A day with three CEOs: An enriching learning experience

Tribeulous Fact: On Friday, August 7, 2020, we had our second in-person session at the YEBC (Young Entrepreneurs Boot Camp), and it was the most engaging learning experience since we began program activities in March 2020. Our students toured two corporate offices, asked an average of 10 questions to three CEOs, and reviewed product production, packaging processes, delivery, and marketing strategies at The Bush ChickenJ- Palm Liberia and The Kreative Zone.

Behind-the-scenes: It was approximately 9:30 AM, and 18 students formed a circle on the red running track — a few feet away from the greenfield- in center of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex, Paynesville, Libera. These students had come from different communities in and around Monrovia and as far as Firestone District, Margibi County, to participate in the second in-person session at the YEBC. The circle the students made was wide and cheerful. There were ice breakers–one game after another– intended to create a vibrant bond and build the momentum for the hours ahead. The morning was sunny and promising, and students’ expectations sky-dived in anticipation of the upcoming career conversations with three CEOs and onsite visits at J-Palm Liberia and The Kreative Zone.

YEBC’s Students: James Appleton and Jestina Miantona play “rock, paper, scissors” on the running-track

After about 45 minutes of laughter, teambuilding, and cheering, we departed the running-track. Everyone was beaming with smiles, matching in TRIBE’s branded t-shirts for breakfast and a five-minute break before the first learning session. While three of our team members remained in the hallway to prepare food for the lunch, the students accompanied by other team members converged in the fully air-conditioned Youth Connekt Innovation Lab at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville.

Standing at the head of the brown wooden table horizontally placed in the center of the fully-furnished lab, our CEO began the Entrepreneurial Mindset Session with a recap from the virtual Growth Mindset Class. In the Entrepreneurial Mindset Class, students were introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship and given practical tips on how to develop social impact projects. Participants from our Virtual Entrepreneurship Program shared insights and their experiences from participating in their social impact projects, and together, all the participants brainstormed and discussed ideas they will work on for their final project in week four.

The room was full of unpolished ideas, anxiety, and awe upon the sudden introduction of the next facilitator. Jefferson Krua, CEO of The Bush Chicken, came up next for his master class on Communications Etiquette and Storytelling. Jefferson introduced himself to a silent audience, who, until hearing that he works for The Bush Chicken and Pinkberry Liberia, awakened with countless questions. “What is The Bush Chicken?” What do you do at The Bush Chicken?” “How do you make money at The Bush Chicken?” “Why is it called The Bush Chicken?” They asked, unabashedly.

The Bush Chicken’s CEO, Jefferson Krua leads a presentation on Communications Etiquette

The first half of Jefferson’s presentation focused on Communications Etiquette, he highlighted the do’s and don’ts of professional communications and introduced the participants to professional social media marketing. The session, quite insightful and entertaining, lasted for about 45 minutes. Jefferson later opened the floor for questions and answers, an interactive experience that we hope he will remember forever, or at least for a long time.

Jefferson stood poised and answered the participants’ questions; from his career choice in communications, to the founding and operations of The Bush Chicken and his next business plans.

The quality of questions the students asked showed their growing interest in entrepreneurship and how eager they were to learn after the failures, successes, and vision of a Liberian business. After several minutes of cross-examination and storytelling, Jefferson concluded his presentation with a recap on communications etiquette and his experience as an entrepreneur.

At about noon, we left the lab for lunch and preparation for our trip to J-Palm Liberia’s Manufacturing plant in Du-port Road, Paynesville. We ate Cassava Leaf and Rice for lunch and made an 11th-hour negotiation for another bus. The truth is, we blundered! All along, we had thought that the one bus we acquired through our partnership with the Mano River Union Youth Parliament Liberia Chapter would contain 25 students per trip. But no, we made a big mistake! The bus was 14-seated, and with 24 students present that day, we needed another vehicle to do the on-site visits.

Our Administrator, James Kollie, along with our Director of Programs and Manager of the Boot Camp, Solomon Mahn, made a last-minute arrangement for a second bus, a blessing that permitted the possibility of our trip on that day. Our Programs Director, Solomon Mahn, saved the day. Though we acquired another bus at the 11th hour, the driver had a pressing engagement; hence, a member of our team had to drive the bus for us to make the trip. Solo, as he is affectionately called, got on board, and drove a van for the first time. It was indeed a what-the-hell experience!

The students onboarded two white buses that sped from gate ten at the Sports Complex, to the entry and then, J-Palm Manufacturing Plant in Duport Road, Paynesville. Blayon Natt, a student in the YEBC, was our photographer and he captured the events from behind the camera.

Our experience at J-Palm Liberia’s Manufacturing plant was terrific! With the help of the factory manager and operating staff, we toured the factory, conducting a review of the warehouse, palm kennel stock, industrial machines, factory maintenance, and quality control.

J-Palm Liberia Factory Supervisor leads participants on the tour of its Manufacturing Plant.

“It is my first time coming to a manufacturing plant,” Jacob Doe, TRIBE’s Program Associate. Like Jacob Doe, it was a first-time experience for many students, who before the YEBC, had never seen a production site or manufacturing factory.

We went live on Facebook at the manufacturing plant, calling the attention of our supporters and showcasing the success story of a Liberia business.

From Duport Road to Police Academy Paynesville, we arrived at J- Palm Liberia’s Corporate Office. Mahmud Johnson, J-Palm Liberia’s CEO who greeted us at the Manufacturing Plant, did the same at the corporate office. At J-Palm Liberia’s corporate office, the students reviewed product production, packaging processes, delivery, and marketing strategies. Mahmud climaxed the visit with a career talk about his passion for entrepreneurship and his journey with J-Palm. It was a teachable and memorable moment for all of us!

Students of the YEBC pose for a picture with Mahmud Johnson after a tour of J-Palm Liberia’s Corporate Office.

After minutes of dithering on whether or not to make our final cut at The Kreative Zone on the UN Drive in Monrovia, the students made a unanimous verdict amid the fear of the huge traffic in Sinkor. We sped from Police Academy to Tubman Boulevard, Sinkor then UN Drive.

At The Kreative Zone, our students had a 45-minute career conversation with CEO, Roland Washington. Roland’s love for the arts led him to run The Kreative Zone and quit his ambition in medicine. Roland spoke passionately about his work, inspiring students to identify their passion and work at their full potential. Like Jefferson and Mahmud, Roland answered tons of questions about his career, business, failures, and successes.

The Kreative Zone’s CEO, Roland Washington having a career conversation with students of the YEBC

While it was a teachable moment for our students, it was indeed a memorable and humbling experience for the young CEOs. All three CEOs had one or two questions that reminded them about their struggles, their sources of grit and optimism, and how they are overcoming the odds and obstacles in an unhealthy business environment.

It was an enriching day of learning and despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, our second in-person session was engaging and successful. Our students interacted with young Liberian entrepreneurs who inspired them to think, act, and develop the mindset for entrepreneurial pursuits.

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