A small project with big clout: The Libya Economic Empowerment Project (LEE) comes to a close
By Intissar K.Rajabany.
Tripoli, 28 March 2020:
The economic system in Libya is highly centralized with heavy reliance on, and investment in the oil industry. Entrepreneurship, the engine for growth and innovation in many economies, was not encouraged prior to 2011 and remained woefully underdeveloped leading to a huge loss in economic potential. The educational system and the prevailing culture did not encourage risk taking nor necessarily deliver the skills necessary to match market demands, resulting in a shallow talent pool.
Business support networks for entrepreneurs in general and for women and youth in particular, were weak. As a result, promising entrepreneurs in need of mentoring and specific managerial expertise were failing to commercialize good ideas and start-up job-creating businesses at a time of heightened economic dislocation in the country. Following the uprising, the country continues to struggle with the transition to a decentralized and inclusive economy. Women and youth while highly educated, encounter challenges related to access to credit and markets, including cultural barriers and are often left with limited viable economic opportunities. At the same time, there are active and successful Libyan women and youth entrepreneurs that can be supported. Therefore, improvements in the local economy could create jobs. Not only does increased income result in economic wellbeing, but the creation of business networks and mentorship can build trust within a community and reduce instability.
Launched as a pilot in 2012, the Libya Economic Empowerment (LEE) program (formerly Libyan Women’s Economic Empowerment – LWEE) a USAID – MEDA cooperative agreement project was among the first programs in Libya to offer business development training and was the first to systematically target women and encourage them to move forward economically. Though originally designed for Tripoli, shortly after the training started it was clear that the demand and need in other locations was equally high. Working through local partner networks, the program expanded across numerous cities and regions through three phases. The high-level of trust and visibility gained in Phase I (2012-2014) created the foundation for success in Phase II (2014-2017) and followed by Phase III (2017-2020) which continued support for women’s entrepreneurship but also began programming for male youth.
For seven years from 2012 to 2020 LEE activity provided invaluable, practical and realistic steps to both men and women entrepreneurs to fulfil their own potential via business training, mentoring, local and regional networking opportunities and help them to begin and grow a business and develop the tools for increased access to finance at a critical time in Libya’s history.
Specific training topics included, train the trainer (TOT), fundamental business skills, drafting a business plan, basic accounting and finance, ICT skills, economics, marketing, HR, pitching, career advice, leadership, sales and customer service. This increased knowledge gave participants a stronger sense of confidence and built a network of like-minded professionals. Business networking with entrepreneurs, civil society and private sector partners was enhanced across Libyan cities in urban and rural areas thus promoting market linkages.
The programme was also the first in Libya to develop web-based virtual training in order to have a wider geographical reach.
Some of its highlights are:
- LEE’s different activities reached 53 % of youth across both male and female participants.
- More than 600 men and women learned the various components of business skills.
- 841 women and youth had the opportunity to attend networking events hosted in various cities.
- Approximately 3000 men and women applied for the business plan competitions held in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 and the hackathon of 2019; whereby 36 businesses in total were supported with matching /seed grants and an innovation grant following technical support to develop their ideas. Totalling US$ 328,000 not only from donor funds but leveraged from private sector funding as well.
- 45 mentees were supported over the years.
- More than 200 men and women learned about ICT for business and 384 women studied leadership and self-development skills.
- Dozens of youth had the opportunity for paid internships over the summer each year of operation.
- Development of the Sanad app and website in partnership with the NGO Jusoor to create an all-encompassing go to entrepreneurship community.
- Activities were implemented on a wide scale across numerous cities in the East, South and West of the country.
- Meanwhile our combined online community reached over 45,000 followers!
- A six months’ skills gap assessment for youth and women
With more of the international community gradually becoming interested in disseminating the culture of entrepreneurship in these past years the LEE project is proud of its cooperative approach with all partners local and international for a common goal. After all economic empowerment is a gateway to political empowerment and hence stability and there is so much that remains to be done by both national and international organisations.
This rings even more true in these times of change as a result of the Covid19 pandemic where we are seeing a stark effect on the global economy, SMEs, MSMEs, and all sorts of small businesses also risk being impacted. So, it makes even more sense to support small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs to become stronger and more resilient let alone scale up.
While we are sad to see the LEE project come to an end this year, we would like to wish the Libyan people prosperity, security and success and reiterate that a vibrant economy with a private sector that has strong, knowledgeable, and competitive business players who understand the growth potential of win-win commercial relationships, will be a critical element of a healthy Libyan future.
Intissar K.Rajabany is a development professional with over fourteen years of experience in programmes focusing on women and youth empowerment, advocacy, awareness-raising, and economic empowerment in the MENA region. She has a rich multidisciplinary background, a talent for solving problems in complex and dangerous environment, and a passion for working with people. Since 2013, Intissar heads MEDA’s program in Libya, which focuses on women and youth economic empowerment. Previously, Intissar worked with the British Council and other local and international NGOs. A pharmacist by training, linguist and communication expert, Intissar also advised foreign companies, organisations and institutions interested in working, investing in or visiting Libya. Additionally, she has over 20 years of experience in the oil and gas sector and is the co-founder of the Women in Business Committee – Tripoli. Intissar holds an MA in International Relations Theory from the University of Warwick, and a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from the University of Tripoli.