8 March, 2023

"Female entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone face unique challenges in a male-dominated industry, and having a community of supportive and like-minded individuals can make all the difference. It's essential to seek out mentors and role models who can offer guidance and advice on navigating the business world. By supporting each other, we can build a more inclusive and empowering environment for female entrepreneurs to thrive. Finally, I believe that female entrepreneurs should also strive to give back to their communities, just as I have done with EVSUMO. By creating opportunities for others and contributing to the economy, we can help uplift our communities and make a positive impact on the world," Susan Coker talks about building her ice empire and provides insights on what the female entrepreneurs face in Sierra Leone.

Evsumo, a company specializing in industrial ice production, has established itself as a critical player in the artisanal fishing sector in Sierra Leone. The company's primary market is the fishing industry, where ice is widely used to store fish. With the help of Cordaid Investment Management's investment in 2017, Evsumo has expanded to two new sites in Lungi and Goderich - areas with significant demand for ice. With at least 3,000 fishing boats, those areas were deprived of ice, and as a result, much of their production was going to waste, and fishermen were losing income.

By expanding their production capacity and establishing themselves in new areas with high demand, Evsumo grew their business, artisanal fishing became more sustainable, and local communities were able to increase their incomes.  

 I have worked in the banking industry for 16 years, starting as a cashier and working my way up to bank manager. After that, in 2000, my husband and I decided to open a logistics company. He is an engineer and had secured a contract with a Telecoms company. The business was very successful, and I eventually decided to start my own business. I was waiting for the right opportunity to appear.

Well, we had bought a piece of land, and I noticed that people in the nearby fishing village struggled to find ice to preserve their fish. As someone who frequently visited the area to buy fish, I wanted to help the community. So I started researching how to acquire an ice machine and eventually opened the factory in 2013.


My husband helped me acquire the first ice machine, then the business took off, and my product was successful among the fishermen. But as demand grew, I needed more finance to buy more ice machines. The banks do not provide such loans. As a woman entrepreneur, it was especially challenging for me, as certain criteria had to be met and they would ask for a bigger collateral. However, after running the business successfully for five years, I was able to expand with the help of Cordaid Investment Management. I was very lucky to find an investor who saw the potential of my business and wanted to work and empower women. 

Balancing family life and managing the business was one of the biggest challenges. I had to find time for both, and sometimes, I couldn't spend as much time with my kids as I wanted. However, as they grew older, I made the right choice. I taught my daughters about the value and pride of having their businesses, and now they run their own companies: a pharmacy and a foreign exchange bureau.

Another challenge was acquiring technical skills, particularly in dealing with machines. Cordaid Investment Management was able to assist us in that as well, providing technical assistance to bring experts from Germany to train the factory staff. 

There were no female mentors in the area, so I had to seek advice from male colleagues, who could sometimes be difficult to work with. I employ 35 people, and most of them are men. Dealing with male staff can be difficult, but I am a strict boss and give them queries and issue memos to keep them on their toes. I hope to see more women entering tech and breaking stereotypes.

My biggest success is contributing to my country's economy by providing employment opportunities to people in the community. Our community is poor, and we provide essential products like ice to fishmongers, allowing them to preserve their fish for longer, sell more, and generate more income. We also create job opportunities for young girls who have dropped out of school, allowing them to engage in small-scale trade and sell ice-cold beverages. This, in turn, allows them to sustain their families and build their lives. We cannot depend on the government to do everything, so if we can help, it's a blessing.

As Sierra Leone is a hot climate, the demand for our products is endless. I have already diversified my business by providing ice for fish and ice cubes, which I supply to supermarkets. I have also expanded into the natural spring water business. My water is different from because I do not add any chemicals to it, and it goes through a purification process. People like my product, so why not increase the supply? I am always searching for opportunities and coming up with new business ideas.

 In Sierra Leone, there are very few female entrepreneurs. When I was dealing in ice, there was only one female entrepreneur I met, but financial constraints forced her to close her business. Similarly, when I was working on water, there was another female entrepreneur who eventually sold her business. Female entrepreneurs in the country usually deal in small retail businesses, buying and selling small products. Big female entrepreneurs are hard to find in Sierra Leone. The challenge is that we need to break down barriers.

First and foremost, women need to overcome fear, which always holds us back. Entering into entrepreneurship is risky, and you don't know whether your business will succeed or fail. It's even riskier in this part of the country, where there is a high crime rate and the risk of war and conflict.

However, we have to take risks to become entrepreneurs. Recently, the government has opened the door for women by creating new opportunities. Women are now being encouraged to participate in politics and to pursue managerial positions - the president has announced that women should be given equal opportunities to strive for these roles. Because what men can do, the women can do also. I encourage female entrepreneurs to break down the barriers of fear and take risks to become successful and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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