Lebanese and Syrian entrepreneurs showcase creativity during business plan competition

The winners of the competition will benefit from seed funding and coaching by the ILO for a period of six months that will help them set up their own businesses.

Article | 24 June 2021
Beirut, Lebanon (ILO News) Forty-seven Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees stood in front of a jury of experts in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Wednesday (June 23), detailing their business plans for income-generating initiatives in the agriculture and agro-foods sectors.

Each participant was tasked with convincing the jury that their business idea is sustainable, beneficial for their local communities and has potential for job creation, during a five-minute window followed by a brief Q&A. Owners of the best business ideas will be announced this week and will receive seed funding and coaching that will see their business ideas come to life.

From hydroponics and recyclable plastics to fermented cheese, flavoured ketchup and frog farming, the array of business ideas was revealed during the day-long event, which was organised by the ILO, in collaboration with its local implementing partner The LEE Experience.

“If people buy my products they will be supporting small-scale producers and they will be supporting the local shepherds and the local economy,” Jihad Moussawi, whose project specialises in the production of fermented cheese, told the jury.

Many of the ideas were joint initiatives set up between family members, friends and neighbours, or others with similar interests and expertise. They were mostly young people from 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. 

“Because of the economic situation in Lebanon, it has become difficult for people to afford imported products and this is why I found a great opportunity to set up a pasta business which gives people healthy food options at competitive prices,” said Samer Saad, another participant, who produces his own hand-made pasta.

The event was attended by ILO’s tripartite constituents- government, employer, and worker representatives - and livestreamed across social media in a TV talent show-style setting. It was the first in a series of business plan competitions being organised by the ILO under the framework of PROSPECTS, a global programme spearheaded by the Government of the Netherlands, which seeks to improve access to education, employment and protection in the context of forced displacement.

The 47 entrepreneurs are among 650 women and men who have recently 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 training includes teaching potential owners of small businesses 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.

“The training on ILO’s My First Business is a fundamental part of our initiative under PROSPECTS to promote entrepreneurship and start-up development in the agriculture and agro-food sectors, as it ensures that all women and men involved in the programme acquire the entrepreneurship and business management skills needed to set up their own businesses,” said Shaza Al Jondi, ILO's Chief Technical Adviser for PROSPECTS in the Arab States region.

Participant standing in front of jury, pitching business plan.
“During this event, several entrepreneurs proposed ideas that give them prospects to generate income and ensure longer-term decent jobs for themselves and others, which is critical during this time, when the country is facing multiple economic crises. The business plan competition was not only an opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas in front of a jury, but it was also an opportunity for them to work outside of their comfort zones, unleashing their untapped potential,” said Manal Hassoun, CEO of The LEE Experience.

For many of the participants, the training and the competition are an opportunity to help them kick-start projects which they feel passionate about. They are opportunities that will help improve future prospects for the hundreds of vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugee women and men benefiting from the programme.

“For me, this is a dream which I have had for a long time, because I could not pursue a career in my field of studies, so I thank you for this opportunity. It has brought me back 20 years (to my youth) and given me hope during these difficult times,” Intissar Mohammad Amin, a mother-of-two, told the jury after her presentation on the production of organic tomatoes in greenhouses.  

For further information, please contact Rayann Koudaih, SME Technical Officer, PROSPECTS Lebanon (e) koudaih@ilo.org