Empowering Lebanon’s Green and Social Entrepreneurship Sectors with BSOs

The world has in recent years come to realize the merit of environmentally sustainable, socially responsible ways of doing business, a concept that encompasses the creation and expansion of enterprises focused on environmental care and social welfare. While the concept is not new in the Middle East, and more particularly in a country like Lebanon, the social and green business ecosystem has the potential to reach more potential.  

Lebanon has indeed taken strides to introduce policies and legislation backing ventures with innovative social and green solutions. However, the country has often stopped short of turning dilemmas into opportunities that can help it solve crisis-induced issues in the energy, environment, waste management, and agriculture sectors.  

According to the World Bank, Lebanon is among the countries least prepared to face climate change in the region, ranking second to Yemen. It continues to face regulatory and fiscal challenges that hinder the growth of these enterprises.  

Yet, despite the hurdles, social and green initiatives surge in the business sector, exploring innovative solutions to tackle the mounting, costly crises plighting society. The solar systems that have suddenly sprung up on rooftops up and down the country are the most obvious reflection of how desperate the situation has become in the energy sector, but also of how a societal need can create an opportunity. While the industry remains dominated by giant corporations, small ventures tackling this problem have somehow flourished.  

Catapulting Social and Green Ventures’ Impact 

Lebanon has always boasted a diverse range of skills and expertise that, with the right backing, can unleash in a vastly unexplored market. Investing in social and green ventures can have significant economic benefits. Transitioning to sustainable models can also boost revenue while decreasing costs and attracting investment.  

These factors need a solid foundation before a venture can unleash its innovative idea into an overly competitive market. Startups often require support from organizations that can act as a vehicle transporting them from the idea stage to actual implementation.  

In past years, Business Support Organizations in Lebanon have helped promote social and green entrepreneurship through competitions, programs, communication, and fostering a generation of startups led and inspired by impact. A momentous task like this requires specific methodologies and tools that measure profits, sustainability, and impact on society, education, environment, health, or anything relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Dominic Chikhani, General Manager at Fondation Diane, thinks that any aspiring startup should first “solve a real problem relative to society or the environment. The solution must be unique and defendable, feasible with the startup potential resources in- and out-bound, and commercially viable. It must have a resilient, ethical and passionate team capable of executing.” 

BSOs like Fondation Diane and others play a key role in ensuring that social and green enterprises have sustainable financial and operational strategies in place. This makes it imperative that these BSOs – accelerators, incubators, and university centers – have the right tools to support these ventures. 

Encouraging Business Innovators

Impact Funding support is a key area where BSOs can help startups, according to Krystel Khalil, Director of Projects Lab at Berytech. “BSOs’ role is to first identify what kind of funding opportunities are available in the country or the region to support entrepreneurs to build their financial model. That also includes impact. There are also revenue streams and customer baseline and marketing to enable sustainable revenue streams.” 

A vital part is also empowering organizations to offer these ventures a helping hand, as they often discover that technology and innovation will evolve at a pace that requires them to constantly keep up. Berytech’s From Innovation to Creation program has set out to do just that: provide partner support organizations with methodologies and the technical know-how to ensure they can go on and support social and green startups looking to explore the world of sustainability.   

The program aims to bolster the capabilities of both well-established and emerging innovation support entities, such as tech hubs, accelerators, incubators, university entrepreneurship centers, and related organizations. This involves equipping them with tailored knowledge and resources to effectively nurture the progress and expansion of social and green ventures. By doing so, these entities can refine their offerings for startups, shifting them towards a more impact-oriented approach. 

Ms. Khalil explains how mentoring is part of all social and green entrepreneurship programs supported by Berytech.

“This network of mentors focuses on bringing expertise, knowhow and support,” adding this support is “specific to impact, so we look at mentors actively involved in SDGs, impact ventures and technical expertise in the environment and other sectors. Mentoring is crucial and part of any small enterprise program we develop.” 

Ms. Krystel Khalil, Director of Projects Lab at Berytech

Empowering Through Mentoring

While BSOs are typically associated with providing funding to startups with the best workable solutions, the holy grail doesn’t just lie in the financial support they offer. Mentoring, regular advice, networking, and access to technologies are just as valuable. 

“BSOs facilitate networking opportunities, connecting social and green entrepreneurs with potential partners, investors, and collaborators. This network not only expands their reach but also fosters collaborations that lead to innovative solutions and greater impact. Furthermore, BSOs provide strategic advice, helping ventures navigate regulatory complexities, develop sustainable business models, and scale their operations effectively.”

Dalina Sneifer, Green Coordinator at USEK

Once a green venture is successfully launched, it can look to BSOs for guidance on attracting more investors. BSOs can help facilitate market access and knowledge sharing by fostering collaboration within the green and social entrepreneurship ecosystem. Moreover, they can help green ventures identify their most critical impact indicators and how to communicate them effectively. Another key part of their support lies in helping green ventures remain accountable and transparent by accurately measuring their environmental impact.  

Turning Business Hurdles into Opportunities

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lebanon continued to make progress before the financial crisis hit in 2019. With the crisis came a decline in funding and an immense brain drain due to economic conditions. The ecosystem now, however, is recovering with the influx of aid and support from international organizations. Further, practical steps can be taken to advance it, including implementing policies and regulations that create a supportive environment for green startups. This includes streamlining bureaucratic processes and reducing administrative burdens.  

One of the challenges facing green entrepreneurs in Lebanon is the lack of sufficient political will to put sustainable solutions at the top of the political agenda. Additionally, strenuous regulations and inflexible administrative procedures can slow down either the establishment or expansion of social and green ventures. BSOs can provide an additional helping hand by engaging government stakeholders and advocating for policies that promote and support the sustainability of such ventures.  

BSOs should indeed push for policies that streamline bureaucratic processes, such as company registrations, to reduce barriers to entry for startups,” says Margot Wehbe, founder and general manager at UWYTA and Technical Coach at AUF. “Additionally, advocating for the creation of an entrepreneurial status that eases access to financing for startups, regardless of traditional employment history, would foster a more inclusive and supportive environment, especially for green and social entrepreneurship in Lebanon.” 

Khalil thinks that such partnership between BSOs and government entities is important to “provide an enabling support infrastructure,” when it comes to strengthening national mechanisms that can “foster growth for social and green ventures, through working together on better policies, better tax incentives for these companies… and to promote the sector nationally.” 

Social and green entrepreneurship is increasingly viewed as a ‘priority’ by experts in the sector. The field continues to generate interest from corporations, government bodies, donors, and investors. The view is that investing in these ventures not only creates jobs, and prosperity and encourages innovation, but it also addresses all the challenges that Lebanon is going through using sustainable solutions. Initiatives like From Innovation to Creation can revolutionize the ecosystem of social and green entrepreneurship, ultimately boosting the economy by redefining the business support model. By prioritizing the advancement of these emerging sectors, and developing a robust support system to empower BSOs, the country can soon begin to strategically and sustainably grow and thrive.  

Never miss a beat

Loved what you read? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and we’ll send you weekly stories and coverages to keep you inspired to start, grow and scale.