An Assessment Of The Liberian Situation – Past, Present And Future: A Short Essay On Building Social Business

By : Dr. Eric Burphy Duncan


It is unfortunate that widespread suffering and poverty persist unabated in our world today because of the form and structure of the world’s governing regimes of which majority of them follow democratic, imperialist, socialist or monarchy forms. All of the aforementioned types of governments foster or promote the prosperity of a privilege few, the elite or government officials with outright disregard for the poor.

The irony of leadership for most governments is that the poor for whom they pledge to advocate for are the same people they oppress indirectly because their leadership ideologies are not “poor people centered.” They do not empower and neither do they reform or raise the dignity of the poor.

This essay will review the leadership policies of a selected past Liberian president to relate the similarities and differences to Mohammed Yunus’ Social Business ideology and suggest measures for improvement.


Social business may seem to be a new ideology and, in its application, could come into confrontation with aspects of some cultural practices, but its benefits cannot be underestimated.

The methodology of social business is “all involving.” It encourages participation of the community of people concerned but focuses more on women who eventually show concern for the welfare of children when they are empowered. This then derives the issue of contention in some culture, since most societies are patrilineal or male dominated.

Notwithstanding, the clash of culture with the ideals of social business does not mean failure, but is an indication that culture is vibrant and in time it will evolve and respond to the needs of the community.

Nongovernmental organizations encourage the collaborative approaches between the public and private sectors, but finance for most of their work come from funding by friendly governments or donors but what can and should international donors and their implementing partners do to catalyze greater private sector contributions and leverage private sector capabilities? The answer to this is empowerment and not handouts through charity. In addition to this, donor funding could fade off and, in that case, projects cannot be sustained.

People should be empowered for their own development. Community empowerment through social businesses promotes community engagement, community participation and capacity building. Social business also empowers people to generate knowledge/acquire skill and use it to improve their quality of life.

Further to this, it is important to state here that in society, some groups are more vulnerable than others especially the poor, the disabled, battered women, etc. Governments will soon realize that the most suitable strategy to use, to empower those who are potentially weak in the social structure is “Social business”.


Social business is often misconstrued for charity foundations or non-governmental organizations which heavily rely on donors or grant loans to operate. However, to further analyze the topic, it is essential to note the differences of the terminologies.

In the words of Reiling and Herman (1958), a Charitable Organization or charity is a nonprofit organization (NPO) whose primary objectives are philanthropy and social wellbeing (e.g., charitable, educational, religious or other activities serving the public interest or common good). Charitable organizations may not use any of its funds to profit individual persons or entities.

There is the need for a charity to be financially sustainable, and this could be done by using its financial figures such as tax refund, revenue from sales of goods and services or from investment and fundraisings.

Nongovernmental Organizations, commonly referred to as NGOs are usually non-profit and sometimes international governmental organizations (though often funded by governments) that are active in humanitarian, educational, healthcare, public policy, social, human rights, environmental and other areas to affect changes according to their objective.

Social business, as defined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Mohammed Yunus (2010), is a business created and designed to address a social problem, a non loss, Non-dividend Company,


(l) it is financially self-sustainable and

  • profits realized by the business are reinvested in the business itself (or used to start other social businesses) with the aim of increasing social impact, for example expanding the company’s reach, improving the products or services or in other ways subsidizing the social

Unlike profit making businesses, the prime aim of a social business is not maximizing profits (although generating profits is desired). Furthermore, business owners are not receiving any dividend out of the business profits. The table below describes Charitable, NGOs and Social businesses:



Having established the different terminologies, we deep dive into the leadership policies of the past Liberian presidents in relation to the social business ideology identified.


President Tolbert inherited a country with a political life controlled by less than three percent of the population, the “Americo_Liberians” and a modern economy in the hands of foreign investors. The tribal majority (the poor) was excluded from both areas. William Tolbert, however surprised many and showed a dynamism few only, if any, had expected and soon earned the 58-year-old Baptist Preacher the surname- “Speedy.” As mentioned, he broke with his predecessor, Tubman’s conservative formalism that was based on imitation of the West and in particular the United States. A second change was in the area of foreign relations and constituted a rupture with Tubman’s anticommunist doctrine. Thirdly, Tolbert publicly recognized that the fruits of foreign investments were unevenly divided and he gradually introduced renegotiations of the concession agreements that had granted the foreign investors important tax privileges. For this purpose, he declared the concept of “Humanistic Capitalism”. Last but not least, he announced policies that aimed to improve the living conditions of the majority of the people: “Total Involvement for Higher Heights,” “Rally Time,” “From Mat-to-Mattresses,” all geared towards creating a wholesome functioning society and winning the war against Ignorance, Disease and Poverty.



    1. From Mat-to-Mattress

This policy increased the standard of living for all Liberian. The concept was to raise their standard of living and take them off the mats in shacks and put them on mattresses in affordable housing estate projects, that were built in the 1970s. Notable among these housing projects were: The Barnesville and Gardnessville Estates. Most beneficiaries of this project were civil servants who earned low salaries. These affordable housing estates provided for them decent houses. The rent which they paid through minimum salary deductions.

Therefore. in comparison to Yunus’s social business, Tolbert’s from Mat-to Mattresses policy is similar because it follows the key attributes of Yunus’ Capitalist Module which are:

  1. Creativity. Tolbert’s Mat-to Mattresses policy like Yunus’ Social business intent/goal is to make the world a better place through a defined social objective. For example, civil servants who lived in “run down housing” could now afford decent homes.
  1. Yunus’ Social business empowered people to become entrepreneurs. Tolbert’s “From Mat-to-Mattresses” empowered civil servants to own their own Civil servants who were regular in paying their rent could own the housing unit after 10 years.
  2. Tolbert’s Policy like Yunus’ opened new avenues and gave people new ideas about Tolbert’s policy created new opportunities for livelihood.


  1. Total Involvement Policy

This policy suggested inclusion of all Liberians in the process of government, including those who had been left out of the benefits of the system for years. He started a social security program, a health care program as well as education program for all Liberians from grade 0-6 years. He built more public schools and began work on the school’s curriculum.

William Tolbert slogans were “Rally Time and Total Involvement for Higher Heights.” His vision for leading Liberia to higher heights, did not come to be. It ended tragically when he was overthrown in a bloody military coup on April 12, 1980.

Critically examining Tolbert’s “Total Involvement policy”, it indicates some similarity to Yunus’ social business policy in the following ways:

(l)    It was all about building capacity and empowerment of the marginalized (the poor) through participation and education.

  • It reformed the political and social Tolbert’s critics often accused him of “Allowing the villagers in the kitchen”
  • Tolbert’s strategy involved partnership with NGOs and other friendly governments to achieve his social



‘Pro-Poor Policy’ is a term that has become widely used in development literature, mainly with international organizations that are focused on developmental agenda. The general understanding that can be drawn from this literature is that pro-poor policies are those that directly target poor people, or that are more generally aimed at reducing poverty. There is also a general consensus that pro-poor policy processes are those that allow poor people to be directly involved in the policy process, or that by their nature and structure lead to pro-poor outcomes. Therefore, the aim of pro- poor policies is to improve the assets and capabilities of the poor.

The Pro Poor Policy intends to reduce poverty by 30% by the end of first term and 60% by 2023 if elected by the people of Liberia for the second term. And unlike other policies that were never realized, this government is meant to achieve its vision. Liberia could also emulate China’s example of poverty reduction. According to Martin Ravallion (2004), The International Poverty Center, UNDP, said, “China’s income poverty rate is probably slightly lower than the average for the world as a whole; in 2001, 17% of China’s population lived below $l a day (at 1993 PPP) while the corresponding figure for the developing world was 21%. But it was a very different story around 1980. Then the incidence of poverty in China was one of the highest in the world at 64%.”

And also, Rob Schmitz (2017), said, “what China – its government and its people – have achieved is unprecedented in human history : Around 700 million Chinese have worked their way above the poverty line since 1980, accounting for three-quarters of global poverty reduction during that period. (According to the World Bank more than 500 million Chinese lifted themselves out of poverty as China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 6.5 percent in 2012, as measured by the percentage of people living on less than $1.90 a day).” Therefore, if China can transform itself then I see no reason why Liberia cannot achieve this goal.




According to Saa et al (2018), President George Weah over the years has experienced and come out with the conclusion that, mechanized farming is the best option and will be applied. In order for Liberia to eat some of the cakes of globalization, the government has insisted on every official of government to own a farm. The President believes that security of Liberia must be seen from the holistic binoculars. Therefore, in order to secure lasting peace and security, the government of Liberia will partner with farm industries around the world, attract them in the country and work with the local farmers in making Liberia a food secured state. Thus, no more clearing with cutlasses and hoes. Under no condition can Liberia feed herself if she must continue with cutlass and hoe farming.

For example, cocoa and coffee offer opportunities to increase export earnings by improving yields and moving up the value chain into intermediate processing. Liberia has one of the world highest rainfalls and should be reaping more of the profits.

If more than two million hectares of land are provided and cultivated for oil palm, cocoa, coffee and rice, Liberia will not only increase both its manufactures and exports to regional and global markets but will definitely find itself at the world stage.

Loans in form of subsidy will be given to farmers through the Agriculture Development Bank and other institutions to assist farmers in their initial plantings. For each county, agriculture machines will be given for the use on farmlands, and farmers will pay based upon the proceeds from their farms. These harvested produce will be bought by government for students, patience and convicted prisoners. With this strategy, it is expected that the farmers graduate from being called poor farmers to heavily successful farmers.


Income is expected to be high on the agenda of President Weah for this pillar. The world over, one of the fast-moving industries for development and industrialization is tourism. Under this administration, a tourism commission/ministry is expected to be set up shortly with the aim of attracting tourists’ groupings and experts in setting up the industry in Liberia. The president is now thinking out of the box by attracting other economic sectors into the country. The encouragement of chains of hotels, development of beaches and natural resort centers will be placed high on the agenda of government in its first six-year term. The President believes that this industry will attract more employment and revenue generation for government and country. And the first area of attraction of tourists into the country is the Airports. A total rebuilding of the Roberts International Airport is key and ensuring counties airports are operational (Saa et al, 2018).


Under this government, strengthening the educational system (former and vocational training center) by insisting that all schools be properly vetted and certificated will be of high priority. The best type of voters and elected officials will be attracted if education becomes a priority of the country. President Weah’s administration will collectively work with stakeholders in the educational system in improving all government educational institutions (Saa et al, 2018).. Like Rwanda who has so advanced her public schools thus making them envy of private institutions, so public schools in Liberia under Weah’s administration will become. Currently, private educational institutions in Rwanda are being closed and students are running to government schools. How that happen, is no magic, but dedication and love for country.

In the next four years, President Weah intends to make mass education free, compulsory and with quality to all citizens, from elementary to university/college as part of its policy initiatives. The government sees education as a right but not a privilege. In view of this, it will undertake the following:

  1. Recertify all teachers, train & develop
  2. Inspect all educational facilities by ensuring that they are clean, structurally sound and fully
  3. Establish and strengthen existing vocational
  4. Establish relationships with schools and governments around the world requesting teacher exchange
  5. Reach out to Liberian educators around the world requesting their:


President Weah understands that health is the backbone and hallmark of any development in Liberia. Through many reports and eye witnesses, the president is cognizant of how dilapidated the country’s health system is. Many people die of diseases and illnesses that could be cured if the right medical equipment and medical practitioners are trained and brought into the country. In this light, the president has now embarked on working with international organizations and friendly nations in making sure that the best medical brains and equipment are brought into the country.

In the not distance future from now, a plan will be set up in reconstructing all public medical centers in the country (Saa et al, 2018). Each county is expected to have at least three doctors and other medical practitioners. Plans are that:

  1. Each hospital be equipped with the best medical
  2. Recertify all medical personnel, train and develop the medical
  3. Inspect all medical facilities to ensure they are clean, sound and properly
  4. Establish a medical board, which all medical practitioners must pass an exam on a regular routine to be allowed membership and be allowed to practice in
  5. All government officials including the president and vice president will be treated in the country throughout their stay in office.

This paper will focus its recommendations on the present realities of the Liberian situation with the Pro-Poor agenda as its central focal point. While this policy outlined broken institutions, poor economy and health care systems, it did not provide redress to conflict resolution, reconciliation and empowerment. It seems most of the work will be centered around the government with little involvement of the people. Thus, this paper recommends the following:

  1. Trauma healing and Reconciliation Programs for the Liberian People:

Among the consequences of war, the impact on the mental health of the civilian population is of significant importance. Studies of the general population show a definite increase in the incidence and prevalence of mental disorders. Women are more affected than men. Other vulnerable groups are children, the elderly and the disabled. Prevalence rates are associated with the degree of trauma. and the availability of physical and emotional support. The use of cultural and religious coping strategies is frequent in developing countries, such as Liberia. Except the people heal, holistic development be difficult to achieve. 

  1. Empowerment Programs for the marginalized and weak in Liberia:

The Pro-Poor agenda does not really define who the poor people are. In a war torn country like Liberia, everyone will want to benefit from any type of empowerment program and except the true victims are identified, the social objective will not be achieved. These marginalized groups such as the handicapped, women, orphan and abandoned children, the unemployed’ and the poor in general require special empowerment programs that will address their needs and make them independent in society. All these are geared toward economic empowerment and subsequent reduction in unemployment rate in Liberia.


Ellis, S., 1995, Liberia 1989-1994: A Study of Ethnic and Spiritual Violence, African Affairs, Vol. 94, no. 375, pp. 165-97

Kramer, Reed, Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War’s End, Center for Strategic and Intervention Studies (CSIS), retrieved from

Martin Ravallion (2004), “Comment on Pro-Poor Growth: What is It?” Page No. I

Reiling, Herman T. (1958). “Federal Taxation: What Is a Charitable Organization?”. American Bar Association Journal. 44 (6): 525–598. JSTOR 25720402.

Rob      Schmitz      (2017),      “Who’s      Lifting      Chinese      People      Out      Of      Poverty?”, out-of-poverty

Saa, Tali Phillip Jr., 2018 March, “The Pro-Poor Policy of President George Weah: In the Cause of the People, the Struggle ends,” retrieved from http://wvc.linkedin.corn

Yunus, Mohammed, 2010. “Building Social Business”


Dr. Eric Burphy Duncan is an Educationalist/Social Worker who possesses nearly ten years’ experience in social work and educative activities with private, non-governmental and international institutions. Institutions that he has worked for are: The American Refugees Committee, Save the Children – UK, UNICEF-SC UK Disarmament and Rehabilitation Project, Prestige Motors, Multi-Choice Liberia, etc.

He possesses knowledge and skills in Social Work, Counselling, and Project Monitoring/Planning, working with Communities Adult Literacy, Empowerment, Writing, Conflict Resolution and Administration. He holds a Doctorate in Educational Administration from Atlantic International University, a Master in Adult Education from the University of Ghana and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/ Demography from the University of Liberia.

On May 02, 2008, he was appointed the Dean of Student Affairs of the Regional Maritime University, and even though the nomenclature changed to Coordinator of Student Affairs, he has retained that status and has also contributed to the development of the University. Outstanding amongst his achievement are the establishment of a Counselling Unit.

In 2017, Dr. Duncan won the Vice Chancellor’s award for his hard work and dedication to duties. Dr. Duncan is married with three (3) children.

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