In the toughest circumstances, over 150 start-ups were created in Syria last year - from Mujeeb, a platform to create Arabic Chatbots, to Clerk, an AI recruitment tool, and LiBeiroot, an app to book taxi rides between Syria and Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria has affected the population in many ways, but it has not stopped entrepreneurs from solving the problems they encounter in their daily lives.
In various studies, experts have shed light on the importance of empowering entrepreneurs and creating employment in the conflict zones - even while conflicts are still ongoing - to improve the outlook once the fighting stops.
Start-ups like the ones mentioned above have the potential to create much-needed jobs in regions where few jobs exist. They can further help as mechanisms for finding innovative solutions for critical problems in the region, such as education, unemployment, and many more.
Over the past five years, I have investigated entrepreneurship during the period of armed conflict in Syria. I spoke to hundreds of entrepreneurs, like Louay, who refused to give up even after losing his manufacturing plant due to the massive destruction of Aleppo's industrial zone, and Sami who turned his challenge of not being able to go to school due to war into a virtual training platform, and uncovered some incredible insights.
The results indicate that the conflict in Syria had inspired a new wave of young people to tap into unexplored fields: 17.6% of Syrian youth tried to work on start-up ideas in 2014, and the figure climbed to 31.2% in 2015.
However, when rolling out economic development programs, understanding the political context and what people have been through during the conflict is of great importance.
Without examining the proposed program beforehand, we risk harming communities instead of helping them. Unsurprisingly, start-ups in conflict zones tend to be highly affected by the fighting. Many of the start-ups that I spoke to in Syria had clearly experienced the effects of the insecurity and political instability.
The psychological and social distress that affected the Syrian entrepreneurs is undeniable. Many of them have lost someone, and have not seen or heard from family members or friends for extended period of time. According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR), 11.5% of the Syrian population had been killed or injured due to the armed conflict by the end of 2015.
Building bridges, not fanning flames
After understanding the situation and the roots of the conflict, the need for restructuring economies is clear. One promising approach incorporates an increasing role for the private sector in protecting the interests of the public, while preserving economic growth. This approach can promote peace in conflict-torn economies by addressing urgent needs and grievances, reducing tension and the causes of conflict, and creating post-conflict employment that may otherwise be lacking in these regions.
One potential area of concern is where businesses primarily support one side of the conflict and leave out the other, offering job access to some people but not to others. This situation reinforces people’s frustration and marginalization and stokes inequality between different ethnic groups, thus creating the conditions for internal conflicts and civil wars.
Job-boosting programs in conflict-affected areas must work hard to be inclusive, especially toward underrepresented minorities, and actively promote transparency and accountability to ensure all relevant beneficiaries have been consulted.
This can mitigate many of the issues outlined above. In addition, programs must focus on implementing a positive impact and inflicting no-harm approach to employment promotion and invest in scaling the existing solutions that appear to be working. Based on my research, these steps can be as simple as taking a livelihood-focused approach, that aims at helping grassroot community development and focuses on supporting vulnerable groups.
Crises have a long-term effect that impact all aspects of life. Because reconstruction takes time to plan and execute, technology and innovation will play a vital role. The public sector has been weakened by years of destruction and cannot be expected to deliver instant results. However, with the right support, entrepreneurs can deliver quick results.
Entrepreneurship, when efficiently deployed, can be a dynamo for growth and long-term renovation. It has the potential to boost economic recovery while improving access to basic services.
There will be huge economic gains in allowing entrepreneurs to express themselves and their capabilities. Entrepreneurship and the creation of meaningful employment for all sectors and members of society can help sustain peace after years of violence, war, and bloodshed. Every country that is affected by war should avoid mistakes from the past and lead the way to recovery.
Read the full report (here)