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June 10, 2022

Strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems in the MENA region with the EU

SPARK and its partners, Institut Arabe des Chefs d’Entreprises (IACE) in Tunisia and Ruwwad in Jordan have launched a new, four-year partnership with the European Union (EU) to create sustainable jobs by enhancing the start-up ecosystem in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

SPARK will be working with 40 innovation business support organisations to strengthen their capacity in delivering diverse services to at least 350 start-ups and businesses to grow and create sustainable employment. In an effort to support and enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystems in these four countries, there will be a specific focus on sustainability, digitalisation, innovation and women.

The economies in the region suffer from underdevelopment, high unemployment, and SMEs failing to grow due to traditional operations and limited financial resources. According to the WeForum, only 8% of bank lending is available to SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, making it challenging for entrepreneurs to thrive in their economies.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are crucial job creators that contribute to innovation and economic growth in the region. In Jordan alone, SMEs make up 98% of all enterprises in the country and their employees represent around 60% of the workforce, according to ResearchGate. However, without access to finance, SMEs are restricted in their development and growth. Therefore, SPARK will provide 40 innovation-support organisations the responsibility to strengthen their capacity by directly supporting at least 350 startups and scalable, innovative SMEs. This will be done by providing training to support the growth and creation of sustainable employment.

In order to alleviate existing hurdles that SMEs face, such as bureaucratic regulations, SPARK will establish communication channels with key government stakeholders to improve policies and processes for entrepreneurs.

Yannick du Pont, founder and CEO of SPARK said: “The project will provide comprehensive support aimed at strengthening competitiveness and faster growth, as well as the ability of local SMEs to generate more and better employment.”

Since 2015, SPARK and the EU have supported entrepreneurs in Iraq (KR-I), Jordan, Lebanon, Syria (SIG) and Turkey to kick start their businesses through coaching and mentoring, entrepreneurship and employability training, internships and job placements, and financial and technical support for startups.

SPARK’s Higher Education and Services (HES) programme funded by the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, Madad Fund supported students in Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. The services included internship, scholarship and entrepreneurship summer courses in sight of opening future career and educational opportunities for vulnerable youth and refugees. 

With the support of the EU, as well as the expertise of local partners, the four-year programme will achieve a more sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem in these countries. By increasing competition between local SMEs, we expect growth in employment and innovation in the communities. This is designed to advance their position in the MENA region, as well as follow the market economy trends in the EU, increasing their internationalisation. These initiatives should increase the capacities of refugees, women, and vulnerable youth.