Strengthening Lebanon’s Economy by Supporting Women Entrepreneurs
From 2009 to 2015, the Lebanon Investment in Microfinance (LIM) Program, implemented through VEGA by International Executive Service Corps (IESC), worked directly with Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in Lebanon. Through increased access to finance and business development services, LIM helped microenterprises increase their incomes and create new jobs. The grant funds were used for loans that target specific borrower groups, particularly women and youth. Loans payments were “recycled” to fund new loans, thus leveraging and increasing the impact of the original grant. MFI partners were required to use LIM funds in rural areas and had to meet targets for women borrowers. The program combined the grants with targeted technical assistance to MFIs, promoting microfinance best practices, industry cohesion and networking, and new product development.
During the six-year program, $9.5 million dollars in grants were recycled to facilitate 14,000 loans with a total value of $32.5 million. These loans helped create 3,000 new jobs and sustained 20,000 more. Among these, 6,000 loans, or 42.9 percent, went to women-owned businesses. These loans to women totaled $11 million, or 33.8 percent. Women assumed 1,900 (63.3 percent) of the new jobs and held 9,000 (45 percent) of the sustained jobs.
Expert Volunteer Assistance
The training and capacity building component of the project was designed to build the capacity of the MFIs by providing inclusive and cross-cutting training programs on topics such as risk management, proposal writing and fundraising, and social media outreach. All of these trainings had high participation by women entrepreneurs, averaging a third of all trainees, or about 35 percent in some years.
Mentoring focused on industry best practices, coaching of MFI loan officers, new product development, and the improvement and development of services for borrowers and potential borrowers in the three targeted sectors. VEGA Member International Executive Service Corps (IESC) drew on its robust database of talented expert volunteers, in addition to volunteers from VEGA Member Financial Services Volunteer Corps (FSVC) and other experienced Lebanese and international consultants, to implement its training and mentoring plan.
To maximize the impact of the technical assistance component, the LIM Program prioritized relationship-building among the partner MFIs to improve their collaboration and facilitate sharing of best practices among themselves.
FSVC Volunteer Jan Buresh provided advice to each organization on agribusiness equipment, start-up, seasonal loans, sales timing, branding and marketing, farmer success factors, and value chains.
IESC Volunteer Harold Handley covered such topics as dairy product lending risk factors, coops, milk and livestock value chains, components of an agribusiness plan, seasonal price charts. The total number of participants in the trainings was 85; 22 of them (or 26 percent) were women.
FSVC Volunteer Dexter Koehl designed expert tailored consultation and training for three MFIs at their headquarters. The TOT and assistance was highly interactive and covered trends and opportunities with bed & breakfasts, restaurants, cafés, gift shops, and home tourism businesses, complete with enterprise business plan outlines and templates.
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23 years ago, I had my first daughter. She was very sick, so I took her to all the doctors in my area, but they were unable to diagnose her. When I took her to a medical center in Beirut, I learned she had a chronic blood disease, Thalassemia. At the time, I was living with my husband in a small, basic house, with only building blocks for walls and no pavement or paint. We were very poor, and my husband was not supportive.
I began borrowing money from others and purchased a weaving machine. I sewed clothes and received my first loan from an informal vendor at 10 percent interest per month.
I still was not making the money needed to treat my daughter or support my family, so I began selling bread as well from my home. After a year, I took out my first loan from Vitas. I expanded my business, bought a dough machine, an oven and wholesale flour at wholesale prices.
All along, my goal was to afford proper treatment for my daughter. I spent nights treating her via syringe every hour, because I could not afford the medical equipment. My daughter also needed weekly blood transfusions and although my income was increasing, I still could not afford the expensive treatments.
After five years, I took a $5,000 loan and rented five shops – three for clothing and two for baking. My income increased and I was able to build a new house for my family.
My last loan was for $15,000 and I used it to help finance a bone marrow transplant for my daughter. This treatment gave my daughter a normal life. I was able to educate my children— both daughters are now university graduates and my son is in school.
For those who have no support, especially women, MFIs are a reliable source of financing to create and improve businesses and improve livelihoods.
My husband is a schoolteacher and his income was not sufficient to sustain our family of eight children. I needed to work as well, so I started my own business selling flowers and making flower arrangements. For capital, I took a $1,500 loan from ADR, which allowed me to open my shop. After paying my first loan back, I took another loan from ADR to expand my business.
Later on, I took a larger $6,000 loan and opened up an additional shop for Egyptian artwork. After three years, I was able to stop renting store space and built my own facilities using profits from my businesses. When I moved to the new facilities, I requested an additional $5,000 loan from ADR. I used it to open two more stores—one for clothing and another for glassware.
I now have five shops in total, all of which stemmed from my first $1,500 loan from ADR. I am completely financially independent, and I never needed to ask for money from my family, even my husband. With the revenue from my five businesses, I increased my family’s income, improved our livelihood, and provided my children with the opportunity to succeed. My three daughters are all university graduates, and my five sons are all gainfully employed, one even owns his own business.