12 Bright Spots in a Dark Year
We’re saying goodbye to 2020 by celebrating some of the positives that came out of a generally difficult year for all, proving that even in hard times, there are opportunities!
1. COVID-19 Survival Guide for Refugee Businesses
Early on, we launched an exclusive COVID-19 Survival Guide for Refugee Businesses to support entrepreneurs through the global economic shutdown. The guide, available in English and Arabic, is available open-source for all startups and SMEs struggling in the wake of the global pandemic. It is continuously updated and revised with further important support for refugee entrepreneurs.
The guide is made possible with the support of our partners Islamic Development Bank, Islamic Solidarity Fund For Development and Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society.
2. Reach youth inside Syria
This year, we were able to start supporting youth living in northern Syria. By partnering with the Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society and local organisations in Syria, we’ve created vocational healthcare training for hospital workers, have placed youth in jobs and supported startups.
3. Youth placed in jobs and internships
For the first time, we placed many young graduates in internships and job placements by collaborating with many international companies, including McDonalds, Craft Fashion and the Jordan River Foundation. In 2021, we’re stepping up our internship programme to help bridge the gap from graduation to employment for our network of 10,000 scholarship students in the Middle East.
4. Digitised education systems to support online learning
We spent the year adapting to restrictions on physical gatherings by supporting our university partners in the Middle East to adapt to online learning. For many, COVID-19 was the push they needed to digitise. SPARK has been there every step of the way.
For example, we supported Iraqi universities to hold their first ever online exams this year, donated thousands of dollars worth of tech equipment to universities in Turkey and Iraq, and hosted special YouTube live talk shows for youth.
5. We launched our website in Arabic
On World Arabic Language Day, we launched a full Arabic language version of our website. Since we are supporting over 10,000 young people in the Middle East and North Africa it seemed about time that we used their language!
To our Arabic speakers, now you can enjoy a better online experience and stay up-to-date with SPARK news, events and more.
6. 1,500 people joined our digital conferences
Without the possibility to organise in-person gatherings, we launched a series of online conferences – the IGNITE Series – to replace our annual IGNITE conference, usually held in Amsterdam.
Over the course of the year, almost 1,500 unique attendees joined the 37 sessions, during SPARK’s four virtual conferences, Rebuilding Futures (Middle East), Rural Pathways (Sub-Saharan Africa), Corona Pandemic Present & Future (Iraq), and Jobs Now: Going Digital During COVID-19. In 2021, we plan to bring a blended version of the IGNITE conference to thousands of attendees around the world.
7. Radio training for South Sudan’s farmers
Just as farmers in South Sudan entered the planting season, virtually the whole world was sent into lockdown. This meant that vital food producers in the already food insecure country lost access to basic training and supplies at the most crucial time.
Alongside Cordaid and Agriterra, we broadcast free training for farmers across local radio stations in South Sudan. The radio shows covered topics like entrepreneurship, production planning, horticulture techniques, field crops, marketing and finance skills.
8. We welcomed new partners
We were joined by many new partners in 2020. Many organisations recognised the need to continue supporting the most vulnerable young people in society, particularly refugees and women.
We were delighted to be newly supported by the Qatar Fund for Development and the Arab Fund in 2020, and proud to continue our partnerships with the EU Regional Trust Fund, Madad, Islamic Development Bank and Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development and the Dutch Postcode Lottery.
9. Provided lower interest loans for Rwandan farmers
Since September 2019, 300 smallholder Irish potato farmers in Rwanda have received digital loans via Equity Bank as part of the new DA2F (Digital Access to Finance) loan platform.
The loan guarantee fund has de-risked farming enterprises and we’re confident that banks will learn that smallholder farmers with strong historical production track records, and who have been reliable members of good performing cooperatives, are a creditworthy clientele.
10. Kurdish youth campaigned against polarisation
SPARK launched a campaign in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq involving 14 Kurdish youth to reduce polarisation and encourage youth participation in society. Originally planned as an in-person campaign, COVID-19 led this talented group to adapt to a digital model to spread their important message.
11. Reached many new people digitally
2020 was the year for going digital. We welcomed many new followers to our social channels, in fact we said a warm “hello” to 515 new people on YouTube, 12,750 on Facebook, 1,600 on Instagram and 386 more on Twitter!
12. Entrepreneurs Worth Thanking campaign
In order to spread some positivity and hope in one of the bleakest years most people can recall, we launched a digital campaign under the hashtag #EntrepreneursWorthThanking.
At SPARK, we work with entrepreneurs in some of the world’s most fragile regions. To see the innovative solutions they have come up with throughout the pandemic has been inspiring. So we thought we’d share some of them! The campaign reached thousands of people across social media and inspired other entrepreneurs to share their videos of success.
In conversation with: Valentino Achak Deng
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