregation and recycling center by CHF International, with funding from the Gates Foundation, businesses working in the waste sector were asked to submit a proposal for the management and ownership of the center. I submitted and was declared the winner of this process.
To conclude, this idea arose from my desire to help young people with serious (psychological) trauma do basic (positive) things for themselves, to forget the past.
What were the main challenges you faced when setting-up your business?
The main challenges I faced when setting-up this business were how to tell Liberians the economic importance of waste and how to motivate young people going into this self-initiative business.
In retrospect, what aspect of starting your own business are you most proud of?
Motivating young people to join me in this business. My dream has been to transform the minds of those young people who were used as child soldiers during the civil war. Now, I have helped more than ten start their own business, in collaboration with Compost Liberia.
Do you think that with the help of new businesses, the economy in Liberia will improve in the long-term?
Yes, Liberia’s economy will improve in the long-term, especially in the areas of job creation, and better environment and food security.
Could you summarize your business idea in a few words?
Creating job opportunities for young people and a better environment for all of Liberia by developing the economic importance of waste. In order to achieve these goals, I engage in the following to maximize profit:
– Compost production
– Waste collection
– Application of compost on gardens, farms, parks, etc.
– Buying and selling of recyclables
– Production of shopping bags, furniture, etc.
What makes your business plan stand out from similar ones?
This business plan supports youth initiates. It is a youth-based, innovative plan and supports environmental protection activities. It also supports good health and food security, and is a new type of business in Liberia.
Tells us about your experience during the Business Plan Competition
When pitching my ideas, especially at the Liberia First Pitch Saloon and the Business Start-up Centre in Liberia, my audiences were very proud of my dream and almost everyone was very zealous to work with my company. From those pitches I was able to get more local and international partners that were willing to work with me. I am currently planning programs for some of them in the area of youth empowerment (Advancing Youth Project, a USAID- supported project, Action AID Liberia, etc.). At one of these occasions, the Mayor of Monrovia City said “This young man is going to be a millionaire very soon”.
What was the most important thing you learned?
The world is looking for innovative and creative work, especially in the areas of youth support programs, to support environmental protection and food security.
How do you think the Growing SMEs Conference will help you in your future business endeavors?
The Growing SMEs Conference will help me greatly. It will help me find financial partners in different areas (equity, debt and grants), and also develop my business ideas.
What are your expectations for the Growing SMEs event in The Hague?
At the end of this event, I should be able to connect with investors, International NGOs and other partners. I should also be able to apply what I learn during the conference to my business and my country. Finally, with the experience I will gain I should be able to maximize profit.
What piece of advice would you give to a starting entrepreneur?
Know about the type of business you want to invest in. You should have passion for that business. Finally, be able to manage with little capital.