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Cordaid NL
Private Sector Development Sierra Leone

Building Resilient Businesses in Freetown

Cordaid’s Resilient Business Development Services (RBDS) program continues to support small enterprises in Sierra Leone. One of the participants in this program is Ralford Rollings-Bull, owner and founder of SL Adverts.

The team at SL Adverts. (Picture taken before the coronavirus outbreak) © Caitlin Masoliver / Cordaid)

In celebration and support of people making their businesses flourish against all odds, today we look at the story of Ralford’s entrepreneurial journey.

From dream to reality

When Ralford Rollings-Bull was in the midst of studying for his final exams in high school, he already had his sights set far into his future. What can sometimes be a time of uncertainty was, for Ralford, a busy time of figuring out the logistics to take his entrepreneurial dream off the ground. In 2011, when Ralford was just graduating from school, SL Adverts (Sierra Leone Adverts) was born.

“When we started, it was new. We started a risky business because online advertisement was not common.”

At the time in Sierra Leone the entrepreneurial drive amongst young people was not so common, Ralford explains. Even less common was an entrepreneurial drive for digital businesses. While WhatsApp is now one of the main channels of communication in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, and Facebook, and Instagram gain more and more users each year, Ralford’s digital business idea was quite unique at its time of establishment.

Business growth through education

SL Adverts was created with the idea of providing a platform for other companies to effectively market their businesses online. They provide assistance with multimedia processing, video editing, audio editing, graphic design, printing, and web design. These are invaluable services for businesses that don’t have their own access to the internet or a computer.

The lack of people with internet and computer access, however, also posed a challenge to SL Adverts. With an absence of awareness on the merits of online advertisement came hesitation from potential clients, making Ralford’s business model initially risky. He quickly recognized this, however, and thus began to educate his clients and potential companies in Freetown on the benefits for their business in putting themselves online.

Through sharing the benefits and value of the online business world, SL Adverts saw continued growth and expansion throughout the capital.

Fighting bias against youths

Amongst his business’ success, Ralford’s journey was not without its obstacles. As a young person trying to build a company, Ralford was confronted with bias and judgment at several corners.

“Sometimes YouTube videos you look at or watch online can even inspire you… The key is getting the right mindset, doing more research, following online mentoring, and making sure it happens.”

“There’s been a lot of ‘pulling down syndrome’ with young people that want to start their business. For example, someone sees a young person who has a brilliant idea and wants to start up a business. But that person doesn’t have a car, doesn’t have whatever for himself. Then he’d be like ‘ah…this is not going anywhere’. So, before you even meet them, they tell you ‘my guy, don’t waste your time.’”

Being taken seriously by those around him with more experience in the industry was a challenge, a dream people saw as too big for someone who had just finished high school.

Ralford with his 'entrepreneur of the year' award. © Caitlin Masoliver / Cordaid
Ralford Rollings-Bull with his ‘entrepreneur of the year’ award. © Caitlin Masoliver / Cordaid

 

To combat bias against young people – in Sierra Leone and beyond – Ralford encourages fellow young people to continue to work hard. And to pursue independent research to substantiate their dream with tangible knowledge and skills for the industry. While doing so, he stresses the importance of continuing to work hard while ignoring external discouragement. “If I had listened to them, maybe I’m not where I’m sitting today.”

‘We can do it as well’

As part of Ralford’s journey to growing his business, he enrolled in the Resilient Business Development Services program. Here, he received training and support on strengthening his business model. he also took part in a business exchange trip. Speaking of his time in this program, he says: “It’s given us a different understanding of running a business. It also helped us to become more accountable. We’ve changed the narrative. We’ve sent a signal out there that it’s not only the old people that can do business. We can do it as well. We are young, we can make it happen, and we’re the people that other young people can look up to as mentors. It’s been refreshing and very important for us.”

Read more on Cordaid’s work building resilient businesses in Sierra Leone, or on our work in private sector development around the world.