MONROVIA-Antoinette N Weah is a junior student at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) in Liberia’s Capital, Monrovia, majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry, respectively.
She is also a budding entrepreneur with a fast-growing ice-cream outlet back in her home county, Grand Bassa.
“My biggest dream was to be a health care worker, but now business is drawing me in,” the 21-year-old told UNDP in Buchanan.
Antoinette said that many people have asked her how can she combine the two.
She is clear – she envisions having a chain of hospitals and clinics in every county as well as many other businesses.
The young Entrepreneur started her ice-cream business in a tiny booth by the seaside just before graduating from high school using seed money from her mother.
“I discovered that we did not have a safe space, or entertainment center for kids to experience a clean, safe, and fun childhood in Buchanan, so I decided to start selling ice-cream. Since I wanted to be a pediatrician, I figured ice cream would also attract many children to my practice,” she said.
While running her business, she met the Executive Director of a civil society organization called GRASS, which had won a UNDP small grant to support the construction of business premises along the Buchanan coast to serve as an alternative source of income for people impacted by coastal erosion because of rising sea levels associated with global warming and climate change.
The grants were provided as part of a bigger project that constructed a coastal defense system in Buchanan to keep the ocean from taking over more of the county’s coastal areas.
The Buchanan project was supported by UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
After the business premises were completed and turned over to the county authorities, Antoinette successfully wrote a proposal with the help of GRASS to rent and maintain one of the premises. This spacious facility is now home to her ice cream business, OC Cream.
She subsequently applied for additional funding from the UNDP Liberia Small Grants program that is financed by the GEF.
In 2022, she participated in the UNDP Business Start-Up competition, which is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and won a grant of USD500, which came as part of a package on business development and mentorship.
She used the funds to secure the business premises by installing metal grills on the windows as well as painting and gave the premises a cheery make-over. She opened her business in the new premises in December 2022 and made her first sale on the 25th of December.
Of all four-business premises created by the coastal revetment project and handed over to people to run, Antoinette’s business is the only one still standing, and growing from strength to strength. She employs at least eight other young people as ice cream scoopers, waiters, cashier, popcorn seller, cleaner, street vendor and security officer.
With the profits generated, she can keep the business running, meet all its expenses as well as reinvest into the business because her long-term goal is to create a child friendly environment that is well-fenced with a playground, and other recreational activities. She also has plans to increase youth employment by acquiring more street vending ice-cream machines.
In 2021, she enrolled in university and the business paid her registration and tuition fees, and pays for her upkeep, food and transportation costs as she shuttles between Buchanan and Monrovia.
“The business has made me independent as I don’t have to ask my mom for any money for transport or food,” she said gleefully.
But it is not easy. She runs the ice-cream business without electricity, which is an expensive undertaking relying on a generator.