September 5, 2014

SPARK IGNITE: A Liberian take on Amsterdam and a Successful Business Idea

We left Liberia to pick up our visa from Ghana on a Wednesday. We were hoping to swiftly attain our final requirement to visit summer school in the Netherlands before making it back home for a few days. As could be expected, we had to wait a week for our visa. As we had dreaded, President Sirleaf finally declared a state of emergency over the deadly Ebola virus. Needless to say, Liberia International Airport was virtually on lockdown. In fear joining the hundreds who could not travel to and from Liberia, we changed our flight to depart from Ghana and flew into Amsterdam on August 17th.

Amsterdam experience (by Varbah K. Duncan)

It was supposed to be summer but wow, it was really cold when we got in! We predicted summer weather so we had only brought summer clothing. Thankfully, our Dutch SPARK colleague, Karen Blanken, brought jackets to keep us warm when she welcomed us at the airport. Karen took us to our hotel rooms and we fell fast asleep.

On Monday we were up and ready to work. We used the map Karen gave us to find our way to the SPARK Headquarters. Upon arrival at the office we introduced ourselves to the SPARK Amsterdam staff and got straight to work. After finishing our reports for the day, we walked deeper into the city to get a feel of Amsterdam. Himi has been to the Netherlands before but this was my first visit. My first impression was that of a cultural city filled with many different people. We definitely weren’t short of sights to photograph.

On our second day, we visited the BiD Network office and met with their team. After a morning of familiarizing ourselves with the foundation’s activities, Advisor Sanne Boogers took us for a lunch with a view –from up high, we watched the people and boats pass by.

The next few days, in addition to our usual work, we attended two trainings. First, we received a Communications Training from SPARK’s Communications Coordinator, Vedrana Halepović, at the University of Amsterdam’s Business School. The training was very helpful in showing how the SPARK office in Monrovia can be consistent in its language and design. We also had a financial training with SPARK’s Project Controller Sven Pauka and SPARK’s Financial Officer Adriana Salazar. Since Himi’s and my expertise lay in finance, this was an especially interesting learning experience for us.
On our last day in Amsterdam a nice woman from Unilever, Laura van Gaal, took us for a boat tour. She told us the stories behind the landmarks and about the people behind the stories. The statues of four men’s heads who were beheaded by a housekeeper for stealing were particularly memorable.

Although we were cold for most of our stay, we really enjoyed seeing the many beautiful places Amsterdam has to offer. A final observation from us, everyone – eating and smoking while walking in the streets – seemed to be in a rush. Slow down, people! We want to say a big thank you to the SPARK team for our stay in Amsterdam. It was a pleasure meeting so many lovely people inside and out of the office.


Entrepreneurship Summer School in Maastricht (by Himieda Wallace)

On Saturday August 23rd we made our journey to Maastricht. The landscape was charming and we happily watched out the window for the three hour train ride. When we arrived in Maastricht we headed to our hotel, which was welcoming and felt like home right away. For the rest of the weekend we did some sightseeing, including a visit to Maastricht University where our Entrepreneurship Summer School took place.

On Monday we began our week-long training. It was very stimulating learning about global issues surrounding entrepreneurship development. We had a wonderful week learning from facilitators and colleagues from around the world. There were 16 participants from: Nigeria, Liberia, Germany, Sudan, Philippines, Holland, Dubar, and Jordan.

At the end of the summer school each participant presented their business pitch in front of panel of experts. Everyone had inspiring ideas such as: a summer camp for kids in Liberia, helping hands for amputees in Philippines, mobile in rural areas in Sudan, a hotel tracker system from Germany, producing clothes for kids from Jordan, a dentist clinic in Spain, a logistics company in Dubar, distributing used clothes from the Netherlands to Africa and producing local apple cider in the Netherlands. I was happy to hear that the panel selected my idea of opening a refrigerated distribution fishery company in Liberia as the best business plan. I was called on to give an impromptu speech. It was a moving moment for us. It’s rewarding to know that we come from a post-conflict and Ebola-affected country but we are still making steps for progress in the world.

Thank you SPARK for the opportunity to explore and improve our entrepreneurial skills, and for believing in our ability to make Liberia a better place. We will use our new experiences to continue to contribute to entrepreneurship development and thereby reduce unemployment in Liberia.




* Varbah Duncan is a Finance Officer for SPARK Liberia and Himieda Wallace is a Financial Officer for BSC Monrovia

SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, and what inspire us to do what we do.  We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]