UNESCO Beirut empowers young entrepreneurs in Lebanon: Success stories from ToT on Youth advocacy for unemployment

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27 February 2019
Rouwayda al-Ariss is a young Lebanese woman passionate about fashion and art. As a teacher of fine arts at different schools in Lebanon, she communicated her passion for art and design to her students; yet, Rouwayda never felt fully self-satisfied in her job as teacher. She had a dream: she wanted to become a fashion designer and create women’s accessories.
UNESCO Beirut empowers young entrepreneurs in Lebanon: Success stories from ToT on Youth advocacy for unemployment
Rouwayda applied to UNESCO Beirut’s “Training of Trainers on youth empowerment for advocacy and campaigning on youth unemployment in Lebanon”, which took place in March 2018. Her participation at the training was a “turning point, a real life changer”, she says. Following the training, Rouwayda felt empowered to set up her own business - “Rouds Bags”, where she designs handmade customized bags. “My bags are unique pieces where art and fashion meet. As globalization has brought with it a tendency toward homogenization where everyone looks the same, it is important that we distinguish ourselves from others by wearing something unique that reflects our personal taste and style. By creating these ‘statement bags’, I want my customers to feel unique and special”.

The workshop, organized in the framework of UNESCO’s TVET strategy (2016-2021) and in collaboration with Startline Foundation, aimed to promote youth participation in public policy making and reduce youth unemployment by building the capacities of participants and providing them with tools and skills to overcome unemployment. Rouwayda speaks of the value of this training in triggering her “entrepreneurship spirit”: “This workshop was crucial for me, it allowed me to gain the necessary tools to set up my business and become an entrepreneur. I always had “big ideas” about my would-be business, but I was never able to materialize them as I had no understanding of market economics, and I had no technical skills”. Rouwayda says that the workshop provided her with the opportunity to learn marketing and branding tools, and to make feasibility studies and market analyses, thus allowing her to become a successful entrepreneur. “The trainer, Dr Leila Abboud from Startline Foundation, gave a particular attention to each participant’s needs, and she closely followed our projects. She helped me frame my ideas, organize my thoughts, and come up with a business plan. She also taught the participants the importance of understanding the business environment where they operate, and to mitigate obstacles and difficulties they may encounter”. Rouwayda believes that this training was “a major trigger, a driver, and a source of motivation and inspiration for her to dare become an entrepreneur”. “It takes a lot of courage and determination to become an entrepreneur. You also need technical knowledge and skills. All of these, I acquired them through the workshop I followed at UNESCO”.

Romain Assaad shares the same experience. A 21-year old student majoring in political science and philosophy, Romain always felt a personal drive to engage in social entrepreneurship initiatives. “I applied to UNESCO Beirut’s training workshop hoping to acquire skills that would allow me to launch my start-up. Never had I imagined that the workshop would give me all the knowledge necessary to immediately launch the initiative I had in mind”, he said. “The workshop acted as a trigger for my project and a source of additional motivation”. Romain has now launched two social entrepreneurship initiatives. The first one consists of a series of animated videos that explain Lebanon’s electoral law to the public. Called “Halla2 wa2ta” (It is time), the series was broadcasted on TV channels as well as on social media platforms. “We were able to reach 150.000 viewers in Lebanon, with a limited budget of 14.000 USD. The workshop indeed taught me how to set up a business plan and mobilize scarce resources in a highly effective way to produce the desired outcome”.

Romain also launched in the same year SPARROW, and educational NGO that aims at providing high school students with professional orientation to help them make an informed choice about their career. “The workshop was an eye-opener. It allowed me to gain greater awareness of the issue of youth unemployment in Lebanon and pushed me to engage in initiatives to help reduce this phenomenon”. SPARROW acts in different ways and at different levels: in partnership with the International Coaching Federation, it offers life coaching for high school students to help them determine their career path; it also regularly organizes open-door days at schools in Lebanon where students meet employers and professionals from different sectors who introduce them to various professional fields; and lastly, it provides students with the opportunity to do “job shadowing” in order to acquire a hand-one experience and an “insider knowledge” of jobs available on the market.

Building on the success of the “Training of Trainers on youth empowerment for advocacy and campaigning on youth unemployment in Lebanon”, and following popular demand, UNESCO Beirut will be holding in March 2019 a third version of this workshop. The workshop will be organized within the framework of UNESCO’s NETMED Youth project funded by the EU, and in collaboration with Startline Foundation.