U.S. Launches New Investment Fund for Lebanese Entrepreneurs

Today the Middle East and North Africa Investment Initiative (MENA-II) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with the Berytech Foundation, launched a $15 million program to support entrepreneurship in Lebanon. The ceremony took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in the presence of American Ambassador David Hale, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Mona Yacoubian, USAID Lebanon Mission Director Carolyn Bryan, and Berytech President Maroun Chammas.

MENA-II will support a growing number of skilled and innovative Lebanese entrepreneurs who are coming up with more effective products, services, and technologies, but struggling to secure capital, through investments totaling $15 million over five years. MENA-II will strengthen the Lebanese economy by promoting early business start-ups, fostering improvements in productivity, and stimulating business innovation.

The MENA-II initiative seeks to alleviate the region’s high unemployment rates, contribute to job creation, and ensure sustainable social development and economic growth. For more info, visit http://www.im-capital.com.

Below are Ambassador Hale’s remarks from the event as prepared for delivery.

Good morning Berytech President Maroun Chammas, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to join you today to participate in the launch of an entrepreneurship initiative that reaffirms our commitment to and support for Lebanon’s stability and economic growth. The “Insure and Match Capital Fund” represents a stepping stone for young and innovative skilled entrepreneurs who have great ideas but struggle to get capital.

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to work with allies all over the world to overcome global challenges in education, health, water and sanitation, youth, and the economy. His question was: “who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring?” These words resonate here today. This initiative to capitalize on the power of the human mind comes in response to major challenges in the region.

It is certainly encouraging – but not surprising — to see that Lebanon is the first country in the region to launch this program. Lebanon has great potential to harness the power of entrepreneurship to the growth of its economy, but it has been struggling to tap into it due to a host of business constraints and challenges. For example, in 2013, the International Labor Organization estimated that youth unemployment in Lebanon exceeded 22%. Furthermore, recent World Bank statistics show that between 2005 and 2009, only 3,800 net jobs were created each year in Lebanon. Yet over an average of 22,000 job seekers will enter the labor market annually through 2019. To meet this growing job demand, the Lebanese economy needs to create more than five times the number of jobs it is currently creating.

The MENA Investment Initiative will help address several of Lebanon’s business challenges, from stagnant economic growth to youth unemployment, by building on its entrepreneurial spirit. The Lebanese have always been great entrepreneurs known for their determination, creative problem solving ability, and true passion for building something great from nothing. This entrepreneurial spirit is a trait that Lebanese and Americans share. Entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in America’s history and continues to be a driving force of our economy. Therefore, the United States is pleased to be a supporting partner for entrepreneurship and business start-ups in Lebanon.

The launch of the MENA Investment Initiative complements the work of the Central Bank with the private sector as well as the Innovation and Small and Medium Enterprise project launched by the World Bank and Kafalat. Such initiatives have freed up private capital and introduced innovative investment strategies. Over the past year, Lebanon has seen the rise of several new investment funds such as the Berytech Fund 2, which will help stimulate and energize the private sector.

MENA II was created following consultations with the Lebanese private sector. We asked and we listened. And now we have responded with MENA II. America seeks to help you fill business start-up and expansion gaps by supporting equity investments in several business sectors, to optimize idle and non-productive capital. The Initiative will support a broad range of early stage businesses in Lebanon to improve their competitiveness and revenue growth, thereby creating jobs while advancing private sector development. USAID will provide technical assistance and help link the Lebanese private sector with capacity building programs in America. The program will also facilitate linkages with the Lebanese diaspora as well as American markets.

Thank you all for being here today. I wish this fund and Berytech success, and I think we all look forward to witnessing the program’s accomplishments: more business and employment opportunities for young people in Lebanon, so to stay and make a difference in their country.