FIRST STEP’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) can be considered in four contexts: physical, legal, tenant services, and social/humanitarian services.
The FIRST STEP SEZ is a physical place. It is located on a large tract of land, just outside of Sierra Leone’s capital and largest city, near the town of Newton, on the Freetown-Masiaka Highway. It is approximately a 20 minute drive from Sierra Leone’s principle seaport. On this land FIRST STEP is building a world class industrial park, which will include
- Standard prebuilt or custom-built factory shells;
- Roads and loading areas;
- Security barriers and check-points;
- Electricity and water systems;
- Security and fire-safety systems;
- Environmental protection infrastructure;
- Training and conference facilities;
- Social/community infrastructure.
Legal In February of 2010 Sierra Leone’s Parliament unanimously ratified the FIRST STEP Agreement. This is a contract involving World Hope International (WHI), FIRST STEP, and the government of Sierra Leone that defines the legal framework by which the SEZ and all of the tenants in the SEZ may be established and operate. Parliamentary ratification was the culmination of almost two years of intense legal work and negotiation. WHI and FIRST STEP were greatly assisted during the negotiation process by WilmerHale, a prominent international law firm based in the United States.
The legal framework includes globally competitive tax and duty benefits for tenants of the SEZ and provides for on-site customs inspections and other services by the government of Sierra Leone. It also provides the tenants of the SEZ with access to internationally recognized arbitration procedures in the event of any disputes under the FIRST STEP Agreement.
Sierra Leone’s President, H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and FIRST STEP meet for Parliament’s ratification.
With the FIRST STEP Agreement tenants have a simple and secure means of establishing themselves in Sierra Leone and benefiting from excellent government incentives and expedited services without the costs and hassles of negotiating these terms by themselves.
FIRST STEP provides a broad range of services to help businesses establish in the SEZ efficiently and streamline their operations. FIRST STEP has a team of dedicated staff in Sierra Leone (lead by Edward Conteh, FIRST STEP’s Country Director) and a broad network of staff in FIRST STEP’s sister organization, World Hope International-Sierra Leone (WHI-SL).
To assist tenants in their day to day operations, FIRST STEP provides services such as:
FIRST STEP was intentionally created to be a platform by which social/humanitarian services are delivered to the workers in the SEZ, the surrounding communities, and the broader Sierra Leonean population. Though FIRST STEP itself is organized as a for-profit business, it is deeply rooted in service to the poor. FIRST STEP’s team strongly believes that this ethos – which is manifested by direct involvement of NGOs in the SEZ and encouragement of Corporate Social Responsibility of the tenants – will be profoundly positive for successful long term business development in the SEZ.
FIRST STEP is currently developing a partnership with WHI to start providing social and humanitarian services in connection with the SEZ. FIRST STEP is seeking proposals from other NGOs able to take advantage of the unique platform that FIRST STEP offers to help the poor of Sierra Leone.
Construction of the SEZ’s infrastructure began in September 2010. FIRST STEP held a ground breaking/tree planting ceremony on October 12, 2010 which was attended by over 1,000 people and officiated by Sierra Leone’s President, H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. The first factory shell was constructed for Africa Felix Juice (AFJ) in less than five months, and AFJ began manufacturing in April 2011.