Chid Liberty is the co-founder and CEO of Liberty and Justice, a social enterprise in Liberia which employs women in the garment industry. As he explains to Caroline Hartnell, it’s not just a matter of providing incomes for poor women in an African country at one end and T-shirts for customers in the US at the other: the women he employs need training and support in every aspect of their lives.
This training couldn’t have been provided without grant support. Yet for Chid Liberty, one of the ironies of what he’s doing is that so many philanthropists and impact investors don’t see job creation as something to invest in.
Can you tell me about how Liberty and Justice got started? What was involved in its founding and development?
It started with two investments from my business partner and myself in the holding company, which is a US for-profit with African subsidiaries. We also had a counterpart in Liberia, a local corporation, which is 49 per cent owned by the workers and co-managed with local and international experts. We also started a non-profit organization.
One of the reasons for starting the non-profit was that we were going to be making a lot of investments in traditional workforce capacity: how to use a sewing machine; why it’s important to come to work on time, etc. Our workers are internally displaced women who are now becoming heads of households and wage earners, so there are also many things that they need to understand about financial planning and managing their families’ lives and so on that they were asking us for.
Liberty and Justice, the for-profit, has always been willing to make investments in workers, but when it came to making investments like this, we needed grants. So we started working with grantmakers and devised this idea of a hybrid structure, a for-profit and non-profit, both independently governed but working towards the same thing, job creation, and making sure our workers were successful in both their professional and their private lives.
To go back one step, why did you start Liberty and Justice in the first place?
My business partner, Adam, and I started it because we became completely enthralled by the women’s movement in Liberia. We thought it was one of the most significant women’s movements and probably one of the most significant social movements. People who were considered completely powerless by their society at the time actually played a big role in ending the war and getting rid of a president and replacing him with the first female president in African history. As someone from Liberia who hadn’t lived there for nearly 30 years, I was really keen to see what I could do.
So my best friend and I put up the seed capital to go back and research what we wanted to do. Our starting point was that we wanted to work with grassroots women’s groups, so we started meeting women in the IDP [internally displaced person] camps, the leaders of the women’s organizations, and devised the garment factory scheme.