Marian, Unlikely Entrepreneur?

"I feel proud of what I’ve achieved and I know whatever comes my way, I can handle it.’’

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Marian Kamara, 49 Sierra Leone Retail Industry Storyline

With the right mind-set, you are able to overcome challenges, get stronger and become successful. This is the story of Marian.

47-year-old Marian Kamara is from Bombali in Northern Sierra Leone. Marian has faced many challenges in her life including the 11-year civil war in which her mother was killed, extreme poverty and, more recently, the Ebola virus epidemic. She has succeeded against the odds and now runs one of the most successful retailing businesses in her region.

Marian has had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age and used to sell beans and cassava with her mother during the primary school lunch break to make ends meet.  Sadly she had to drop out of education when she reached secondary school, as her parents could no longer afford the fees.

She progressed on her entrepreneurial journey having been inspired by both her mother and other successful businesswomen in her community.  Having gained the trust of local women, Marian received coaching and goods on credit, which she used to build up her customer base.  As her business took off she was soon able to pay the women back.

However, Marian soon discovered that running a retail business can be challenging, which puts many others off.  She had been running her shop for a number of years before she heard about the Women in Enterprise project run by CARE and funded by H&M Foundation.  She said: “I was finding it difficult to manage my business until CARE offered me free training in Financial Education and Business Management Training.”

Marian

"Women are expected to work hard, but they’re not allowed to succeed."

Following the training, Marian was able to further grow her business.  She puts much of her success down to sheer determination.  Following the Ebola outbreak, her business slowed down due to movement restrictions.  Thanks to her newly developed finance and business skills she was able to overcome these challenges.

She says that her husband and four children are happy and proud of her success, which supports the household and pays for the children’s education.  Together with her husband, she has managed to build a house and now owns land in her own name.

On gender equality, Marian said: “Some men are afraid to allow their women to get involved in business, because they think that when these women are successful in their business their authority will be undermined or taken away from them. To me, women are more capable, because they are more focused and committed in everything they do.”

Marian now wants to give something back and is helping other young women in her region by offering them the same opportunities that she had, including mentoring, coaching and goods on credit. She wants them to become independent and also serve as role models within her country.

Marian concludes: “When you have four mouths to feed, you have no choice, you get up and get to work. Then you become successful, and people start talking. Women are expected to work hard, but they’re not allowed to succeed. But I was born an entrepreneur and now I am one of the most successful retailers in my region.”