Annual Report

The COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges to young people living in fragile states. We acted fast to safeguard their pathways to higher education and employment.

To support young entrepreneurs and protect jobs we increased access to finance and provided online training, mentorship and start-up competitions.

To ensure the continuation of higher education we facilitated a shift towards online and blended forms of learning.

To make sure nobody was left behind, we set up innovative interventions to reach communities without access to digital solutions.

In an unprecedented year, one thing didn’t change: the vital role played by our local partners. Thanks to their commitment and expertise we finished the year in a strong position to create an even better pathway to jobs for vulnerable youth.

Rawan's story

Founder: Rawan Al Zaidy
Company: Nakhla
Location: Baghdad, Iraq

“Iraq was the leading country for exporting dates, with the highest number of palm trees in the world. In the last 40 years, Iraq has lost half of its palm trees. That was our awakening point,” says 23-year-old, Rawan Al Zaidy, Administrative Director at Nakhla.

Nakhla is Iraq’s first agritech company, using AI technology to measure soil conditions, as well as the humidity, temperature, water and nutrients of individual palm trees. Nakhla also provides pruning, fertilisation, covering, vaccination and harvesting services. Due to differing atmospheric conditions across Iraq, the company helps produce more high quality dates and reduces time, manpower and costs for date farmers. With technical and financial support from SPARK, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nakhla is developing a mobile application, which allows farmers to upload photos of their palm trees. AI technology then analyses the needs of the trees.

Job creation in the Middle East

Our efforts to create more employment opportunities in the region focused on: entrepreneurship; Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) support; and job placements for refugees.

To boost employment for Syrian refugees and host communities we launched a regional job creation programme across Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and Syria. Furthermore we invested heavily in tailoring our services better to Syrian entrepreneurs and students.

In Jordan and Iraq we worked with Microfund for Women to support SMEs and home-based businesses (HBBs) with technical assistance to scale-up their businesses and build resilience.

Throughout the year SMEs increasingly asked for support in accessing online sales opportunities. In cooperation with we helped register women-owned SMEs and HBBs to its e-commerce platform, providing entrepreneurs with new sales channels to grow and safeguard jobs.

Mohammed's Story

Name: Mohammed Yousef Kinat
Occupation: Engineer
Location: Gaziantep, Turkey

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, they [teachers] didn’t leave us alone. While online education was going on, they were giving us new assignments. Exams were continuing and it was very good for us.“ Mohammed Yousef Kinat arrived in Gaziantep in 2013 from Syria. He received a scholarship from SPARK and the European Union to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Gaziantep.

During his final year of studies, Mohammed participated in SPARK’s entrepreneurship programme supporting students with business ideas. His idea won funding, which helped him to start a company that designs and prototypes engineering products simultaneously. He now has over five clients, and also works as an engineer in a factory where he applies his skills designing new machines.

Microfinance institutions in Tunisia

Surveys conducted by our local partner organisations showed that entrepreneurs, start-ups, existing businesses and business incubators urgently required access to financing opportunities.

To act on this input we partnered with Zitouna Tamkeen, the leading Islamic microfinance institution in Tunisia. This partnership developed and strengthened value chain projects, provided loans for existing and new Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in five cities and ensured that companies received appropriate coaching over six months.

The results exceeded all our expectations: 266 loans were provided to youth and 92 loans were awarded to women-owned MSMEs. This led to the growth of 350 MSMEs, including 95 women-owned. 8 new MSMEs were created, half of them women-owned. Up to 378 jobs were created, while 461 jobs were sustained throughout the most critical lockdown period.

Maher's Story

Founder: Maher Bayaoui
Company: Mini Market
Location: Sidibouzid, Tunisia

“Having a business means that you always have to be open to new opportunities and willing to take chances”, says Maher Bayaoui, owner of a mini market in a vulnerable region of southern Tunisia. 

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maher needed to mitigate the economic effects on his business and diversified his inventory, which was mostly food products. With the support of a loan from SPARK’s microfinance partner, Zitouna Tamkeen, he began stocking and selling protective equipment and cleaning products. Maher also received a tailored coaching on managing stock and daily operations. “For me, owning a mini market is very challenging, you must satisfy all the needs of different clients. Zitouna Tamkeen has supported me to achieve this goal.”

Blended and online education

An extensive survey on our student alumni’s access to online education showed that almost 80% had no experience with online learning, with 44% asking for more academic support and 40% asked for psychosocial support. These results, plus discussions with our partners, led to serious programmatic shifts.

For example, in Lebanon, students were connected to a psychologist for online group sessions in wellbeing, coping with anxiety and depression, mindfulness techniques and time management. In Iraq, we hosted online learning sessions that led to first online classes and exams in the country’s history.

However, we found that many vulnerable young people are excluded from online education. With this in mind, we are working towards blended forms of learning, rather than fully replacing in-person teaching.

Syrian student at the University of Gaziantep:

“I actually find it helpful because everything is recorded so even if you missed the class, you can re-watch it. Also, I have extra time for studying because I used to travel to attend classes.”

Digital access to finance in Rwanda

Historically the production levels of rural smallholder farmers (SHFs) in Rwanda have been impacted by limited access to markets and agricultural inputs. With the added challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, it was even more urgent for SPARK to roll-out its planned solution in 2020: a digital loan platform.

The platform provides farming cooperatives and SHFs with digital loans, lower interest rates and adjusted collateral requirements. It enables farmers to access digital bank accounts, control their own finances, create bankable data, cut travel costs and reduce transactional delays.

The loans are more accessible as farmers are scored by the bank on their historical records of supply at the co-operatives. This type of data collection is new in Rwanda, and represents a shift towards a more inclusive future in the financial sector.

Mrs. Hilarie Kanyange, smallholder farmer Loan recipient in Rwanda

“The loans were very costly, with a 24% interest rate.” Being able to apply for a loan through her phone allowed her to save time and money on travel to the city, and the interest rate on her new loan fell to just 14%. With these savings, she says: “I bought the seeds of good quality, pesticide and I was able to pay the labour of 5 people”.

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The annual report provides comprehensive information on SPARK’s activities throughout the preceding year. Published with the approval of the Supervisory Board and With Accountants registered accountants, the SPARK annual report is testament to the priority we place on transparency and accountability.

2019 as PDF

2018 as PDF

2017 as PDF

2016 as PDF

2015 as PDF

2014 as PDF

2013 as PDF

2012 as PDF

2011 as PDF