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Carpentry handcraft training workshop organised by YPE partner Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID/El Nidaa) – Credits: El Nidaa Foundation


Most countries in the MENA region continue to marginalize the most vulnerable adolescents and youth, particularly young women, poor, refugees or people with disabilities, impacting their ability to realize their full potential (UNICEF). Young entrepreneurs find it extremely difficult to run their micro enterprises, small businesses, and start-ups in the same manner as they were doing prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Oxfam and local partners in the region have been implementing the Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) Programme supported by the Danish Arab Partnership Program (DAPP) responding to the needs of young entrepreneurs and creating economic opportunities.  Just before the start of Coronavirus crisis, YPE conducted an entrepreneurship review study in partnership with Beyond Relief and Development (BRD) to learn from different approaches on entrepreneurship within and outside the region. Findings of the study are relevant to employment programs in the present context and provide useful lessons and recommendations for young entrepreneurs. (For more information, the full entrepreneurship report can be requested from the YPE programme). Some highlights of the entrepreneurship review report case studies are as follows.


The rate of entrepreneurship and business creation in the MENA region is among the lowest in the world.  Due to social problems that perpetuate inequalities across the region, there has been a rise in social enterprises seeking social impact, and environmental sustainability and necessity-based entrepreneurship. Situation in the four YPE programme countries (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia) is similar in some ways. Unemployment, especially for youth, is one of the main socioeconomic problems in these countries.  Entrepreneurs face administrative red tape and bureaucratic challenges to start a business. Entrepreneurship education lags behind. Legal framework does not provide adequate support and incentives to enterprises rather reduces ability of firms to compete in markets. Private sector plays a limited role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In many countries entrepreneurship funding is at early stage where financial institutions have a risk-averse attitude and are more likely to invest in late-stage start-ups or established SMEs.

Despite the challenges, entrepreneurs in the region have demonstrated great potential to lead successful start-ups. Gradual economic integration of women and a shift in traditional family models has begun. The mainstream education system started expanding to skills development and technical education. Ecosystem activities include academic institutions and universities, development agencies and public institutions. Digital platforms have started linking actors with each other. After facing unprecedented changes in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, confidence of small and medium entrepreneurs is on rise, according to the latest research by Mastercard. With the rise in unemployment, investors have shifted towards supporting new businesses to increase job opportunities. YPE partners are working with potential entrepreneurs to enhance skills through vocational training and by targeting sectors that can support women’s economic empowerment. YPE trained women to start income generating activities and enhanced their knowledge of labour market. YPE also introduced financing opportunities, awareness-raising on labour rights and initiatives to build social solidarity. Online platforms supported technical capacity building and provided youth with access to internships, job opportunities, online courses and online markets. Support to social entrepreneurship and innovation have increased through incubators, seed funding and market information. Many local and international NGOs played prominent roles in the promotion of entrepreneurship, networking, policy dialogue with stakeholders and social media campaigns.

  1. Before embarking on a programme, it is important to confirm the alignment of any activity with the needs of entrepreneurs, local priorities, and contextual factors. Thus, programmes should test activities with their target groups, and learn and adapt towards reducing inequalities and protecting rights.
  1. Entrepreneurship skills and business development capabilities are key services provided by YPE partners. The knowledge transfer therefore should follow the principles of adult learning. To better adapt interventions, partners should be kept up to date about different methods and tools for entrepreneurship support.
  1. Within YPE countries, there is much to be done in terms of facilitating access to markets. Some learning topics on this subject include engagement and outreach to diasporas, understanding and advocating for legal setup for export and investment promotion, and bilateral trade agreements. As for tools, it is recommended to include a detailed ecosystem mapping and identify existing channels for accessing markets.
  1. With Official Development Assistance (ODA) decreasing and organizations aiming to be more sustainable, financial resources have become a central element to ensure organisational sustainability. However, an organization cannot delve into sustainable management without considering alternative financial resources that can be mobilized to allow it to transition well. While partners suggested that access to financing be added to the list of possible services provided under YPE, it was important to ensure that they are familiar with all possible financing schemes and mechanisms. This includes microfinance and debt financing, crowdfunding, impact funding, venture capital and philanthropy.
  1. Entrepreneur support organisations should include information about social entrepreneurship theories and schools of thought, models, and their applications across different contexts, as well as local and regional ecosystem conditions. Additionally, specific tools for social entrepreneurship support should also be included, such as Social Impact Measurement, and Social Business Modelling. Since many partners have already introduced mentoring within their services, it is important to expose them to different schools of thought and methodologies for mentoring.
  1. Advocacy tools and methods are important to enable partners to influence policy at local, national and regional levels, as well as suggest the development of needed institutional structures to sustain any intervention and create long-term impact. Partners expressed the need for greater advocacy skills to better influence donors’ agendas when setting priorities and designing interventions at country and regional levels.
  1. Partnership building should start with a detailed mapping of stakeholders and an analysis of their positions, interests, and influence. Tools related to these steps would help partners establish a clear understanding of the stakeholders they need to engage for higher impact. This would also allow the identification of possible incentives to keep them committed to the process. A stakeholder mapping can be complemented by a resource mapping to allow partners to better understand the talents and resources they can use in interventions or that of the people with whom they work.
  1. Most partners expressed the need to document cases and stories to contribute to entrepreneurship-related learning, as well as their own evolution. Training modules related to communication and storytelling could be beneficial for partner organisations. Partners expressed the need to build their internal capacity to better design and deliver skill and capacity development sessions and mentioned the need to become more acquainted with adult learning methodologies and train their teams to facilitate learning sessions themselves. Partners expressed interest in gaining familiarity with different learning tools, including design and analysis of case studies, and participating and contributing to exchange programmes around youth entrepreneurship. Partners also suggested that coaching of project teams by experts in specific topics would be valuable.
  1. Partners mentioned the need to consolidate learning and creating a digital space for communication, especially when face to face meetings are challenging. Strengthening existing learning platforms can be useful through smart use of new technologies.
  1. In addition to effective partnerships, modules on visibility and access to markets can also address growth and sustainability of partner organizations. Partners can bring additional resources – whether financial, human, intellectual or, most of all, visibility, and access to market opportunities. Support in making the organizations’ work more visible to facilitate access to new opportunities is crucial. This is particularly true for the relationship that has been established between partners and Oxfam, which is perceived to boost access to opportunities that can benefit both Oxfam and partners.

For achieving the desired social impact, reduced inequalities, gender mainstreaming and wider objectives of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), entrepreneurship programs for youth must develop a robust Impact Management System.

Partner organizations need to ensure their sustainability models for long term impact. The diversity of partners within YPE requires a flexible and adaptable approach to sustainable business modelling, considering the respective legal frameworks in which each partner operates. Introduction of new management techniques, particularly around human resource management would be beneficial.

About Authors:

Ahmed Elassal is Senior Advisor, Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) Danish Arab Partnership Program (DAPP), OXFAM IBIS. Ahmed holds MA Governance, Development and Public Policy from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex. He has worked with Oxfam, GIZ, ACLED and other regional and national civil society organisations in MENA on youth participation, gender justice, economic justice, and governance programmes. Ahmed also has several academic contributions on civil society and foreign aid in the MENA region

Shekhar Anand is a senior advisor for learning and knowledge management in Oxfam Denmark’s Youth Participation and employment (YPE) program implemented in Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. Shekhar holds M.Sc. from the London School of Economics UK and post graduate degree in rural development from India. Other than Oxfam, he has worked with CARE, Canadian Bilateral Mission and Government extensively in South Asia, CIS, MENA, Eastern and Southern Africa regions supporting resilient livelihood, markets & vulnerabilities, enterprise development, women’s economic empowerment, youth employment, learning and innovation