Europe Day: Celebrating the Year of Skills

The European Union, the largest donor of development aid in the world and SPARK’s largest funder, celebrates Europe Day every year on May 9th. This year, the European Year of Skills, is a chance to highlight the critical role that skills development plays in promoting economic growth, reducing poverty and inequality, and promoting social cohesion.

Since 2004, our partnership on eight EU-funded programmes have created pathways for youth living in the EU’s neighbourhood to study, work and grow their own companies. Take a look at some of SPARK and the EU’s most impactful programmes and the stories of young people, including women, refugees and marginalised groups, who have succeeded against the odds.

2000s: Cooperation in the Western Balkans

In the early 2000s, SPARK launched its first EU-funded programme, TEMPUS, which focused on enhancing curriculum development in Eastern Europe. As small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of most emerging economies, it was particularly important for the Balkan countries to start trading again after the conflict. To support the struggling post-war economies to grow, we worked to promote SME development and entrepreneurship by partnering with chambers of commerce and the private sector to create new jobs.

Regional cooperation was an important pre-condition for European integration, which was an ambition at the time. The programme helped promote the values of Europe, including peace, cultural exchange and mutual understanding in the Balkans by holding panel discussions and courses with youth from both sides of the conflict to foster cooperation.

More about our history in Western Balkans

2015: Responding to the to Syrian Crisis

The EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, also known as the Madad Fund, was established in 2015 as a response to the Syrian crisis. The European Union is the biggest donor to the Syrian crisis, with over €27.4 billion in humanitarian, development, and economic assistance to date.

SPARK has implemented five projects under the Madad Fund, focusing on providing education and job opportunities for Syrian refugees/IDPs and host communities in Türkiye, Lebanon, and Iraq (including the Kurdistan region). The projects have successfully trained 3,750 youth, provided internships and job placement for 400 and supported 118 startups contributing to their self-reliance and the socio-economic development of the region. Throughout their academic journeys, we support students with employability and entrepreneurship training, skills development, and capacity strengthening courses.

2018: Supporting Agri-business in Africa

Agriculture is the backbone of many African economies, employing over 60% of the workforce and the agri-business sector has market-potential worth $1 trillion by 2030, according to IFC. In particular, Liberia’s agricultural sector has great potential for economic growth, but currently, profits are limited due to gaps in value chains such as cassava, pineapple, plantain, Moringa, cowpea, and peanut.

With the funding from the European Union and in partnership with Welthungerhilfe, Concern Worldwide and ZOA, SPARK implemented the Liberia Agriculture Project between 2018-2022 to promote agri-entrepreneurs and businesses in nutrition-rich farming sectors. The main goal of the programme was to improve the productivity and sustainability of nutrition sensitive agriculture at the level of smallholder farmers. As a result of the programme, 85 entrepreneurs participated in the business skills training, 10 businesses received coaching/mentoring. The programme helped create 10 new agri-businesses and scaled up 10 SMEs.

Learn more about Liberia Agriculture Project

2022: Startups in Libya

Entrepreneurship in Libya has been on the rise since the revolution in 2011, with many young people starting businesses. However, startups face numerous challenges such as lack of funding, poor infrastructure, and limited access to business networks and resources. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Index, Libya ranks 130 out of 190 countries, indicating a need for greater support and investment in the startup ecosystem. By nurturing the startup ecosystem in Libya, the country can tap into the potential of its youth and pave the way for a more prosperous future.

With the funding of the European Union, we launched the Libya Startup project in 2022 to support the emergence of a dynamic, innovative and sustainable startup ecosystem in Libya by installing mechanisms allowing for business initiatives. The three-year programme provides skills development for youth on entrepreneurship and digitalisation, as well as financial literacy training.

Learn more about Libya Startup

Today: Supporting Startup Ecosystems in MENA

The Southern Mediterranean countries face a number of challenges, including low levels of innovation, under-utilisation of human capital, and low levels of economic integration. With an aim to support innovation and start-up ecosystems in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia, we launched, the From Innovation to Creation programme with the support of the European Union.

In cooperation with more than 20 local partners, the project aims to strengthen the local start-up ecosystems and their actors by increasing their competitiveness, internationalisation, and financial resilience. It also aims to strengthen innovation support organisations and encourage start-up ecosystem actors to change policy and legislative frameworks based on best practices. The project plans to achieve these goals through capacity building of key stakeholders, supporting scalable start-ups, and advocacy to enhance the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Learn more about 'From Innovation to Creation'

Story: A Journey of Dedication and Resilience

Tamara, a 23-year-old resident of Mosul, had ambitious plans to pursue a degree in computer systems. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and a collapsing economy disrupted her journey. Tamara’s unwavering determination never faded. With a journey of dedication and resilience, fate had success in store for the Iraqi girl.

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Story: “I became the problem and solution owner”

Jordanian entrepreneur, Saqer Maryha, developed an electronic device to help solve the problem that plagued the agricultural sector in his country. His startup, PhytoBase, designed a compact computer that measures vital factors in farming, allowing farmers to recognise and respond accordingly. Saqer plans on expanding his business to produce larger quantities at a better price and help more farmers.

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A Story of Hope and Commitment: Ahmed's Educational Journey

Ahmed Jassem, the 26-year-old and father of two, has now completed his banking and finance degree and landed a job! The journey, however, was not effortless for the young Iraqi from Mosul. Ahmed endured minimum-wage jobs, city occupation, and his father’s illness with hope and commitment for a better tomorrow.

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