‘Special economic zone’ couples hard-nosed business endeavors and humanitarian relief

By June 21, 2010

Sierra Leone (MNN) — Around the world, the poorest of poor
countries have struggling, isolated economies–much like that of Sierra Leone,
which is crippled and hindered from developing by weak infrastructure and corruption.

That's why World Hope International created FIRST STEP to "help
jump-start the economies of the poorest and most isolated developing economies
through public-private partnerships that attract labor intensive, export
processing industry to those countries while building the capacity of local
institutions to provide services that enhance the developmental impact of the
industry and safeguard labor rights and environmental protections," according
to their Web site.

Richard Schroeder of WHI puts it in simpler terms: "We
have established an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone to build what
is technically called a special economic zone, but basically it is an
industrial park."

Other than natural resources, Sierra Leone has very few exports, and the ones they do have are immediately shipped out of the country
and processed elsewhere. In this industrial park, World Hope is helping workers
make fruit juice from the abundance of Sierra Leone's fruit, much of which rots
before being eaten. Once the juice is processed and packaged, it will be
exported around the world, creating new revenue streams and job opportunities for
the floundering country.

World Hope's strong relationship with Sierra Leone's
government makes FIRST STEP and these exports possible: "World Hope
International is a Christian NGO, and Sierra Leone is largely a Muslim country.
They recognize our identity, and they're just happy to work with us,"
Schroeder said. This relationship has been formed over years of gaining the
government's trust, as WHI worked in the country providing humanitarian

This also presents a wonderful opportunity to share the
message of Christ with Sierra Leone. They will do so with an emphasis on
business as mission, while also continuing the work they already have in the
country, such as healthcare, education, rural development and micro-loans. Schroeder
said, "It's kind of a marriage of the hard-nosed business investment and
the softer humanitarian programming that NGOs do."

Sierra Leone's not the only country WHI would like to help. Through
cultivating relationships with other governments, World Hope wants to reach out
to Sierra Leone's neighbors and around the world. Additionally, WHI is
willing to share the FIRST STEP model with other NGOs, which already have
established relationships in specific countries.

Now, World Hope needs people with business backgrounds to
contribute to the work ahead, as well as generous donors to provide the finances that
make this venture possible.

Click here to get involved today.

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