February 18, 2015

SPARK IGNITE: Entrepreneurship is Blind

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“Beekeeping is helping me forget the bad things that happened in my life. When I feel bad, I just run to the farm and sit with the bees for a sense of comfort,” says 27-year-old Saif Hassen.


This was not Saif’s first attempt at apiculture. Born into poverty in rural Yemen, Saif left primary school to help his relatives produce honey. Beekeeping is a traditional trade in Yemen because of the exceptional quality of the honey (commonly referred to as ‘liquid gold’) combined with beehives’ relatively easy upkeep. Unfortunately, this age-old tradition has been faltering due to recent challenges which come in form of drought, diseases, and outdated production systems. Due to such difficulties, Saif was one of many Yemeni who could not earn enough income while beekeeping. Like many young people, he reluctantly made the move to Saudi Arabia to seek employment. Soon after moving he was imprisoned for immigrating and shared a cell with fellow Yemenis who also left in search of a better life. Eventually, after enduring brutal torture in jail, Saif was released and returned to Yemen. After initial psychological and physical recovery, he was eager to build a life in his home village. Saif heard about a project which offered the chance to start a beekeeping business and remembered the relief which bees used to give him. Nervous but determined he joined the UNDP/SPARK project.

Saif Hassen with his 50 beehives


Saif was one of 28 youth participants in the Honey Beekeeping Project in Maqbanae, Taiz which took place in November-December 2013. The project is part of the UNDP’s Youth Economic Empowerment project which aims to socially and economically empower disadvantaged youth in Aden, Sana’a and Taiz. The implementation of the UNDP/SPARK Honey Beekeeping Project is inspired by the UNDP’s 3X6 Approach. As illustrated in this animated info-graphic, the approach consists of three organising principles and 6 steps: enrolment, rapid income generation, savings, joint-venturing, investing and expanding markets.

SPARK supported the project with technical guidance and the tailored expertise necessary to start a beekeeping business. Prior to working directly with youth, SPARK conducted a market research in Maqbana to assess the market needs in reviving honey production. The first phase of SPARK’s training focused on the basic skills of honey beekeeping, the economic importance of non-honey bee products, and methods to modernising traditional beehives. Thereafter, participants were granted equipment and beehives to kickstart their business. SPARK then conducted visits to various locations in Maqbana in order to evaluate and mentor the 28 youth on their method of application and the conditions of their beehives. Based on the observations made during the evaluation and mentoring phase, SPARK provided more practical training to reinforce the participant’s skills application.


The coaches who conducted the training described Saif as “happy, optimistic, interested and a fast learner” – a natural entrepreneur. In this sense, entrepreneurship is blind. The market does not care if you never went to middle school or if you have been to jail. Saif enthusiastically established his business with another participant Gihad Ahmet in November 2013. When SPARK conducted follow-up visits to project participants in December 2014, they were impressed to see that Saif and his partner had increased their initial 28 beehives to 50 beehives. Saif has even begun working with livestock from his honey returns and is also working as a driver with his brand-new motorcycle.

Of course it’s not all success stories. For instance, the only woman (aged 20) who participated in the project lost most her bees to disease. But there are positive consequences. Many participants have doubled the amount of their beehives and, in stark contrast to Saif’s desperate migration, they are proud to export their product to Saudi Arabia from Yemen. Also, several participants have assumed advisor roles in their village and have begun sharing their training on beehive production with their community. One such participant is Yasser Qasim who originally undertook the SPARK training to improve his family’s beekeeping techniques. Yasser says, “We didn’t know how much sugar should be given to bees or how to deal with diseases.” Thanks to his newly acquired knowledge and skills, Yasser now holds meetings in his community to demonstrate how to sustain healthy beehives. Based on Yasser’s demonstration of the SPARK training, beekeepers in his community have adopted improved techniques and six people from the village started new beekeeping businesses.

There is no fool-proof plan when it comes to entrepreneurship in fragile and conflict affected states. Entrepreneurs often struggle with assuring sustainable earning potential. In this way, beekeeping is special in its easy maintenance and timeless appeal. It just goes to show that with the right product and for people like Saif and Yasser who have the motivation, starting a business can snowball from impacting one’s own life to positively affecting a whole community.

SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, and what inspire us to do what we do.  We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]