‘Sometimes it’s ok to not know the answer or know how things will turn out – Angela Betancourt.’
To answer questions about working in Sierra Leone, I decided to do an interview with an expert who has worked in Sierra Leone for two years to help us get a better understanding on what it’s like to work in Sierra Leone as I haven’t worked in Sierra Leone personally.
I couldn’t think about anyone else better to give us a great insight on this topic apart from Angela.
If you don’t know her background history when you meet her, you will think she is from Sierra Leone because she has embraced the culture like its her own.
Below are the questions Angela was asked and she has answered them with great information and humour.
1. What are you an expert in and what organisation do you work for?
I’m an International Communications Specialist, and while I was in Sierra Leone, I was a consultant for Adam Smith International. My role was Communications Manager for the Sierra Leone Opportunities for Business Action (SOBA) programme. Sobasl.org
2. Tell us about being an Expert in Sierra Leone?
Working in Sierra Leone has been one of the best experiences of my career so far. Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a great team of people who are incredibly gifted at what they do. I got to be a part of momentous events like the Energy Revolution; the country’s first-ever decentralized renewable energy conference in the nation’s history and work with budding entrepreneurs. Knowing that I was part of something that impacted people’s lives is incredibly special.
3. What sort of businesses do you work with in Sierra Leone?
The SOBA programme collaborated with private sector businesses in three primary areas: (1) sustainable energy, (2) agriculture, (3) professional services and entrepreneurship markets.
In my role, I had the opportunity to work with businesses across these sectors. The partners ranged from new entrepreneurs just getting their businesses off the ground to more established businesses that were working towards improved operations and business growth.
I met, even more, entrepreneurs when the SOBA programme launched the Freetown Pitch Nights, the Entrepreneur Coffee Hours and the Business Clinic events. It was exciting to see so many entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs take advantage of the networking and learning opportunities. I hope they continue to do so.
4. What are some of the obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?
There are many challenges to doing business in Sierra Leone, so it’s important to find creative ways to navigate some of the roadblocks that come along when you are trying to make something work. I was and continue to be inspired by the entrepreneurs I’ve met over the past two years.
Despite challenges, so many of them have figured out ways to bring their ideas and dreams to reality.
An example of a challenge we faced was tracking down/discovering service providers. Initially, we weren’t sure what companies were available to do things like graphic design and branding. However, once we started reaching out to various entrepreneurs and other organizations the pieces started coming together.
5. What are the key to success in working in Sierra Leone?
I believe the most important ingredient to success working in Sierra Leone is collaboration. A lot of the entrepreneurs we worked with face similar challenges. Together they can raise each other up and move towards a common goal to improve the business environment in Sierra Leone.
6. What have you learnt so far from your work life in Sierra Leone?
I’ve learned so many things I don’t know where to begin. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s ok to not know the answer or know how things will turn out. When we first launched the Freetown Pitch Night, there was no way for us to know if it would catch on, if it was a good idea, or if it would have an impact. But we saw a gap and thought this was a good idea, and it worked out great! I also learned a lot about the benefit of a market systems approach in helping increase the incomes of poor women and men. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and there are great things about it on the SOBA website.
7. What makes you smile or how do you make your love ones smile?
It doesn’t take much to make me smile. Giving and receiving hugs, surprising someone with a tiny gesture, someone giving me chocolate at random, puppies, and knowing that I can help my friends, family, and others in need all make me smile. I love making other people smile by doing kind things for them, sending them funny messages on WhatsApp, and making a big deal about their birthdays (though this doesn’t always work with everyone).
8. What do you like the most about the Sierra Leonean culture?
Sierra Leoneans are some of the most friendly, welcoming, peaceful, fun, and resilient people I have ever met. From the very first day that I arrived, I felt welcomed. Sierra Leone feels like a second home. I even have a Sierra Leonean name: Salamatu Sesay.
9. What advice would you give to experts wanting to work in Sierra Leone?
I would advise all experts that want to work in Sierra Leone to come with an open mind and heart. I would advise them to immerse themselves in the culture, learn some Krio, and try traditional foods.
10. How can we find you on social media?