Last Saturday we launched the Enjazi entrepreneurship competition. It is the first national competition of such to be created by Libyans for Libyans. There have been international organisations and donors who have created such programs before. These international donors, on the surface, helped the entrepreneurial culture grow in Libya as a means to stability. The more entrepreneurs, the more start-ups, the more jobs and thus less unemployment which means less social problems – in theory.
In the event I look to the audience and I see that their eyes are focused, listening to the speaker, some of their backs are bent forward to try to catch every word and some are sat back in thought to what is being said. For Libyans, many of these people know that their country needs support and help.
Tatweer Research wants to help develop the knowledge economy. One route is through supporting start-ups. The more start-ups we have, the more these feed into the Tatweer Research future business incubator. Competitions like Enjazi raise awareness about entrepreneurship, help start-ups through the training programs that will be created as part of the competition – 6 weeks business management training in Libya for 20-25 semi-finalists and two weeks entrepreneurship support in Beirut, Lebanon run by the partners of the competition MIT Entrepreneurship Forum.
For too long Libyans, with an economy heavily based on the export of oil, large subsidies and an overstaffed public sector have relied on a salary from government institutions. It is highly inefficient. In general there are no obvious alternative opportunities available to Libyan graduates except for a job in the public sector. The culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship is hardly present. For Libyans that do have their own successful businesses tend to work in the importing of foreign goods. There is some manufacturing but it is very limited with a basically non-existent export market. These small businesses are important for a healthy economy but it lacks the balance of Libyan produced goods and creative services.
In the audience, the eyes are still focused. Libya is going through a very hard time economically and politically. It’s not fair that university graduates ambitions are limited by the environment around them. As I look around at the different face, young and old I feel we may be on to something. In the Tatweer Research building and in the coffee hall that we are gathered in it feels like a breath of fresh air when you come in from outside. The hall has a modern feel to it, coloured seats, cool sofas and white cleaned walls. Everyone is sat down listening. This can be a space, a safe space where the ambitions of those who dream can be reached.
TEC aims to try to change the Libyan mindset and affect the culture. As well as the Enjazi competition we have setup a community plan which aims to raise awareness about innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups. There are two aims to the community plan: first of all to bring the small number of entrepreneurs together. Networking and contacts is important because with it people can talk about different ideas, brainstorm, find people with skills they need and eventually launch a project together. A hub of creativity. Secondly, the community plan aims to slowly raise awareness about the entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture to prospective entrepreneurs who may not have the guidance or other opportunities available to them.
The community plan aims to create a bubble, a bubble of space within the chaos of the country where entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs can come together, to form ideas, brainstorm and learn.
I look into the audience. Another person to my right leans forward as I continue to talk. The people in the audience are diverse. There are the older men who are evidently important people of society, young people, businessmen and the press. Their eyes firmly glued to the front. There is a focus in the room, it reminds me of the focus I see in the Tech Talks sessions we set up, with the local NGO Byte.
Tech Talks is a regular bi-weekly sessions where a member of the community, voluntarily, gives a seminar about a technology, innovation or entrepreneurial subject they are passionate about. The knowledge of one person is spread to the community, the next week someone else spreads their knowledge and over time we create a bubble of people talking about entrepreneurship, technology and ideas emerge, all under one artificial roof.
In Tech Talks there are some basic rules: Talk about technology, innovation or entrepreneurship. Do not complain about the government or social problems. Accept other people’s opinions and share what you have.
In Benghazi and Libya in general people are going through a very hard time. There is still conflict in parts of the city, some people have lost their homes, there is high inflation, the cost of living has risen dramatically. Maybe though within this environment riddled with problems, a small bubble where people with entrepreneurial mindsets can come together.
A small bubble, isolated from everything else. Sure in the evenings when they go out they will find there are missing items in the supermarket, the prices have gone up and the news may show distressing news in parts of the country. However for these entrepreneurs, they have a safe zone. In the bubble he or she finds other people like themselves, who want change. Either change for their own aspirations or to solve problems that they see around them. A cultural change, a cultural movement. People who work in tech.
Some more people come into the hall. All the seats are taken. Guests have had to resort to standing around the back and at the sides of the hall. There is a bit of shuffling from some members of the audience. Everyone else is glued. There are five attendees who sit together. I recognize them. They sit back, one is leaning forward, the other his arms are crossed. they all have a determined look in their eyes; they are members of our other community program: Operation Pour and they know what this competition means for them.
Operation Pour takes 10 computer programmers, preferably unemployed graduates, and gives them a concentrated 5 to 6 week programming bootcamp. In the 5 to 6 weeks they work on an individual project that entails an app and website. These guys and girls come in with some basic knowledge of Java programming and HTML/CSS, they undertake an intense program with all the knowledge they need to complete a project in 6 weeks.
Why? It’s about changing the mindset.
Back at the event, the Enjazi launch events in both Benghazi and Tripoli went well. People left the event lifted with a sense of hope. For some, the desire to work hard. Some of the faces that came I recognised from before, they are part of the new community. They have gotten to know other people they may have never met otherwise. From here, a small bubble has been created, one that can grow.
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