Emerging Solutions For The Global Refugee Crisis

This is one post of a series exploring global entrepreneurial ecosystems. Follow the journey via www.catgeorge.com or @kittengeorge on Twitter & Instagram

Privileged to have written this post in partnership with the World Bank & YouNoodle. View the syndicated post on the CEO of YouNoodle’s blog

This post is dedicated to the 65 million refugees & the entrepreneurs who are creating solutions to this seemingly unsolvable crisis. #WorldRefugeeDay

Globally, 65 million people are refugees. 65 million. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region currently hosts around 4.8 million Syrian refugees alone – and this doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Though this is a region with a population of 381 million people, countries like Lebanon who have 4.5 million people had 1 million refugees influx their country last year, nearly a fourth of the population. 

Globally, 65 million people are refugees. 65 million.

Needless to say, this is a big problem. But it is not the only one.  Other key issues challenging this region include the highest rate of persistent youth unemployment – where 1 in 4 people are unemployed – ongoing societal tensions, and hardships in political transitions. And these problems are even more distressing amongst refugees.As of late last year, 85% of Syrian families in Jordan were either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity. In Lebanon, 70% of Syrians live below the extreme poverty line of $3.84 a day. Decreasing poverty for massive refugee populations in this region is critical. 

Decreasing poverty for massive refugee populations in the Middle East & Northern Africa is critical.

Despite these persisting problems, there has not been enough traction from current solutions. Despite their best intentions, United Nations agencies and traditional responses have been ineffective and are losing momentum including a 10% decrease in necessary funding.  For instance, in Jordan – The Jordan Response Plan To The Syria Crisis – a partnership between the government, United Nations donors, and non-governmental organizations laid out an extensive plan, including creating 200,000 new jobs for both refugees and the high number of  people who are unemployed and coincidently would have decreased the level of poverty.  However, less than 9%  of the $2.67 billion dollars needed to implement the plan have been committed to date. And these are only a couple examples of the lack of progress in solving these problems despite 9,000 delegates having met at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, a conference primarily gathered around striving for effective solutions around this issue.

Traditional forms of humanitarian aid have proven ineffective in providing effective solutions to the refugee crisis. 

Though we haven’t seen the desired results policymakers and aid organizations, as leaders such as David Miliband are proving that this problem is not unsolvable.  There is a new generation of game changers getting results. Entrepreneurs. And this solution is something that big players of international aid like the World Bank and World Economic Forum are recognizing as long-term solutions for economic growth and improved livelihood conditions. And this traction isn’t slowing down. Though youth unemployment is the most prevalent in the MENA region of any other in the world, entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly popular for the next generation of the MENA workforce. A recent survey found that 39% of college graduates are actively setting up their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship is a long-term solution for economic growth and improved livelihood conditions.

Despite all these positive emerging results and the increasing number of emerging entrepreneurs, there’s one segment of the population who are not being represented. Women. Unfortunately, women in MENA have the lowest rates of Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in the world with merely 4% of the population. Put in conjunction with their potential for impact, such as women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men, this is a missed opportunity. Women entrepreneurs in MENA’s current bottlenecks include access business skills and access to the full range of financial services to more fully develop their businesses. Given the exceptionally vulnerable climate of those in the MENA region, it’s even more imperative to invest in women entrepreneurs striving to provide solutions to pressing problems and create thriving livelihoods. Of a recent survey of MENA women entrepreneurs, job creation and revenue generation were two impactful metrics– though there was a range of success in different countries. For instance, Tunisian women-owned ventures are employing 19.3 workers per firm on average, while on the other end, women-owned firms Jordan are employing an average of six employees. Only  6% of women-owned enterprises in Jordan are generating more than $100,000 per annum.

Women in the Middle East & Northern Africa have the lowest rates of Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in the world.

But these female owned businesses are poised for growth and eager to scale. 49% of MENA women entrepreneurs surveyed in the MENA region intend to scale their work immediately. However, this desire to scale is met with challenges.  In MENA, women tend to have less access to formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms. According to the UN Women report, while 55 % of men report have access to financial institutions and knowledge, only 47% of women do worldwide – a gap that is largest among lower middle-income economies and especially women in MENA as well as in South Asia.  On the other hand, studies have shown that increasing business skills – such as education regarding financial skills, employee management, and fundraising– as well as improving access to capital markets are key resources to improve the likelihood of success of female entrepreneurship in MENA. Financial skills and access to markets being the 2 key challenges for women entrepreneurs, especially in Jordan and Lebanon.

While 55 % of men have access to financial institutions & knowledge, only 47% of women do worldwide – a gap that is largest among women in MENA.

But we’re finally seeing the beginnings of new entrepreneurial solutions emerge to resolve these needs. Entrepreneurial support organizations, such as Endeavor, business accelerators, and business competitions are providing services for entrepreneurs in this region. Endeavor, a global organization aiming to accelerate efforts of high-impact entrepreneurs, are currently supporting 103 entrepreneurs across 72 companies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco. Some are supporting refugees such as companies like Jordan’s Luminus Education aims to increase work preparedness and entrepreneurship among Jordanians and Syrians.  Another example is the Beirut-based MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab (MITEF Pan Arab). Last year, they partnered with around 30 organizations to launch Innovate For Refugees, a global competition designed to reward tech-driven solutions that address the hardships faced by refugees. A total of 1,633 entries were submitted, 32% of which were developed by women and 15% of refugees, and the seven most effective solutions were awarded with cash prizes and mentoring.But they are failing to specialize in supporting women entrepreneurs in MENA providing these solutions for refugees.

But we’re finally seeing the beginnings of new entrepreneurial solutions emerge to resolve these needs.

So another partnership stepped in. Taking into account these entrepreneurial support efforts, the potent power of women entrepreneurship, the needs of women entrepreneurs, the critical issues affecting the MENA region, and what YouNoodle launched a partnership with the World Bank. This business competition – WeMena – provided business skills, access to a global network, mentorship and investment opportunities for 200 women entrepreneurs providing solutions for 8 cities in 6 countries across the MENA region. These ventures solutions ranged across 9 categories that improve the livelihoods of people in this region ranging from solutions for economic development, societal cohesion, food security, urban development and beyond. YouNoodle exists to empower entrepreneurs globally and wanted to leverage our assets of world-class mentorship, a strong investor network, and a cohesive business skills education to overcome their biggest bottlenecks standing in the way for women entrepreneurs in MENA and provide them with a transformative network (something responsible for the success of 78% of startups).  This partnership exists to catalyzing the impact of women entrepreneurs who provide life-changing solutions and build resilience for the people in the MENA region, particularly refugees who are most devastatingly affected.

Transformative networks are responsbile for the success of 78% of startups.

75% of refugee children in secondary school are not receiving an education.And 1 in 2 of every primary school refugee child. Education is imperative. Three other solutions that are needed to solving this seemingly intractable problem are employment, urban development / smart cities, and government and civic advancements are 4 solutions that need to be primarily focused on. Considering the majority of refugees live in cities, urban development is key. In Kampala, 80% of refugees were employed. These refugees needed no humanitarian aid because they were working.  So where do we find these solutions? The job creators, innovators, infrastructure recreators, and problem solvers? Companies such as Partimer and Jaleesa are creating over 500,000 jobs and building new types of job opportunities. Natakallam is connecting refugees and language learners to educate people over Skype and employ refugees. Other companies, like Skills Motion are better preparing the workforce for skills the need to improve their chances of employment. Fintech, smart city, urban development, and civic tech solutions are building smarter and more resilient cities.  Entrepreneurs are even investing in creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs, such as the companies Educate A Girl, Neopreneur Academy and Leadership Factory.

50% of primary school children who are refugees do not have access to education. 

On top of this, 4 winners of this competition were given $150,000. The winning ventures provided solutions from empowering local artisans producing eco-friendly products in Egypt to providing trusted on-demand babysitting & educational services for the children of Lebanon to empowering Moroccan farmers with eco-friendly affordable resources to a service connecting refugees and language learners around the world to provide employment and education. I hope this is just the beginning of intentional efforts to fuel entrepreneurial success and impact of women in MENA and improve the livelihoods of refugees across this region and beyond.

This post is dedicated to the 65 million refugees worldwide & the entrepreneurs creating solutions to this seemingly unsolvable global crisis.


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