Economic Empowerment for Women in Liberia
Featuring Chid Liberty
Meeting Recap written by Elayna Yussen
Last Wednesday’s SVMN event held at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco featured guest speaker Chid Liberty, co-founder and CEO of Liberty & Justice, and partnering non-profit, Made In: Liberia. Throughout the evening, Chid shared his personal story and passion for his current venture – a hybrid social business model that manufactures Fair Trade clothing for U.S. retailers, provides education and formal employment opportunities to women in Liberia, and invests in community development.
Revealing the inspiration for his work, Chid reflects on his childhood – born in Liberia two months after a coup, moving to Germany with his family at age one, and later, to the United States. When Chid was 18 years old, his father passed away. In his grief, he was struck by the outpouring of love and gratitude – from so many whose lives were changed by his father’s life work as an educator, diplomat, and humanitarian. Chid also underscored the power of grassroots movements, pointing to the incredible feat of ordinary Christian and Muslim women, who came together in prayer after more than a decade of civil war, took on warlords and corrupt leadership in Liberia, demanded revolution, and brought about a peace agreement in 2003.
Liberty & Justice is a for-profit trading company; Made in Liberia, its’ non-profit partner organization, enables Chid to look beyond profit at opportunities to make a lasting social change at the base of the pyramid. The women factory workers go through an intensive, six course training program. Through the working assets training component, the women open savings accounts and their one year savings are matched at 100%. Other Made in Liberia programs include a community development fund to build schools and other projects as voted upon by the women, provision of health care for workers, rural medical clinics, and a worker development fund.
You might say that Chid is starting a grassroots revolution of his own. With current factory staff of 58 women, he plans to scale to 900 workers over the next 18 months. His vision, “Dirt to Shirt”, includes vertical integration of the supply chain, from cotton production, to cotton mill, to factory. His image for the business is one of high quality production to compete in the global market.
Chid explained the delicate challenge of moving capital quickly enough to the business, while holding the interest of prospective customers. However, it seems that no obstacle is too large for Chid. To illustrate this point, Liberty & Justice secured their first major contract with Prana last year, before the Liberia factory was even built. The local community has reason to be proud. Not only are their women becoming empowered socially and financially, but the worker owned factory in Monrovia is the first textile factory in Africa to be audited and Certified Fair Trade. The T-Shirts they produce are the only value added export out of Liberia today.