ILO's My First Business training programme promotes entrepreneurship among young Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees

With support from the Government of the Netherlands, the ILO has trained over 650 vulnerable women and men, the majority of whom are youth, on its My First Business entrepreneurship training programme, promoting livelihoods and decent job creation with a focus on the agriculture and agro-food sectors.

Article | 09 June 2021

Beirut, Lebanon (ILO News) Hundreds of Lebanese and Syrian refugee entrepreneurs interested in developing their own businesses in Lebanon’s agriculture and agro-foods sectors have participated in ILO’s My First Business (MFB), a youth-specific entrepreneurship programme, designed to enhance entrepreneurship and business management skills and support the creation of microbusinesses.

The My First Business training programme is an adaptation of the ILO Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB), which is one of the largest global business management training programmes, targeting potential owners of small businesses to develop and strengthen their basic management skills.

In Lebanon, the ILO has trained trainers from The LEE Experience, a local NGO and implementing partner under PROSPECTS Lebanon, to support the delivery of the programme to young people in the governorates of Beqaa, North-Lebanon and Akkar areas, which rely heavily on agriculture and which face high levels of unemployment as a result of the on-going economic challenges, including those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The multiple crises in Lebanon have had a profound impact on all economic and social spheres and have exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities, particularly amongst the poorest segments of the population, refugees, and migrants. Young people have also been hard hit, experiencing an increase in unemployment,” said Shaza Jondi, ILO's Chief Technical Adviser for PROSPECTS in the Arab States region. “In response, the ILO is implementing a number of interventions that tap on young people’s strengths and improve their prospects to access decent work and positively contribute to their communities.”

“Specifically under PROSPECTS, the ILO is providing opportunities for vulnerable groups, particularly youth to access technical training and knowledge on entrepreneurship and business management, as well as financial assistance to help entrepreneurs set-up their own businesses,” added Rayann Koudaih, SME Technical Officer, PROSPECTS Lebanon. "Participants benefitted from the different stages of training and one-on-one coaching and the selection of projects was done meticulously based on several criteria including sustainability, benefits for the communities, and job creation potential.”

A total of 595 beneficiaries, including 53 per cent Syrian refugees, 55 per cent women and 8 per cent persons with disabilities, have completed the first phase of the training.
To date, over 650 vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugee women and men, including persons with disabilities have been targeted through the training. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, which forced the programme to switch from face-to-face classroom sessions to remote learning, a total of 595 women and men have completed the first phase which introduced beneficiaries to the concept of entrepreneurship and supported them in generating business ideas. Over 385 business ideas were submitted at the end of the first phase of the training in sub-sectors including plant cultivation, animal breeding, industrial agricultural, agriculture using technology, and the food industry, among other.

One of the most important components of the programme is that it has improved our entrepreneurial thinking and encouraged participants to establish their own project or business instead of looking for [traditional] jobs elsewhere."

Lebanese entrepreneur Roland Romanos
“One of the most important components of the programme is that it has improved our entrepreneurial thinking and encouraged participants to establish their own project or business instead of looking for [traditional] jobs elsewhere,” said Lebanese entrepreneur Roland Romanos, whose project focuses on the production of avocadoes. “It has also given participants new ideas and knowledge from people of various expertise.”

“This programme has enriched our theoretical and practical knowledge, specifically in relation to marketing, promotion and greening of enterprises” added Syrian Houssam Sawan, another participant of the programme. “My project focuses on the cultivation of white mushrooms and I hope in the future I will have the financial stability to launch a big project, where I become a major entrepreneur in this field.”

A total of 258 beneficiaries, including 38 per cent Syrian refugees and 48 per cent women have graduated to the second phase of the training.
A total of 258 beneficiaries have graduated to the second phase of the programme which trained them on business management concepts, such as marketing, and financial management and the development of a full-fledged business plan leading to start-up and operationalisation phases. Of those, at least 50 business projects, among which many are joint-initiatives, will be selected in a business plan competition for seed funding and coaching for a period of six months.

The business plan competition will take place on June 23, where entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas and plans in front of a jury.

“If I win this business plan competition, I hope it will allow me to contribute to the economy and encourage others to come up with new ideas such as this one,” said Lebanese Jihad Moussawi, whose project specialises in the production of fermented cheese. “I have no doubt that this project will be a success because there is a demand for this product and there are only a few businesses in Lebanon which have the technical skills or knowledge in this field.”

If my project receives the needed financial support, it will contribute to the creation of jobs for young people."

Syrian entrepreneur Mariam Domni
“If my project receives the needed financial support, it will contribute to the creation of jobs for young people,” said Syrian Mariam Domni, who submitted a business plan for the distillation of rose water and extraction of herbal oils. “I see myself as a distinct entrepreneur in my field of work, because I love my work and I take pride in it, and I feel that it will be a turning point in my life.”

The initiative is being implemented as part of wider efforts under the Partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities (PROSPECTS), a global programme funded by the Government of the Netherlands, which brings together the ILO, IFC, UNICEF, UNHCR, and the World Bank to address education and training, promote decent job creation, and strengthen protection in the context of forced displacement. Coordination with PROSPECTS partners on joint entrepreneurship activities has included referring youth supported by UNICEF to the ILO’s My First Business training and ensuring that some of its graduates benefit from IFC’s online platform that helps increase employment opportunities for women in Lebanon and Jordan.

For the ILO under PROSPECTS in Lebanon, this training complements wider efforts to support young Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees to create businesses and improve their entrepreneurship and financial skills. Other efforts include designing a programme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to support business continuity, resilience and decent job retention by providing technical and financial assistance.