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Press Release

Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund Becomes New Organization: Sustainable Market Women’s Fund of Liberia

Makes Special Thank You Presentation to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for “Omega Market” at Final Event during 61 st Session of UN Commission for the Status of Women in New York City

New organization to focus on expanding Liberian market women’s access to education, entrepreneurship, health and agriculture training programs

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – March 15, 2017 – The International Board of Directors of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (SMWF) announced today at its final event held during the 61st Session UN Commission for the Status of Women at the African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the UN that the Liberia-based organization will become a new organization, the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund.

Dorothy Davis, Chair of the International Board of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, announced “that the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund is now going to transform into the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund. So, we stay with the SMWF!”

The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund was independently established in 2007 to build or renovate markets for the market women of Liberia and provide them with adult literacy and business development training and skills development. During Liberia’s Civil War, the market women fed the country across enemy lines and, ultimately, became change agents in bringing peace to Liberia, and, most recently, reversing the tide of the Ebola crisis at the community level.

Since its inception, the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund has built and renovated 26 markets and provided literacy, business, market management and health training and credit services for nearly 4,000 market women in 10 counties in Liberia.

While the Ebola outbreak curtailed some of SMWF’s programming efforts in 2014 and 2015, the global health crisis also redefined the course of the organization’s direction. In response to the Ebola crisis, more than 400 participants were trained in Ebola prevention, pre-natal care and basic healthcare.

“The intention of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund has always been to transfer the ownership and vision of the organization to the market women of Liberia,” continued Dorothy Davis. “We believe this is the time to do so and have been working with the Liberia Board of Directors in ensuring this smooth transition.”

Market women are the backbone of Liberia’s economy. Nearly 75% of Liberian women work in the informal sector, delivering 85% of agricultural marketing and trading in the West African nation.

Lusu Sloan, Outgoing President of the Liberia Marketing Association and member of the Liberia Board of Directors of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, will become the Founding Executive Director of the new organization in April. As a member of the Republic of Liberia’s Delegation to CSW61 attending the final event, Ms. Sloan explained the goals of the new organization “We have the same goal. The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund was dealing with markets built by them but now the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund will deal with all markets in Liberia: not specifically Sirleaf Market. It stays SMWF!”

Ms. Sloan continued, “In order to actually achieve gender equality in Africa, we need to help our market women who cannot read or write with education.”

H. E. Julia Duncan Cassell, Liberia’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, supported Ms. Sloan’s comment, “Sirleaf Market came in to train market women…across the country on literacy, numeracy and skills. Most of our market women have come from zero to heroes. They know how to write their names. Their markets are no longer on the floor. They are all now on tables.”

“With the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund,” she concluded, “we now hope these women will start owning their own businesses, their own shops, their own stores and traveling. We look forward to improving the lives of our women and children in Liberia. If you improve the life of a woman, you also improve the life of a child and make the world a better place.”

Olivia Shannon, the current Chair of the Liberia Board of Directors of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, will become the Founding Chair of the Liberia Board of Directors of the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund. “Market women are the change agents in their communities,” she said. “By expanding our mission and reach, the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund seeks to bolster the income and livelihoods of Liberian market women and women farmers, and empower them to strengthen their capacities to create successful, sustainable businesses for themselves, their families and their country.”

Layli Maparyan, the current Secretary of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, is the Founding Chair of the new organization’s International Board of Directors. “We’re excited about the new beginnings for the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund. The new organization will build on the tremendous success and impact of its predecessor, the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, by supporting Liberia’s market women with greater access to education, entrepreneurship, health and agriculture training programs. In the ongoing spirit of joint endeavor, and in support of the market women who feed and educate the citizenry of Liberia, we look forward to all that lies ahead.””

Additionally, the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund will continue strengthening local and global partnerships with Liberian Ministries and government agencies, market women and market leadership, donors and businesses, vendors and NGOs, universities, and international development institutions.

“One good thing that the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund did,” observed Minister Duncan Cassell, “was trying to become regionalized. Malawi is copied after Liberia. Ghana is copied after Liberia. They took the exact pattern from the Sirleaf Market in Liberia… That’s a big clap to all members of Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund. It didn’t just stay in Liberia. It went on a regional level and hopefully
to Africa as a whole looking at what market women have done in Liberia under the auspices of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund.”

The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund was named in honor of Liberia’s and Africa’s first woman president, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose grandmother was a market woman. Given the tremendous body of work and research over the last ten years, the archives of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund are being transferred to The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, a division of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Archives. The archive will be available to the public for research and scholarship in 2017.

The new SMWF headquarters is now at the Jorkpentown Market, one of the markets renovated by the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Lusu Sloan encouraged “…all of us to support the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund in order to achieve the gender equality we are coming here (CSW61) for.”

During the final event, the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund also presented the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. with a special wall hanging as an expression of appreciation for raising an initial $500,000 in 2010 to build one market in Liberia. “The AKA Sorority was the first female only organization to commit to raising substantial funds to construct one market,” said Dorothy Davis, Founding Member and Chair of the International Board of Directors of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund. “After attending our first fundraiser in New York City in June 2008, they engaged all of their chapters nationwide in this fundraising effort. It took them two years to reach their goal.”

Established as the AKA’s first international chapter in 1957, the Eta Beta Omega Chapter launched a global campaign in 2013 in honor of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 75th birthday that raised an additional $900,000 to complete the construction of the Omega Market in Paynesville, Liberia. The devastating Ebola virus epidemic in Liberia in 2014 caused major setbacks for this project. Coinciding with the July 26th national celebrations marking the 169th Independence of the Republic of Liberia, the women of Eta Beta Omega Chapter of Alpha dedicated and turned over the Omega Market on July 23, 2016 to the City of Paynesville on behalf of President Sirleaf. The “state of the art” signature building was designed by Eta Beta Omega Chapter Soror Pia Brown while she was Executive Director of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund of Liberia and before becoming a Member and then Vice Chair of the International Board of Directors of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund in 2014. It can accommodate 3000 market women in one of the densest population areas in Liberia. Paynesville City Corporation is now responsible for the final touches and maintaining the market.

“On behalf of the government of Liberia and all the women of Liberia,” said H.E. Julia Duncan Cassell, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, “I want to give a big thank you to the Founding Members of Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, AKA/International and AKA/Local who worked extremely hard to get this market to where it is today.”

To read the story about “The Omega Market and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority” and view the full final event of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund and for more information about the Sustainable Market Women’s Fund, please visit www.smwf.org.