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December 20, 2016

Baking delicious cakes in the middle of a conflict

Inas El’Bahri, a young Libyan woman, was one of many inspiring entrepreneurs attending the IGNITE Conference on November 16th in Amsterdam. She shared her experiences during two distinct interactive workshops; the first entitled Libya: How to Move On, which focused upon how to rebuild the economy in Libya; and the second was entitled The Impact of Women and Social Enterprises, which focused on female entrepreneurship.

Mozart Catering

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Inas spotted a gap in the market in her home country, Libya. She noticed that Libyans tend to enjoy a good cup of coffee, so the streets
are full of cafés. However, a sweet treat to have with a coffee was something harder to find, she thought. Inas began to fill this gap with her cakes her delicious cakes, and gradually she was able to start a small, private enterprise, called Mozart Catering.

Inas’ company began in her modest kitchen but with demand for her cakes (which are more like works of art) increasing every day, she was soon able to rent an external location. Her entrepreneurial effort has resulted in an impressive growth of her company and nowadays, she employs over 200 staff members.

However, the road has not always been easy. Inas faced a lot of problems in finding staff, since Libyans often prefer work in civil service, which has more job security. As a result, the majority of her employees are from Bangladesh and only around 40 are Libyan. Despite this, Mozart Catering continues to go from strength to strength and is one of the few private enterprises that has succeeded in growing beyond street-corner scale.

Libya: How to Move Forward?

inasSPARK was delighted to welcome Inas to the IGNITE Conference this year. During the workshop about the reconstruction of Libya, Inas shared her experiences stories of the obstacles she faced in starting and maintaining a business surrounded by on-going conflict. She explained to the audience that individuals connected to the heads of state and their families own large swathes of the economic structure in Libya. This makes entrepreneurial businesses
 like hers, incredibly risky because it is hard to compete with powerful families and corruption.

Additionally, the conflict is a recurring problem and even forced Inas to close her shops on multiple occasions. However, she said: “The war was never enough to stop me, because people love the product”.

The Impact of Women and Social Enterprises

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In the afternoon, Inas also shared her experiences being a female entrepreneur in a fragile state.
The workshop was organised by WO=MEN, a Dutch gender equality platform. Discussions surrounded the importance of investing in education, the worldwide problem of violence against women in workplaces and the importance of gender equality.

Inas explained to the audience that about half of Libya’s young people (aged 15 – 24) are unemployed. Therefore, educating them to create their own jobs could be an effective way to tackle these issues.

“We need to change the culture and mentality in Libya, we see a lot of powerful women and we need to support them to be powerful” – Enas Lbhari (Mozart Catering).

In the centre of on-going conflict, Inas has managed to keep creating beautiful, high-quality cakes, which keeps her customers coming back. Her story should inspire many budding entrepreneurs worldwide.