Making Progress in Libya, slowly

In early November an event was setup called Startup Talk, a new name for a new project where we bring successful startups in a panel format to discuss their experiences, challenges and opinions (organized by the team at TEC and led by @Nouran_elarbi). This is all part of the TEC program at Tatweer Research.

We have moved a long distance from where we started. In 2017 we just wanted to raise awareness about entrepreneurship, we wanted a discussion about technology and entrepreneurship to emerge, we wanted to introduce entrepreneurship to young people. In many ways we succeeded. 

What comes next are the challenges after these startups start to succeed and want to grow further.

It was refreshing that the panel didn’t talk about ideas any more, didn’t talk about starting up or even talk about searching for revenue. These were all stages that they had passed, a long while ago. Setting up a business in Libya has many challenges in itself.

The startups on the panel all had a team of employees working on their startup. They were creating recurring revenue and their challenge now was growth; how to grow even further.

All the startups employed 5 to 7 employees each. This is from a base of zero just a couple years ago. Two years ago, these startups were just talking about their aspirations to start a business with their special idea. Today they are delivering. Some of this success surely comes from the support that we provided: a co-working space, programming training, business management training and lots of follow-up mentoring and coaching from Tatweer research staff and outside experts.

As they talked about their challenges, there was a pattern that emerged. They talked about the importance of staff motivation and that they must hold on to the staff that they find. They identified in Libya that finding skilled and good employees is very hard and thus any staff member they have they must hold on to at all costs because replacing them is hard. 

Identifying and maintaining staff in Libya has many challenges that stem mostly from the inadequate education system that is not aligned with the needs of current and emerging businesses.

That is one of the issues of the entrepreneurship ecosystem. The ecosystem must graduate people with skills required by new businesses. These could be low-end skills such as catering or high skills in computer programming, or even as straightforward as business management, HR management and marketing.

The work that we’ve been doing has helped people think about entrepreneurship and attain the basic knowledge of starting and running a business. As businesses grow though, they need something more, they need to be able to find in their environment people with the right skills.

There is a big gap in Libya between the needs of the private sector and what people are being trained for at universities and colleges. Vocational training is very limited. University curriculums are highly outdated or irrelevant to the market. In one research that was conducted at Tatweer Research in 2018 it was found that businesses felt that only just over 60% of IT graduates from universities has the required basic IT skills. This is not talking about high-end programming, this is basic Microsoft Word and Excel, from IT University graduates.

What is needed to be done is to understand further what the private sector needs, and the government getting busy making sure they can meet these needs.

If this does not happen, the high burden of people being employed in the public sector will only continue as the private sector cannot reach its potential.

A highly working, strong private sector will encourage citizens to work in it and over the long-term can give the government flexibility if it needs to reduce the number of staff they employ. Currently Libya employs over two million people in the public sector in a population of over 7 million. This ratio of population to public sector workers is not common globally and is a disaster for public expenses. Instead of money being invested into infrastructure and essential services, the money is being spent wastefully for staff that are not all needed.

A solution is needed for this, one way is to support businesses to grow.

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