In the year that SPARK awarded its 10,000th higher education scholarship in the Middle East, our focus has continued to shift towards employment opportunities for youth.
This year, through coaching, entrepreneurship and business skills training and access to finance, over 2,400 new jobs were directly created by the MSMEs supported by SPARK’s programmes. The main challenge facing MSMEs everywhere, but especially those in fragile states, remains to be access to finance.
By collaborating with microfinance institutions and banks, SPARK was able to facilitate 1,151 startups and existing companies with loans and grants. As remote working became a norm for many employers, such opportunities for refugees, IDPs and youth living in conflict-affected regions have been created. In 2021, we matched over 1,500 young job-seekers and graduates to internships and over 2,500 found employment. The vital role played by our partners helps SPARK to create stronger pathways to jobs for vulnerable youth.
Founder: Yaman Halawi
Company: YELLA GLOBAL
Yaman Halawi is the Syrian founder of YELLA GLOBAL, which offers high-quality services in translation, digital communication and business development. Based in Istanbul, the city hosting the largest number of refugees in the world, he found a huge need for translation services, especially within hospitals.
The company has built a thriving community platform of remote freelance interpreters to widen job opportunities for refugees in the Turkish market and beyond. During the pandemic, a programme by SPARK and TÜRKONFED with funding from the Qatar Fund for Development, supported YELLA GLOBAL to accelerate the development of their platforms and connected them to other businesses working in the translation sector.
“After this our company started to take shape,” says Yaman. “We experienced significant growth during the COVID period.” YELLA GLOBAL are now enlarging their capabilities within a multileveled, competitive market and developing their freelancers’ digital skills and interpretation expertise with specialised courses designed in-house.
In 2021, together with our partners, our scholarships enabled more than 1,980 refugee, IDP or vulnerable host community students to study BA and TVET degrees in fields relevant to jobs.
As global education trends shifted towards online and blended modalities of learning, SPARK worked with the University of Gaziantep to design the first BA and TVET level education at a public university in Turkey.
To improve curricula, SPARK supported the development of six curricula offered by the Erbil Technical University and University of Mosul in Iraq. The new and improved TVET courses were approved by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research of Iraq and reached 1,663 students.
Hear from Rawaa
Name: Rawaa Qasha
Title: Director of the Scholarships and Cultural Relations
Organisation: University of Mosul
“The partnership between University of Mosul and SPARK is one of the most valuable and fruitful collaborations as it supports the efforts of UoM to rebuild the university after the liberation from ISIS. The project targets a big number of students on different subjects that enhance the skills and experience of them which fit with the requirements of the labour market.”
14 education curricula were developed or improved with universities in 2021
Internships are uncommon in many of the fragile and conflict-affected countries that SPARK works in. As a method of boosting youths’ work experience, in 2021 SPARK facilitated over 1,600 internships for young job seekers.
Remote-based, 3-6 month internships for Iraqi and Syrian students based in Iraq also facilitated on-the-job work experience within multinational companies. By linking youth to work experience opportunities, interns became more competitive candidates for the future digital jobs market and 47 businesses boosted their workforces.
In Turkey, a programme financed by the Qatar Fund for Development and implemented by United Work, matched over 400 Syrian job-seekers to sustainable employment opportunities in manufacturing, food processing, textile and logistics sectors.
Hear from Ambassador Rentenaar
Name: H.E. Michel Rentenaar
Title: Netherlands Ambassador to Iraq
Organisation: Netherlands Embassy in Iraq
“The absence of good jobs and perspectives for a better future are the main drivers for radicalization. Therefore, the Netherlands is a strong supporter of SPARK’s programme to improve social inclusion of vulnerable youth in host and refugee communities with their valuable knowledge and great expertise.”
1,688 job-seekers were placed in internships or traineeships in 2021
In Tunisia, SPARK worked with local incubator, Wiki Start-up, to launch a startup competition for fintech and agritech companies. Hackathons and one-to-one tailored coaching sessions in branding, pitching and business planning saw 49 young entrepreneurs (39 women) participate in the entrepreneurship programme, with 12 new MSMEs founded (5 by women).
In Jordan, where there are extremely low rates of women’s participation in the labour force, SPARK developed a gender-sensitive entrepreneurship curriculum in 2021. 400 women entrepreneurs received training in business planning, financial management, sustainability and entrepreneurship tools. In total, 180 new jobs were created by these SMEs.
With many fragile and conflict-affected countries that SPARK works within, food security is a huge issue. In Rwanda, 48 youth (18 women) were enrolled in a tailored incubation programme with training and coaching in cassava seed agribusiness and entrepreneurship. A business plan competition saw 14 of the youth pitch their business plans, with five bankable winners.
Name: Serap Küpeli
Organisation: Zeugma Cooperative
The Zeugma cooperative is a women-led enterprise based in Gaziantep, Turkey. It sources and produces locally-made food products. In 2021, they joined a project supporting women entrepreneurs to tackle COVID-19, financed by the Qatar Fund for Development, which helped them to establish the products on the leading Turkish e-commerce platform, Hepsiburada. “As female entrepreneurs, we decided to establish a cooperative in November . We are trying to ensure that the local products grown in Gaziantep are produced in a healthy way. Our supervisory board members consist of our Syrian friends. We had the chance to work with important mentors about how social media design should be, how our products should be photographed, how we should present our products, how to communicate with the customer. We received financial support – grants. With these grants we bought goods in cash and increased our sales volume. We bought an industrial refrigerator. We have enriched our product range.”
3,296 participants received entrepreneurship/business skills trainings in 2021
MSMEs have the potential to create cost-efficient jobs at scale, yet the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need to digitalise. SPARK has been supporting youth and women business-owners to access online marketplaces and digitalise their workforce and internal processes.
In Turkey and Jordan, 232 MSMEs were able to grow as a result of the programme, resulting in over 130 new jobs being created and safeguarding more than 600 jobs. Flexible and context-appropriate financing solutions are needed for startups and existing businesses in fragile and conflict-affected regions.
In Tunisia, SPARK supported three microfinance institutions to diversify their support to rural MSMEs. As a result, Zitouna Tamkeen succeeded in offering over €500,000 in loans to support the growth of 52 MSMEs (8 women-owned), which led to the creation of 73 jobs (24 women).
In South Sudan, SPARK worked with Rural Finance Initiative (RUFI), an MFI, and Premium Agro Consult Ltd., who prepared entrepreneurs to develop bankable business plans through business skills training, mentorship and coaching sessions available through newly established Business Support Centres. Through this initiative, 17 startups and 12 existing businesses were provided with credit from RUFI worth $83,000 USD in 2021.
1,411 startups and existing businesses received access to finance in 2021
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.