J-Palm Liberia, a local oil palm-based consumer goods and clean energy company, has won another recognition for its work in Liberia.
The company was selected on March 14, as the winner of the first Johnson & Johnson Africa Innovation Challenge during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg. South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa presented the award.
The company won the award for its popular skin and hair care product, Kernel Fresh. The products are currently sold in most supermarkets and convenience stores in Monrovia.
Kernel Fresh sources natural palm kernels from smallholder women farmers, increasing their income. The entrepreneur cold presses the palm kernel oil to be used in organic cosmetics.
Johnson & Johnson is a family of companies which comprises the world’s largest healthcare business and its presence in Africa dates back to 1930, including business operations, public health programs, and corporate citizenship.
The Africa Innovation Challenge is part of the company’s comprehensive approach to collaborate with and support Africa’s vibrant innovation, education, and health institutions.
With the aim of seeking the best ideas for new sustainable health solutions that will benefit African communities, the Challenge received nearly 500 submissions from innovators and entrepreneurs across the continent.
Mahmud Johnson, J-Palm CEO who received the award on behalf of his company, told The Bush Chicken in an interview that the award is an honor for his company and a moment of pride for Liberia.
“Johnson & Johnson is the largest consumer company in the world, and the fact that they will recognize the work we do in Liberia just makes me happy – and I think it is a moment of pride for our country,” he said.
Johnson also recently won the 2016 African Entrepreneurship Award with a cash prize of US$150,000 to support his business.
He said the two awards come with mentorship, networking, and financing that would allow his company to expand its activities.
He said raising funds locally for businesses owned especially by young people is a serious challenge, thus making the awards very important.
“The fact that most of these awards are actually very much focused on creating opportunities for African entrepreneurs to grow, it means it’s not just about money; it’s about what do you need, in terms of technical expertise in certain areas like, skills and mentorship so that as a result of the awards you will see that your business has grown from one stage to another,” Johnson added.
He stressed the need for Liberia’s private sector to be robust in order to create jobs and begin to add value to natural resources for the jump-start of the local manufacturing sector.
By winning these awards, Johnson said Liberia’s image is also being redefined globally over the previous mindset that the country is only associated with bad things.
“Another thing that is exciting is the fact that, normally when you hear about Liberia, people don’t really associate the country with entrepreneurship,” he said.
“So, the fact that we have Liberian companies that are rising to the top on the entire African continent to be selected for these awards, I think it also sends a positive image for our country.”
Though most supermarkets in the country carry his company’s products on their shelves, Johnson said the average Liberian does not buy from supermarkets. To accommodate, J-Palm will use some of the money to set up a marketing organization and sales points to enable every member of the population to have easy access to the company’s products.
Johnson encouraged young Liberians to get into business and focus on building suitable teams and persevering to reap the benefits. Four years since he set up his company, he said it’s only over the last year that he has begun to expand.
“Doing business, of course, is not easy; it’s a huge challenge. When you’re doing business, it’s almost like a marathon; it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.
Two African Entrepreneurs, Grace Nakibaala of Uganda and Francoise Nibizi of Burundi were two co-recipients of the Johnson & Johnson award.
In a press release issued by the company, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels, described Africa as one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
Stoffels said his company was proud to support growth on the continent through strong collaborations that encourage innovation and accelerate advancement in the health systems.
“We are seeing a surge of activities among entrepreneurs and health systems leaders to develop important solutions that overcome longstanding health and societal challenges,” he said.
“By working together, we hope to bring meaningful solutions to patients and consumers more rapidly, to help cultivate the next generation of scientists, and to support Africa’s entrepreneurial base.”
According to the organization’s chief technology officer, Josh Ghaim, the competition was extremely difficult to judge, as there were many terrific ideas.
“The three winning projects demonstrated a strong benefit to local communities and the ability to empower young women, and they also have the potential to deliver ongoing economic support,” Ghaim said.
“We look forward to working with these entrepreneurs over the course of the next year to help them build sustainable operations.”
Each of the three winning recipients will receive funding as well as mentorship from scientists, engineers, and operations members from the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Research & Development unit.
Featured photo courtesy of Mahmud Johnson
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article wrongly stated that comments by Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels, were made at the ceremony. Stoffels was in fact quoted in a press release.