November 17, 2023

Rebuilding Derna: SPARK to establish business support and economic opportunities for youth

Two months ago, Derna, a port city in eastern Libya nestled between the Mediterranean coast, the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) range and the desert, was hit by the devastating Storm Daniel. Strong winds and sudden heavy rainfall caused massive flooding, leading to widespread devastation and significant loss of life of at least 4,000 people, with a further 8,000 reported missing according to UNOCHA.

Around 30% of the city’s infrastructure suffered significant damage when the bursting of two dams released an estimated 30 million cubic metres of floodwater. The waters swept away many homes, hospitals, roads, waste and sanitation infrastructure.

Derna’s economic disaster post-flooding
As emergency humanitarian recovery efforts wrap up, SPARK has assessed the impact on Derna’s economy. In recent years, Derna has suffered from conflict and instability, being controlled by militant groups between 2014 and 2018. However, due to its entrepreneurial ecosystem of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the economy was slowly recovering prior to Storm Daniel. 

With many business-owners and business infrastructure now severely damaged or completely destroyed, Derna’s population is witnessing many job losses. The impact of the devastation has also made it difficult for the remaining small businesses to start or continue operating as many roads and bridges collapsed. 

What’s needed now? Business and employment support
After visiting the city of Derna to meet with partners, youth and  business owners, SPARK has found that economic development is urgently needed. The local SMEs, that the economy hugely relies upon, need support to rebuild and many young people that are struggling to access education and jobs, need new opportunities.

Attending the recent Benghazi International Conference for Reconstruction of the City of Derna and the affected cities and region, Wael Elshibani, SPARK’s Country Manager for Libya, said: “A multifaceted approach is necessary, with a focus on early economic recovery through access to finance for social entrepreneurship, SMEs and affected businesses. For the youth, we must facilitate their access to education, capacity building and entrepreneurship opportunities.”

Youth entrepreneurs and SMEs have been severely affected by the storm. Mentoring, coaching and financial support can help them to recover and reboot their businesses and ignite their ambitions towards rebuilding their cities and becoming the upcoming generation of business leaders.”

Business incubator at Omar Al-Mukhtar University
Thanks to the ongoing Libya Start-up Project (LSUP), funded by the European Union, SPARK signed on 15 November a Memorandum of Understanding with the Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Al-Bayda in Eastern Libya, which also has a branch in Derna. Through this agreement, SPARK will establish a business incubator within the university to support youth in developing entrepreneurship skills. The incubator will benefit young IDPs from Derna and other affected cities in the area.

Wael Elshibani, SPARK’s Country Manager for Libya, signs MoU with Dr. Abdelmatlob, President of Omar Al-Mukhtar University, to establish a business incubator supporting youth impacted by the flooding © 2023, SPARK

In addition to this, SPARK is currently expanding and adjusting its current programmes in Libya to support reconstruction efforts. Our work with the EU on the Libya Start-Up project currently equips young people in Benghazi and Tripoli with the skills, jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. More projects like this in Derna can increase the number and capacity of small businesses, skilled workers and employment opportunities, contributing to long-term economic recovery in the disaster-struck region.

Facilitating access to education opportunities for young people is also at the forefront of SPARK’s response. Priority will be given to providing scholarships and/or technical educational vocational training (TVET) so that youth can develop the market-relevant skills required by the job market. 

SPARK in Libya is looking forward to deploying its experts in Derna to support small businesses and youth. The people of Derna are determined to rebuild their lives and their city. SPARK and other like-minded organisations can be instrumental in this process through the facilitation of long-term recovery strategies that go beyond humanitarian relief.