Written by Memuna Forna- Insight.

Yesterday’s Pitch Night to hear sustainable commercial solutions to Sierra Leone’s single-use plastic problem, held at the EU Delegation at Leicester Peak, highlighted the potential of the private sector in Sierra Leone to be solutions providers instead of problem causers.The event, which was a collaboration between the EU and Innovation SL, was organised within the framework of EU Climate Diplomacy Week and EU Green Week on the theme of nature and biodiversity. It followed a clean-up of Lumley Beach, on Saturday 10th October, which was organised by the EU and was a stark reminder of the extent of Sierra Leone’s plastic problem.

In his introduction Tom Vens, EU Ambassador, said: “From what we saw on the beach during Saturday’s clean-up, it is clear that the biggest problem is plastic. It requires all of us to think creatively about solutions and alternatives. That is why we are here tonight.

”The importance of identifying locally-led solutions was echoed by Francis Stevens-George, CEO of Innovation SL, who added:

“Freetown Pitch Night focuses on the circular economy, which is based on eliminating the use of finite resources and the production of waste. For this to become a reality in Sierra Leone, we need to encourage entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to our existing waste problem.”

According to the rules of pitch night, each of the three entrepreneurs had a slim five minutes to pitch their ideas. With a trip abroad, sponsored by Brussels Airlines and the EU, to allow the winning pitcher to develop their business ideas, the stakes were considerable.

The panel of business, diplomatic and public sector leaders included – EU Ambassador, Tom Vens; Irish Ambassador, Lesley Ni Bhriain; Dep German Ambassador – Patrick Dzierzon; MD of Brussels airlines, Estelle Van Eeckhout and PJ Mandewa-Cole, DSTI.

The winning pitch came from John Sawo Koroma, who has an established small business making cotton bags, rucksacks and handbags out of Africana fabric, and wanted to extend his production of reusable cotton shopping bags to replace single-use plastic bags.Despite the competitive nature of the competition, the judges emphasised that collaboration in identifying and implementing solutions, across the private sector, was essential for change to be impactful and sustainable.

Tom Vens said: “The problem of plastic waste in Sierra Leone is still small enough to be tackled, particularly if we think creatively about partnerships with the private sector. They are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution, as we saw here this evening.”