Empowering young entrepreneurs in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

Rouwayda al-Ariss, a young Lebanese woman passionate about fashion and art, and Romain Assaad, a student majoring in political science and philosophy, had one thing in common. They both enrolled in UNESCO’s “Training of Trainers” programme for building skills and reducing youth unemployment, and made their dreams a reality.

As a teacher of fine arts at different schools in Lebanon, Rouwayda shared her passion for art and design with her students, but always felt she left her dream on the back burner. In her heart, she wanted to one day become a fashion designer and create women’s accessories.

Rouwayda applied to the UNESCO Beirut office’s “Training of Trainers on youth empowerment for advocacy and campaigning on youth unemployment in Lebanon”. Her participation at the training was a “turning point, a real life changer”, she says. Following the training, Rouwayda felt empowered to set up her own business - “Rouds Bags”, where she designs handmade customized bags.

“My bags are unique pieces where art and fashion meet. As globalization has brought with it a tendency toward homogenization where everyone looks the same, it is important that we distinguish ourselves from others by wearing something unique that reflects our personal taste and style. By creating these ‘statement bags’, I want my customers to feel unique and special”.

Rouwayda says the training allowed her to dare become an entrepreneur. “It takes a lot of courage and determination to become an entrepreneur. You also need technical knowledge and skills. All of these, I acquired through the workshop I followed at UNESCO,” she said, also highlighting that the workshop provided her with the opportunity to learn marketing and branding tools, and to make feasibility studies and market analyses, thus putting her on a path to success.

Romain Assaad, a 21-year old student majoring in political science and philosophy, always felt drawn to social entrepreneurship initiatives. “I applied to UNESCO Beirut’s training workshop hoping to acquire skills that would allow me to launch my start-up. Never had I imagined that the workshop would give me all the knowledge necessary to immediately launch the initiative I had in mind”, he said. “The workshop acted as a trigger for my project and a source of additional motivation”.

Romain has now launched two social entrepreneurship initiatives. The first one consists of a series of animated videos that explain Lebanon’s electoral law to the public. Called “Halla2 wa2ta” (It is time), the series was broadcast on TV channels as well as on social media platforms. “We were able to reach 150,000 viewers in Lebanon, with a limited budget of 14.000 USD. The workshop indeed taught me how to set up a business plan and mobilize scarce resources in a highly effective way to produce the desired outcome”.

Romain also launched SPARROW in the same year, a NGO that helps high school students to frame their aspirations within a career orientation.  “The workshop was an eye-opener. It allowed me to gain greater awareness of the issue of youth unemployment in Lebanon and pushed me to engage in initiatives to help reduce this phenomenon”.

SPARROW acts in different ways and at different levels. In in partnership with the International Coaching Federation, it offers life coaching for high school students to help them determine their career path. It also organizes job fairs at schools in Lebanon and opportunities for students to “job shadow” where they can get first-hand information on the types of jobs in demand.

The workshop, organized as part of UNESCO’s NET-MED Project with EU funding, and in collaboration with Startline Foundation, was based on UNESCO's 2016-2021 TVET Strategy.