Following the catastrophic Beirut Post explosion on the 4th of August 2020, Expertise France partnered with Berytech in supporting women-led and women-owned businesses in Lebanon. The European Union For Women’s Empowerment (EU4WE) Project funded by the European Union (EU) empowers Lebanese women in times of crisis to create their own opportunities in a more gender-balanced society.
The selected 30 women-led businesses benefited from a two-month intensive training program, including capacity-building sessions, group coaching, in addition to financial support in the form of grants.
Supporting women-led businesses
During their visit to Beirut, Jeremie Pellet, GM of Expertise France, and Rima Le Coguic, Director of Operations at Expertise France, met with 15 of the 30 women entrepreneurs participating in the EU for Women Empowerment EU4WE.
“We are a technical agency, so our job is to structure projects with results that can be achievable. We perfectly know all the difficulties facing the country. As a technical agency, there are many things we have no grasp on, however, what we can do is make sure that we work with people of good will, who also have the will to go ahead to be there when the country gets a chance at a fresh start,” announced Jeremie Pellet in the meeting gathering the women entrepreneurs benefiting from the program.
In his turn, Ramy Boujawdeh, Deputy GM of Berytech, confirmed: “We are strong believers that despite all the factors working against Lebanon’s progress, it is the diversity and inclusion in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, that has remolded and will continue to remold the Lebanese economy. Today, our primary focus is on the future; we will continue supporting value-added entrepreneurship and women-led businesses as they have positive spillover on the economy. We are proud of our partnership with Expertise France, and of the ambitious, exceptional, and talented women, we were able to support through our joint program. For us, they represent the hope for a better Lebanon.”
The European Union for Women Empowerment Project (EU4WE) was launched in October 2019 to promote gender equality in Lebanon. The project was initiated at a time when Lebanon was facing a major social, economic and financial crisis, as well as lockdown and social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this specific context, the EU4WE’s project became an excellent opportunity to support Lebanese women and men to become actors of change.
Berytech launched an open call for women entrepreneurs whose companies were affected by the Beirut Blast to apply for the support grant. The program received more than 200 applications, and in six months, Berytech identified 30 MSMEs who each benefited from support valued at 5,000 euros to sustain their activities, with the total of the grant amounting to 150,000 euros.
The 30 women-led businesses were chosen to participate based on the criteria of the call for proposal, their applications, and interviews. The selection was focused on women-led and/or owned businesses of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with a registered Sole proprietorship, SARL or SAL that engage in economic activities, in the industrial, trade, agricultural, or services sectors, based in Greater Beirut and affected by the explosion of August 4.
Yasmin Dabbous, who took part in the program, runs Espace-Fann in Ain el Mreiseh, a space dedicated to teaching, healing, and empowering people through art. “Our premises sustained major damage from the blast which also impacted our emotional and psychological well-being. It took us months to get the space up and running again,” she explains. “The training and grant came at the right time when we didn’t know how to handle the consecutive crises we faced from the revolution to the economic collapse, the pandemic and to top it all the blast. The program was just what we needed to help us tackle the different aspects of our business.”
The Training Program
Berytech assessed the needs of the 30 businesses and determined the use of the funds, working with top-notch professionals and trainers to deliver training sessions on crisis management to help the women navigate the current situation.
In July and August 2021, the 30 selected participants received a mix of theoretical knowledge, best practices, and case studies. The sessions were based on interactive group coaching, promoting knowledge and experience sharing within the group.
The objective of the training program is to provide women business owners with the needed understanding of the crisis mechanism and the required tools and frameworks to understand the impact of the numerous ongoing crises (economic crisis, currency devaluation and hyperinflation, Covid-19, the Beirut port explosion, etc.) on their business, and to help them develop adequate mitigation plans to navigate the repercussions of the current crises and ensure sustained operations.
“With a mix of women leading startups and established companies with years of experience, the program is helping them improve their understanding of their situation to address their gaps, rather than coming with a set of limited sessions in general business knowledge,” says Myriam Hoballah, working with Berytech on coaching the teams. She confirms that the August 4 blast was not an easy experience for any of these women. “Some of them were extremely fragile on an emotional level and a bit lost on the way. They needed to move forward from a business aspect. Together we were able to frame things back and put things into perspective.”
“The grant I received from the program helped my business and it came at a critical time. I used it to fix trucks impacted by the blast and buy new tires before winter started, which allowed me to increase the work and the geographic areas we cover. I was also able to give extra money to the drivers which positively impacted their performance since we are all dealing with the daily stresses of the economic crisis,” confirms Salam Habre, Managing Director of Charbel Nicolas Habre for transportation and trade based in the Beirut Port who also took part in the program.
Joanna Abi Abdallah, Berytech’s Director of Business Support and Development explains that the grants provided to the businesses allowed them to get back on their feet. “For some, the funds went into repairs and replacing equipment damaged in the blast or to pay past dues like rent and salaries. Others used the funds to promote their businesses through participating in events and exhibitions and through social media and marketing activities or to hire consultants that could help them in areas such as branding, finance, and accounting. Some used the money to import products, update their stock and inventory and even update their online presence and e-commerce platforms.”
Building a strong community
Berytech worked to strengthen the links between the women in the program, stimulate cooperation and the sharing of resources, experiences, and stories.
“One of the best outcomes of the program is meeting other women business owners who share very similar experiences and becoming a strong community that we can refer to for support, recommendations, and tapping into different networks. The women I have met from different business backgrounds have similar challenges to mine and I benefit from their experience in solving them,” says Jihan Choueir, owner of Jihan Beauty Queen, a beauty parlor located in Downtown Beirut who was one of the selected participants.
“Women’s role in business is vital for socio-economic stability,” confirms Ingrid Dahdah, Founder of Diffa Group, a woman-led business who was part of the program. “Programs created and designed to support women need to secure their access to politics, to boards and to empower them technically and financially.”
Watch their stories
Yasmin Dabbous, Co-founder of Espace-Fann in Ain el Mreiseh
Jihan Choueir, Founder of Jihan Beauty Queen
Ingrid Dahdah, Founder of Diffa Group
Salam Habre, Managing Director of Charbel Nicolas Habre for transportation and trade
About The Project
The European Union launched the European Union for Women’s Empowerment (EU4WE) project in October 2019. The project aims to promote full and unconditional equality between men and women in Lebanon. The specific objectives are to reduce gender-based violence through women empowerment and to enhance existing institutional mechanisms working towards gender equality.