A visiting delegation of nine major international investment institutions with experience in developing countries met with more than 30 Sierra Leonean small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on 1 November 2023 to discuss tactics for improving Sierra Leone’s capital markets.
The delegation was one of the biggest groups of investors to visit Sierra Leone in recent times. It comprised representatives of British International Investment, the Dutch FMO Entrepreneurial Development Bank, the USA’s Development Finance Corporation, Sweden’s Swedfund and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, as well as the impact funds AgDevco, I&P and Small Foundation, and currency exchange fund TCX. They were in Sierra Leone to explore investment opportunities, particularly in finance, agriculture and manufacturing, and to gain a better understanding of the Sierra Leonean business landscape.
The SME finance event – “Access to finance for SMEs in Sierra Leone: opportunities and challenges” – was one of a week-long series of activities organised for the delegation by the Africa Resilience Investment Accelerator (ARIA) and Invest Salone.
It was intended to allow an in-depth focus on sector-specific challenges and barriers, success stories and loan products available for SMEs, as well as practical ways in which support and investment in the financial sector by development finance institutions could improve access to finance for SMEs.
Speaking at the event, Christina Clark-Lowes, consultant with Invest Salone, said that Invest Salone’s work with SMEs in Sierra Leone regularly highlighted access to finance as a key constraint to business growth, adding: “Giving entrepreneurs the chance to showcase this issue to investors is a great opportunity to influence future funding decisions. Furthermore, this directly corresponds with our existing work to boost access to finance for SMEs.”
Alex Kucharski, manager, British International Investment, commented: “ARIA brings development finance institutions together to invest more in frontier markets in Africa. We are delighted to be in Sierra Leone to explore how our investment can support the private sector and SMEs specifically.”
The delegation also took part in a pitch event, organised by Freetown Pitch Night, which featured three promising young companies looking for investment and business development advice:
- Sierra Akker Poultry, a local company breeding and processing chicken and poultry products;
- Masada Waste Management, a major Sierra Leonean waste management company; and
- FLS Group, an electrical engineering and training services company, focusing on telecommunications, agriculture, mining and banking sectors in the Mano River Union.
The winning firm – FLS Group – will receive sessions with Ecobank and ARIA to discuss business opportunities and support to develop its business model. The judging panel commented: “These businesses are passionate about what they are doing and are solving real problems and challenges in the country.”
Francis Stevens, organiser of the pitch event, concluded by saying: “While the challenges are evident, the event served as a platform to address constraints and foster development in Sierra Leone’s financial ecosystem, with the hope that a more balanced and sustainable system can be established in the future.”
The Africa Resilience Investment Accelerator (ARIA) is an initiative bringing together 16 development finance institutions (DFIs), initially funded by British International Investment, the UK’s DFI, and FMO, the Dutch DFI, to enable more investment in frontier markets in Africa. Sierra Leone was selected as one of the first pilot countries and ARIA DFIs have subsequently been increasing their efforts to look at opportunities for investment in the country. Following the first ARIA mission to Sierra Leone in March 2022, ARIA member DFIs are now returning to Sierra Leone to look at investment opportunities in the financial sector, agriculture and manufacturing.
About Invest Salone:
Invest Salone is a UK government-funded, private-sector development programme that boosts investment in agriculture, manufacturing, fisheries and tourism by strengthening the pipeline of investible firms and projects; supports firms to grow their exports; and helps the private and public sectors to find lasting solutions to investment blockages that hamper business growth. The overall aim is to increase incomes and jobs for thousands of Sierra Leonean women and men.