Liberia : Liberian Entrepreneur Invests in Home Country

karmashines

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Feb 26, 2005
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A High Return: Returning Home, Entrepreneur Takes Huge Risk
By Tanu Henry, AOL BlackVoices

http://bv.channel.aol.com/workmonmain/smallbiz/yl021705


Yoquai Lavala (pronounced Yo-kway Lav-lah) landed a job with General Electric when he graduated from North Carolina’s Livingstone College in 1996. By the time the 31-year-old financial analyst quit "in a moment of clarity" last September, he had moved through six promotions and worked in at least eight American, European and Asian cities.

Settled with a wife, two daughters and a farmhouse in Jackson, Wis., the young entrepreneur made the boldest move of his career last November. Cashing in his 401(k) pension fund, he left for his war-torn home country, Liberia, to start his own business.

Now, visiting with his wife and kids in Wisconsin, BV spoke with Lavala about his risky undertaking, his outlook on the future and why he sees the instability in Liberia as more of an opportunity than an obstruction.

BV: You quit your job at GE, making more than six figures. That’s what most people aspire to.

You have to look at it both ways. You can continue to make a six-figure salary working for somebody else or you can pursue your own dreams. There are many opportunities out there. I appreciate my time at GE. It taught me how to run a business. But I could focus on the six figures today and forget about what I can do for the future of my country tomorrow.

BV: What line of business are you in?

I own an investment business with a partner. One of our biggest investments right now is a sales and marketing business for the biggest telephone company in Liberia. We distribute and sell airtime and communications equipment to the public.

BV: How did you get the start-up money?

I took a risk. I went into my retirement funds.

BV: Was it worth it?

Oh, yes. I’ve made the amount I borrowed from myself already. At the same time, we started one of the biggest distribution networks in the country. We have hired 40 Liberians at a time when 70 percent of people in the country are unemployed.

BV: Aren’t you worried about investing so much capital in a war-ravaged country?

No, it's the best time. After a war, a country becomes a virgin economy. For Liberia, since all the infrastructure is broken down, it's an excellent opportunity for investment. You can join in rebuilding the structure of the country from scratch. Its where you want to be if you’re an entrepreneur.

BV: How is business going?

The investment company has opened up two other businesses. The first will concentrate on selling ring tones and other mobile entertainment assets like digital wallpapers. The second will be selling satellite TV services.

BV: How do you balance the political instability and uncertainty of the country with the plans for your business?

Every business is a calculated risk. The Liberian people are hungry for people to come home and invest. They are looking for things to do. They want direction, entertainment and structure. If you wait for the political situation to stabilize, you'll wait forever. The communications industry is also one of the best businesses to be in at this time. People outside the country want to be informed and talk to their relatives. Unfortunately -- or fortunately for my business --when the country is in upheaval, we sell our most phone cards.

BV: You have a home, a wife and two daughters in Wisconsin. Will they join you at some point?

Certainly. I can't live without my family. It's tough being out there without the support of my family.

BV: You've had a remarkable career track. You moved through at least six promotions during your tenure at GE. Do you plan to re-enter the corporate world?

At this point, I don't think so. Being an entrepreneur is fun. All the things you learn in the structure of a company you get to apply to your own business. You also get to write the checks instead of waiting to get one. You provide the vision for the company and you get to oversee its execution.

BV: Are there opportunities for American investors in Liberia?

A lot. The country's linkage to America is big. People respect Americans a lot. People look at America as a big brother. There are huge opportunities for Americans in every industry.

BV: What's the biggest challenge of your new independence?

Its execution -- making sure things get done. Relying on people to get things done. Discipline. After nearly 15 years of civil war and disorganization, people are not used to structure. They aren’t used to process.

BV: What's the biggest reward?
To see the jobless guy or woman who was hungry for work four months ago employed. We have provided opportunities for people to feed their families and give back to their communities. If I can hire 10,000 or 20,000 people, then my job will be done. It's all about giving people a chance.
 

panafrica

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Aug 24, 2002
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The Diaspora
This is fantastic! It is what needs to happen both in Africa in the Diaspora...but even more so in Africa. So many leave the continent to learn new skills & obtain new resources, but never return. It is wonderful to hear that there are exceptions to this pattern!
 

AHMOSE

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Feb 6, 2005
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This is a great example as I read this I am reminded of Hakeem Olajuwon, Manute Bol and Dikembe Mutombo. These N.B.A stars gave considerly to their native countries.
 

panafrica

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Aug 24, 2002
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Godssoulja said:
This is a great example as I read this I am reminded of Hakeem Olajuwon, Manute Bol and Dikembe Mutombo. These N.B.A stars gave considerly to their native countries.
Manute Bol gave to his country (the Sudan) so much that he spent his entire fortune! I wouldn't recommend doing that, but I do suggest giving back. Many Africans & West Indians come to America and become very wealthy. However outside of sending money to family members (which is a lucrative business in itself), they don't use their wealth & acquired knowledge to help their country people. This is ashame! More of us need to contribute to our communities that we know need our assistant. Again this doesn't mean we have to do as Manute Bol did, and literally give all we have. But it doesn't hurt to give what we can!
 

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