Entrepreneurship of Syria: Struggles and Perseverance
By Ruqyah Sweidan/Arab America Contributing Writer
Syria today is unfortunately known for its horrific, long-term war. This issue overshadows the accomplishments and talents of the people. Regardless of the conflict, Syrians are still inquisitive, talented people who want to contribute to the world. Thus, they continue to strive toward their vast professional goals. We know that many Syrians who obtained professional degrees before the start of the war are struggling to find work inside Syria due to the economic crisis. Those who escaped the country are also facing difficulty due to refugee status stigma which makes Western employers question the validity of their skills. However, this article will discuss the projects of youth and ally organizations that seek to empower Syrians in different fields.
What to Know About Syrian Entrepreneurship
Firstly, information about entrepreneurship in Syria is limited. Many startups are trying to stay open, and several have succumbed to closure. Sanctions against Syria have also cut off funding from support organizations for these entrepreneurs. Private investors, on the other hand, can send money but are reluctant to due to the conflict. Moreover, the non-entrepreneur residents of Syria are more desperate to secure food, medical aid, and security rather than support a new business. This is also coupled with the government’s partnerships with more established businesses that in turn influence the economy. Once again, there is not a lot of room for new start-ups.
Next, Syrian entrepreneurs face dilemmas in starting up outside of Syria. For those who made it to Turkey, for example, the language barrier was the first obstacle. This complemented the additional legal and bureaucratic systems that were foreign to Syrians. It took time for them to navigate through these chains with limited help from other resources. Because Syrians arrived in the country with almost no money, it took them a longer time to finally be able to make a stable living. Finally, there is the unfortunate sense of competition that emerged as the Turks felt threatened by new Syrian business. This resulted in a division between the two groups which persists today.
However, there are excellent examples of Syrian entrepreneurs who have been able to persevere through these trying circumstances and have made an impact. The skills of these Syrian entrepreneurs are not exclusive to their home country. They also want to find solutions to problems in the countries that were kind enough to accept them. The United Nations Population Fund actually found that refugees are more likely to become entrepreneurs than the people of the host countries because refugees have been conditioned to be self-reliant.
Khldun Said is an excellent example of a Syrian entrepreneur. He is currently living in Iraq and co-founded a food waste management startup. This business won the “Startup Roadshow” semi-finals in Erbil. In addition, Sami Al Ahmad is a Syrian residing in Egypt and launched a startup to help his fellow countrymen apply to study and work in Egypt. Later, Al Ahmad co-founded “Marj3”, one of the region’s largest databases of scholarships available to Arab students.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, most Syrians prioritize work that will deliver essential services to their destitute population. This was the mindset of Rama Chakaki. She and Malik al-Abdeh founded the Syria Digital Lab (SDL), a technology ecosystem that brings Syrians together in digital space. Their goal was to create an online psycho-social support for those who have been affected by the conflict inside and outside Syria. Leen Darwish is another young Syrian who launched an app and called Remmaz. This platform teaches coding throughout Syria and the Arab world.
Continuing Support and Looking to the Future
To sum up, Syrians who were forced to leave Syria, along with those still living in the homeland, have miraculously harnessed their potential to build businesses for the benefit of their communities. While these entrepreneurs had a difficult start to reviving their business drive due to the war, today, support from organizations like the UNFPA Innovation Fund continues to grow. Jusoor is another NGO that was started by Syrian expatriates to engage Syrians in educational, career development, and global programs. Ideas and creativity have therefore become essential in battling the consequences of displacement and war. And these themes will be pivotal in seeing a peaceful, prosperous Syria once again.
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