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Libyan Women Embrace Entrepreneurship Amidst Turmoil

 (Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)

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Life in Libya has been unstable since the uprising in 2011, however this has not stopped some Libyans from striving to achieve some sort of stability in their lives. In spite of constant clashes on the streets of Tripoli, regularly occurring blackouts and an unstable economy, there are some that against all odds managed to create new business.

Ainsely O’Conner, of Fast Company, reports about Amal Delawi, a Tripoli resident, who not only witnessed the downfall of Gaddafi but was able to successfully fight cancer. Her fight against cancer was costly and Delawi needed to establish for herself an income. “I had to go back to becoming an independent again,” Delawi explains.

Delawi was able to start a business she called Tamara selling Libyan sweets that she puts her own personal twist on. A popular sweet from Delawi is her chocolate covered dates with Nutella filling.

Delawi says it’s difficult for her to be optimistic in her current circumstances, “I have big dreams, but I just go day by day,” she explains.

MEDA, a Canadian nonprofit has been offering workshops in the past four years to female entrepreneurs in Libya. During its onset, MEDA would offer in-person workshops that brought in women at various phases of launching or growing a business. One of the participants in the program was operating a private elementary school whereas another participant was hoping to start a recycling program.

However, due to the country’s inability to achieve stability in the last few years, MEDA has opted to offering its programs online instead. MEDA is able to offer these programs online to women in Libya through an online education company called D2L that supports education to women in rural areas.

Adam Bramm, the MEDA representative for North Africa and the Middle East, says “there’s definitely a need for this. Due to some of the violence and conflict that has been going on, a lot of the men have left. The women are starting to set up and fill in the gaps.”

By September the aim is to get 300 women to complete the online courses. The course will give women some background in some business topics such as accounting and marketing.

Despite the challenges MEDA faces in operating a program in a destabilized Libya the organization is aiming to eventually expand the program to all of Libya and hopefully beyond Libya by securing more funding for its program.

One of the in-person programs that were organized by MEDA took place in Ghadames, located near the Libyan borders that meet with Tunisia and Algeria. The instructor was based in Tripoli, however since there were no flights between Tripoli and Ghadames, she had to make a day long journey accompanied by her father to make it to the town. The journey from Tripoli to Ghadames has many checkpoints and at times there is no phone reception when driving through the desert. About twenty women in their thirties and forties showed up for the event

The MEDA’s project manager for Libya, Intissar Rajabany, says Libyan women face difficulty in finding opportunities to learn about business development.

“For many women in Libya it’s a late start; they don’t have the same opportunities that we do in other countries for getting skills up to speed,” Rajabany says. “They want to do something and better their lives, and they don’t want to be dependent on a man or a government salary that may not come through.”

Rajabany explains that amidst the crisis Libyans continue to find a way to live their lives. In fact one of the MEDA participants was able to successfully launch an event planning business called Velvet. Velvet offers brides-to-be and mothers-to-be a variety of stylishly designed invitations and decoration.

A major challenge women entrepreneurs are facing when running a business in Libya is once the sun is down it is a safety risk to be operating any sort of business.

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