November 1, 2021

IGNITE 8 : Reimagine Jobs

The future of work depends on green jobs, digital jobs and flexible jobs. Employment around the world is dramatically shifting. Globalisation, digitisation, automation and the COVID-19 pandemic mean it’s now time to reimagine jobs and ensure the most vulnerable people in society are included in the transition.

The virtual IGNITE8 conference by SPARK and IFC examines how women, refugees, and other vulnerable youth can play a key role in reimagining jobs across the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Check out the descriptions below and watch each panel session again in full.

Panel: New Green Entrepreneurship

Speakers: Richard van Hoolwerff (Emergi), Aline Bussmann (Cewas), Claudio Pedretti (Green Climate Venture), Sabrine Chennaoui (Monsapo)

Summary: The green entrepreneurship kicked off the IGNITE8 conference. This session was all about green entrepreneurship faced with its opportunities and challenges. Aline Bussmann, Claudio Pedretti, and Sabrine Chennaoui are three entrepreneurs who are part of a green movement. 

They have shared their challenges as green entrepreneurs and how to overcome those challenges. 

Green entrepreneurs are filling gaps where government and NGOs cannot, through marketing sustainable products that add to environmental and social justice. Nevertheless, green entrepreneurs are facing many challenges as they strive for the protection of the environment. The main challenge they face is education, lack of cultural backing or political support. Since those markets aren’t very developed, it is also very difficult to come up with a sustainable business model. 

 “Everyone told me it was a niche market, they don’t care if it is biodegradable, all they care about is the price. I had to do a lot of market research to know who my paying customers are.” – Sabrine Cheannauoi

The green market is a niche market where many people don’t know or don’t care about. However, green entrepreneurs (and their support organisations) are advocating a green revolution through the use of campaigning, communicating about the green movement, and educating their customers, policymakers, and other stakeholders about the benefits that their products bring. A green job is also seen as any job that tends to pre-set or is involved with the preservation or restoration of the environment. It’s time that people change their perception, this can only be done through a green revolution.

Panel: Women Entrepreneurs Moving Forward

Speakers: Ange Muyubira (Kaz’O’zah), Irvine Floréale Murame (Kazi-Interim/Infinity group), Gabrielle De Vliegher (SPARK), Iris Irumva (ITM SARL)

Summary: The green entrepreneurship session was followed by the women entrepreneurs. Ange Muyubira, Irvine Floréale Murame and Iris Irumva, who are three power women entrepreneurs in Sub Saharan Africa told their story. A women entrepreneur is facing many challenges. Challenges regarding finance, lack of support of family and balancing their private and work responsibilities. 

‘It is very demanding, however, the passion pushes me to do the extra work’. – Iris Irumva – Business and Career Coach, Mentor, Madagascar

Even though these challenges linked to family aspects seem to mostly affect women entrepreneurs, our panellists argue that women entrepreneurs should not be treated differently from their male peers. They want to succeed because of their competences, not because they are women. It is not about gender it is all about talent and competences. 

However, being a women entrepreneur also comes with its specific qualities, women are thinkers which can be turned into something positive.  Women can also multitask very easily which comes with all its advantages. Therefore, women bring feminine qualities to entrepreneurship that should be valued. They should not be told to ‘man up’ to succeed. They should ‘women up’ and be sure to stay true to their feminine selves. 

So how does the future of the female entrepreneurs look like and what support do they need. According to the three passionate entrepreneurs, it is always important to share and to network. Share our stories regarding what went well and what didn’t work out throughout the journey. In that way, we can help our future generation out and ensure that women can rely on each other. 

Panel: Investing in African Fragile States: Looking Forward

Speakers: Michel Botzung (IFC Kenia), Giima Lavaly (IFC Sierra Leone), Idil Abshir (IFC Kenia), Olivier Buyoya (IFC Abidjan)

Summary: The last session of the first day was about Investing in African Fragile states: Looking forward. In this session, Michel Botzung, Giima Lavaly and Olivier Buyoya shared a decade of lessons learned for investors and entrepreneurs and how to invest responsibly in African and conflict-affected states. The main difference between African fragile states and the rest of the world is that fragile states don’t have any safety net, where other parts do. 

When looking at creating jobs in fragile countries it is important to be adaptable. One of the things that mainly stood out of the session was that it is very important to be present in the market. It helps to understand the market and build pipelines when being on the ground. Due to their presence it becomes easier to understand the local context, conflict drivers and it gives the opportunity to engage early, seek partnerships and look beyond transactions to broaden the impact of the investment. Some barriers in fragile countries are weak sponsor capacity and the availability of finance. 

In many fragile countries, COVID-19 was just another crisis they faced. The work to improve the business environment, local capacity and access to finance must continue in order to help people get jobs and create livelihoods. Where COVID-19 brought a lot of difficulties it also brought new opportunities and hope. A lesson learned from COVID-19 is that people now understand that when the world is closing off, you need to rely on your own people. This means, working more often with local sponsors instead of internationals. Despite the challenges, there is hope! 

“Out of concern is where we see the hope. We’re seeing local sponsors emerging in response to price hikes as a result of COVID-19. With new tools and teams within IFC, we’re hoping to work better with local sponsors in the future.” – Giima Lavaly – FCS Africa Coordinator, IFC

Interview: Entrepreneurs in conversation with Gayle Lemmon

Speakers: Rawan Al Zaidy (Nakhla), Gayle Lemmon journalist, author), Raneem Meqbel (Teenah), Tamara Al Baghdadi (Rimara Pak)

Summary: In this session Gayle Lemmon has interviewed three women entrepreneurs about sustainability and inclusivity of women. Rawan Al Zaidy, founder of Nahkhla. Raneem Meqbel founder of Teenah and Tamara Al Baghdadi, co-founder of Rimara Pak have sustainable hence profitable businesses. However, how to maintain the right balance between those, especially during times of COVID-19.

It is a combination of partnering up with the right stakeholders, right being referred to stakeholders who can make a big impact such as international organisations or the government. Those organisations are important since they can ensure that your company becomes well known. 

“Encouraging women is vital for economic growth. It has a direct baring on job creation. With financial freedom, you lift her out of poverty, healthier children, economy improves. This is what sustainability means.” –  Tamara AlBaghdadi, Co-Founder partner of Rimara Pak, Jordan

COVID-19 showed that the entrepreneurs are committed and that they are capable of thinking out of the box. Through the hard times, their drive showed what they are capable off and even let their company grow. 

One of the advices that was given to one of the entrepreneurs is that you shouldn’t stop pursuing your dream because of the fear of failure. Make sure you understand the industry you’re involved in, so you can dominate. Use your spirit and always believe that you were made for something great. 

“Discipline is key. Being an entrepreneur is not only about having a great idea, product or service. Always show up, be there for your business, clients, team. That’s when you see the results.” – Raneem AlMeqbel, Founder, TEENAH, Jordan

Panel: And the Winner is…! A Deep Dive into Entrepreneurship Competitions

Speakers: Martine Zaarour (Jar Thuraya), Ahmad Sufian Bayram (Techstars), Sami Al-Ahmad (Khatwa/MARJ3)

Summary: In this session Ahmad Sufian Bayram and Sami Al-Ahmad discussed several findings on winning a competition. The focus was not on the impact but on how to survive. The main findings of the study were financing, readiness for the new norm: virtual and online, logistics and supply chain and business knowledge. There should be a solution for those challenges in order to be tackled.

“The study focused on the “new norm” – going virtual. However, for the refugee entrepreneur communities, there is limited access to internet and infrastructure. One of the main findings was that financing is a major challenge. 9/10 refugee entrepreneurs said they had a huge challenge raising funds due to COVID-19.” – Ahmad Sufian Bayram, Techstars Regional Manager

It is important to tackle those challenges and find a solution for that. Such as,  improving your business knowledge, have access to digitalisation tools, support the work and be able to continue. 

COVID-19 is a great opportunity and threat, as you have to adopt to the change and provide solutions for the future, if you are able to adapt fast enough you can be a leader. However, if you don’t adapt or don’t see the threat coming you will be out. 

EdTech Startup Competition with Startups Without Borders

Speakers:  Valentina Primo (Startups Without Borders), Dania Ismail (Jusoor), Fadi Bishara (Blackbox), Mariam Kamel (AUC Venture Lab), Aleksander Kuczek (Contabo), Nouf Mohammed Al-Kaabi (QFFD), Omar Christidis (Arabnet), Dave Parker (Trajectory Media), Victoria Mehran (Expert Dojo), John Kluge (RIN), Mohamed A.M Al-Hadi (Islamic Development Bank)

Summary: Startups Without Borders and SPARK have partnered to launch the EdTech Startup Competition, a contest aimed at idea-stage and early-stage startups working in the Educational Technology sector. The competition – organised with high contributions from Qatar Fund For Development, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD) – the Tadamon programme – is open to refugee, migrant, and local entrepreneurs based in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. 50 participants received a curated mentorship programme with top international experts from the corporate and startup landscape in Europe and the Middle East. In this session 5 finalists of the GROWTH STAGE will get the chance to pitch their Edtech startup in front of a professional jury. Who will win this first Edtech Competition?

Panel: The Unheard Case of Agribusiness in Syria

Speakers: Tilman Brück (ISDC), Mustafa Alkhanous (WHH INGO), Marc de Klerk (Oxfam) Mayar Hajhamad (Civil engineering)

Summary: Tilman Brück, Mustafa Alkhanous and Mayar Hajhamad discussed the importance of the agricultural sector in Syria. 

“The war in Syria has accelerated changes in agriculture. Geopolitics, sanctions, the crisis in Lebanon directly impacts Syria through imports/export prices, COVID-19, and poor weather are directly affecting the sector. The international community should realise that they can have a substantial impact. My research suggests that the assistance that is given has very positive effects, it helps change the structure of the economy in the sector.” – Tilman Brück, Founder & Director, ISDC, Germany

There are many factors that are influential in Syria. The Syrian communities of farmers and agribusinesses need to be centralized as the gateway of development by local and international NGO’s. The opportunities for large budgets and institutional/infrastructural investments are not existent now. Instead, windows of opportunity need to be found, for example in humanitarian lines, to support local farmers and agribusinesses to be able to work together and supply the business and consumer Syrian markets, rather than to flood the market with free supplies.

Most farmers are afraid to enter the market due to war and the materials that come from other countries. However, what is even more important is how to face those challenges. Unfortunately, there is no specific approach to this. But a few suggestions from the speakers were: building an institution capable for support such as a bank, organisations should help the industry, reducing production costs by supporting project, and restructuring the sector.

Panel: Startups in Artificial Intelligence in the MENA region

Speakers: Christophe Zoghbi (Zaka), Rami Al Karmi (Abnewnormal AI Ventures), Omar Christidis (Arabnet), Marianne Bitar Karam (B.O.T)

Summary: Artificial Intelligence brings a lot of opportunities to the market. Christophe Zoghbi, Rami Al Karmi and Marianne Bitar Karam shared their experience regarding Artificial Intelligence. Narrow Artificial Intelligence is excellent in 1 or 2 things and does that even better than humans, which makes narrow Artificial Intelligence very strong. 

Artificial Intelligence might take over the jobs of many people, which frightens the people.  However, the opportunity it creates overcomes this negative part. People can uplift their skills and become more creative as they don’t have to do repetitive work throughout the day any longer. The jobs that will be lost are clerical and basic jobs. When looking back, it is seen that with every major technological shift, robots are replacing humans is seen as a natural process throughout the decades. Eventually, we need to adapt and adopt new skills as a new way of living. 

Another opportunity what Artificial Intelligence brings is the opportunity to work from home. Therefore a powerful opportunity is that Artificial Intelligence and remote work will open up opportunities for people who were outside the labour force, especially for women, people in rural communities and low-income communities. 

This is not only beneficial for them but also for refugees since it is opening jobs for refugees as it helps them to integrate in their host communities. Artificial Intelligence puts the refugees in an optimal opportunity to work remotely which takes away some barriers. Within a short period of time people are able to work in Artificial Intelligence since skills regarding AI are developed soon. 

However, the main challenge faced regarding Artificial Intelligence is the need to grow a talent pool since access to data is very important. They need cheap and reliable connectivity; partnerships and trade agreements that help drive access to markets.

Panel: Financial Innovation for Refugees

Speakers: Emre Eren Korkmaz (Octd Ltd), Jan Vos (MoneyPhone), Hatem Osman (VIVA), Simten Birsöz İnanç (Istanbul Planning Agency), Ussal Şahbaz (Ussal Consultancy)

Summary: In this session, Ussal Sahbaz, Emre Eren Korkmaz, Hatem Osman and Simten Birsöz Inanc spoke about the new technologies for data analysis or digital IDs which can help refugees get access to finance.

Refugees encounter many problems when they need access to finance. Due to the lack of credit scores commercial banks don’t want to work with refugees. They don’t know the income of the refugees, because most of the refugees are working informally. Besides that, the lack of assets is a challenge when providing credits. Payment data can help tremendously as an alternative scoring mechanism.

At this moment, it is important to take action and to legalise and support them which will help new start-ups as well. Currently, they are working on a project which aims to create an alternative credit scoring methodology. In that way, they can prove their income which will allow them to get access to financial services. 

“The fintech solutions are essential in increasing financial access for refugees. Payment solutions are a starting point to create bankable data of refugees.” – Ussal Sahbaz, CEO

The future is digital, and AML and KYC problems will be countered gradually. It is important to keep ongoing. 

Panel: Afghanistan: What Now?

Speakers: Simon van Melick (SPARK), Mirwais Momand (Mido Dairy), Niccolò Rinaldi (European Parliament), Said Shafic Gawhari (Moby Group Afghanistan)

Summary: During the last session of the IGNITE8 conference Niccolo Rinaldi, Mirwais Momand and Said Shafic Gawhari talked about the Afghanistan situation. The situation has changed tremendously over the past 20 years, when the Taliban had the power and the country was ravished. The country has functioning institutions, education, women’s right, a private sector and much more. The country is in a crisis, simultaneously, women’s right has been restricted severely again. 

“The Afghan people should not be punished twice. The EU just increased significantly the amount of humanitarian aid for Afghanistan. The country needs food, education, water and sanitation. But also a legal framework for people and companies to operate. A lot depends on the degree we can cooperate with the Taliban.” – Niccolo Rinaldi, Author of “Droga di Dio”

If you want to help or support the Afghans, there is no other alternative then to talk to them. Especially, since the current situation is very dire at the moment. Human rights are at stake, people are starving, educated Afghans are leaving the country (again), the banks don’t work, there’s no money. 

Therefore, the international community has to talk to the Taliban and see what kind of collaboration is possible. Seeking a dialogue with the more moderate wings of the Taliban is advisable. Lastly, it is also important that people buy and use local products. In that way, small and medium-sized businesses are supported so that they stay in business.