First Lady Launches ILO’s Opportunity Salone, A Knowledge-Sharing Event
The provision of employment backed by the creation of decent jobs for all and investing in young people to boost economic growth and investment is core to the actualisation of every country’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, the creation of decent jobs is an essential mandate of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the world body has continuously made tremendous contributions towards ensuring the implementation of the highest forms of labour standards and practices across the globe.
However, these efforts have been often hamstrung by the unstable economic conditions of some member states that jeopardise the creation of decent jobs in the private sector on one hand, and inadequate investment opportunities that could allow the country’s private sector to boost development and create a competitive environment, which creates jobs and trade integration.
The Sierra Leonean First Lady, Dr Fatima Maada Bio, while delivering the keynote address at the opening of an Agricultural Exhibition staged to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and other businesses from another project, urged the European Union (EU) to create a healthy and competitive space that would enable Sierra Leonean products to thrive on European markets. She, also, commended the EU and ILO for such encouraging initiatives, stressing that it is part of the President’s agenda in making agriculture the mainstay of the economy and gateway for creativity and employment in the country. Important dignitaries from the public sector and chiefs of industry were present at the exhibition. The International Labour Organization defines decent jobs as: “Productive work for women and men in the condition of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity.” The Opportunity Salone programme, with support from the European Union in Sierra Leone, is helping to provide the much-needed human capital boost centred on sustainable development. It is working in collaboration with SMEs and SME contractors to provide a series of training on Start and Improve Your Business (SYIB), Get-Ahead Training, and My Coop, with financial support to acquire various types of machinery to help upscale production processes to meet market demands in the districts of BO, Kenema, Bombali, and Port Loko through the Opportunity Salone programme.
The Project’s Employment-intensive investment programme (EIIP), links infrastructural development with the creation of employment and working with young SME contractors in providing training and contracting these businesses to carry out routine maintenance of feeder roads in the agricultural communities to access markets, link communities and connecting people in the project’s operational districts.
In 2023, these SME contractors maintained 33 kilometres of feeder roads in all four districts with support from the Opportunity Salone programme. In 2024, the project would maintain a total of 102.32 kilometres of feeder roads.
In December 2023, the project organized its maiden edition of the knowledge-sharing events, which brought together key actors involved in the implementation of the Opportunity Salone project. The event was utilised as a platform for them to express their challenges and successes achieved over the year by SMEs, SME contractors, partners, donors, and the beneficiaries themselves.
The Convener, Mr Manoto Tonderai, CTA and team – under the dynamic leadership of Dr Vanessa Phala, Director of the ILO Office for Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana – was able to bring in one room, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr Mrs Fatima Maada Bio; the EU Ambassador, Manuel Muller; Global Coordinator, Value-chain and Entrepreneurship, ILO, Merten Sievers; UN Women Head of Office, Madam Setcheme Mongbo and Sierra Leone’s Minister of Labour, Mr Mohamed Swarray, to the lunch of the knowledge-sharing event.
The three-day event climaxed with an appreciation evening to thank supportive partners, performing SME businesses, business trainers and stakeholders of the project in order to motivate partners to continue to invest, support and encourage SME businesses for the right reasons, and for contributing to the livelihoods of Sierra Leonean youths, women and persons living with disabilities (PLWDs).
Business owners equally expressed their satisfaction with the opportunity to gather in one room to discuss and put ideas together, noting that it made them feel like co-owners of the Opportunity Salone programme. They promised to ensure their continued support towards the project. One of the beneficiaries, Sidkie Bangura, captured their achievements from a personal testimony.
His words: “The EU and ILO Opportunity Salone programme has been a blessing to my business and community; with support given to my business, I have been able to provide solar lights for my community; with proceeds gained from the business, I have grown from producing hygienic palm oil to processing the nut oil into cooking oil, which also can be used for cosmetic production.”