A new academy is teaching robotics and coding, game development, and entrepreneurship to children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, an area lacking in educational programming that enables children, especially girls, to explore their creativity and develop technical skills that could open doors to educational and employment opportunities.
Edutek is the brainchild of Mariam Haidar, one of several recent graduates of the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Project (AWEP), an initiative of AMIDEAST and Citi Foundation that is dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship among Arab women. In addition to teaching her the fundamentals of how to run a business, the AWEP program built her self-confidence, taught her how to deal with customers, and opened up new means of marketing. Edutek, which opened in January 2016, is just the first step in her long-range plan to provide business skills training to employees and professionals in an area of Lebanon that is underserved for this type of training opportunities.
Mariam is not alone in her success. Of the 57 women from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco who participated in the latest round of AWEP training, 63 percent improved or established businesses. Their successes included the creation of 13 new micro or small enterprises and the improvement or expansion of 23 existing enterprises. They also created 27 new jobs.
Behind the numbers are stories of lives transformed by the AWEP program. In Jordan, Tamam Yasuri, a disabled participant, increased the sales of her home tailoring business by 30 percent by applying what she learned, while Manal Al Obaidi improved her marketing and communication skills and is now exporting her dairy products outside Amman and to the Gulf.
The latest training round also included several social entrepreneurs in Lebanon. Simone Bou Aoun established a company that employs economically disadvantaged women or women who are victims of gender-based violence to produce traditional Lebanese sweets. Ekhlas Khatib has improved her management of her business, which teaches sewing to underserved women, enabling her to increase sales, hire additional employees, and train 320 women. Sanaa Abu Dayem—in addition to expanding her own handicrafts business—has begun training disadvantaged Syrian women in entrepreneurship.
And, in Iraq, where the current financial crisis and political problems have made it difficult for participants to proceed with their business plans, Deedar Jaleel Raheem and Batoul Alyousfi are planning to offer training for local women who are interested in starting a sewing or crochet design business.
Since AWEP was launched in 2011 AMIDEAST has offered four training rounds, benefitting nearly 300 women in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and the UAE. Each round began with three weeks of intensive training covering the basic business skills required to succeed as an entrepreneur. Each woman also developed a business plan and implemented it during subsequent months while drawing for support and inspiration on a network of mentors, trainers, and fellow participants provided by AWEP.
Success is measured not just in startups and expansions of existing businesses. Some women set new goals for themselves, such as one who has decided to put her business on hold while pursuing an MBA through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.