Tag Archives: CASE

Social Entrepreneurs’ Responses to the Refugee Crisis in Jordan and Lebanon (report FEM44-12)

30Following the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, an estimated 1.5 million and 1.3 million Syrian refugees sought a safe haven in Lebanon and Jordan respectively (Reuters, 2017; Ghazal, 2017). Considering that the population of Jordan is just under 10 million, and that of Lebanon – under 7 million (World Bank, 2018), this sudden and unexpected flow of refugees resulted in severe disruption, stretching the absorptive capacities of the two countries well beyond their limits, and necessitating massive relief efforts for refugees and host communities alike. In their efforts to manage the situation, the authorities in both countries have been supported by international community and civil society. Increasingly, private sector has been stepping in as well (Berfond et al., 2019). Among many institutions and individuals aiming to alleviate the situation, an increasing number of less traditional actors – social entrepreneurs – could be also observed.

Against this background, the main of this exploratory study was to explore the ways in which social entrepreneurs in Jordan and Lebanon have been helping to alleviate the refugee crisis in both countries. In our conceptualization of social enterprises (SEs), we followed an approach by Cerritelli et al. (2016), and instead of adopting a single definition of social entrepreneurship, understood SEs as entities possessing the following characteristics: i) primarily focus on the creation of social value rather than a purely economic one, ii) being financially sustainable or aiming at achieving that goal, and iii) self-identifying as a social enterprise. This approach was more inclusive of different types of socially entrepreneurial initiatives, additionally allowing for any differences that may occur between SEs based in the western countries and MENA region (as suggested, e.g. by Tauber, upcoming).

Our main finding, developed based on extensive literature review and stakeholder consultations (29 interviews with SEs and support organizations, a focus group, and a panel discussion during a workshop), is that although social entrepreneurs overcome numerous obstacles in order to achieve their goals, assessment of the real impact of their actions is not possible due lack of social impact measurement mechanisms in place. Judging their success is also impeded by the fact that the majority of the SEs examined is relatively young, being predominantly established within the past five years.

At the same time, we found that the anecdotal evidence does suggest that refugees in both countries benefit from the actions of social enterprises in a number of ways. Most notably, SEs are a source of employment opportunities, helping refugees to start new careers or resume the ones they had back in their home countries. The opportunities offered are especially valuable for female refugees, struggling to manage family-related responsibilities with work-life and facing various constraints of socio-cultural nature. SEs are uniquely positioned to assist with the labour market integration of the refuges as – unlike purely profit-oriented private companies – they can accommodate for their specific needs, focusing on the social impact of their work rather than just profit maximization (e.g. by providing free childcare for their female employees). Moreover, unlike non-profits, they can create sustainable jobs that do not (entirely) depend on donor funding. Unfortunately, ultimately the degree to which the SEs succeed in their work to large degree depends on the labour market policies of their respective governments. The issue of granting work permits to the refugees is incredibly sensitive in Jordan and Lebanon, both struggling with high unemployment rates among the native population. Recently, especially the latter has been introducing measures that may prove extremely difficult to overcome for the SEs wishing to integrate the refugees to the local labour markets.

Another group of the SEs has been focusing on providing goods and services that would facilitate the everyday existence of the refugees (and other segments of the population): from providing innovative educational solutions, through developing sanitary provisions, to designing functional temporary shelters. They, too, have however been adversely affected by existing regulatory frameworks.

Overall, the SEs face various challenges related to bureaucracy and inadequate legislation, such as high taxes, complicated customs procedures, red tape, or overregulation. Importantly, lack of legal recognition of a social enterprise as a legal entity is a major impediment, forcing social entrepreneurs to choose between registering as i) for-profits and therefore forfeiting any tax deductions, opportunity to receive (tax-exempted) grants and donations, and other benefits that non-profit organizations benefit from, or i) non-profits, limiting their opportunity to generate income. Equally worryingly, the complexities of the existing legislation do not seem to be well understood by SEs and support organizations (SOs) alike.

Another major obstacle identified by the vast majority of interviewees was securing funding to develop and grow. With bank loans and microcredits were out of scope or out of the question, most of the SEs turned to grants – and personal savings – even if finding an investor was the preferable way of going forward.

Finally, lack of adequate assistance on behalf of the support organizations was an additional factor adversely affecting the SEs, who complained that incubation and acceleration schemes available were not tailored enough and imposed unnecessary constraints on their daily operations. While some SOs did acknowledge this problem, many saw social entrepreneurs as cavalier and unwilling to learn.

The social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Jordan and Lebanon, especially its segment working with refugees, is still relatively undeveloped, unstructured, and unorganized. However, it is quite clear that the potential to have a positive impact on the livelihood of refugees residing in both countries is real. While social entrepreneurship alone by no means the answer to the refugee crisis, in a conducive legislative environment it may become an important actor – especially thanks to the new technologies that allow the SEs to scale up their activities and potentially maximize their impacts.

FEMISE MedBRIEF 27: “Social Entrepreneurship to Alleviate Refugee Crisis in Jordan and Lebanon”

Katarzyna Sidlo

The FEMISE Policy Brief series MED BRIEF aspires to provide Forward Thinking for the EuroMediterranean region.The briefs contain succinct, policy-oriented analysis of relevant EuroMed issues, presenting the views of FEMISE researchers and collaborators to policy-makers.

The FEMISE MED Brief “Potential of Social Entrepreneurship to Alleviate Refugee Crisis in Jordan and Lebanon” is available here.




In the face of an ongoing refugee crisis in Syria, the private sector has been increasingly involved in the quest to alleviate the situation. The present policy brief discusses the potential of one particular group of businesspeople, social entrepreneurs, to help relieve the situation of hundreds of thousands displaced persons who found refuge in Jordan and Lebanon.

The list of FEMISE MED BRIEFS is available here.

The policy brief has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union within the context of the FEMISE program. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the authors and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union

World Innovation and Creativity day : FEMISE takes a stand

On world creativity and innovation day, celebrated on April 21st, FEMISE and its researchers’ network gave our editorial committee some insights and analysis on the Mediterranean innovation context

Six days after Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday was the date chosen by the United Nations to celebrate innovation and creativity in the world. A very symbolic choice, as he was a man of universal spirit, an inventor, an engineer as well as an architect and a painter. De Vinci stands for what the United Nations expect for this international day « To encourage creative multidisciplinary thinking to help us achieve the sustainable future we want ». It is this sustainable future that FEMISE and its network of researchers aim at sketching through their work.

The think tank worked at clearing the field of Mediterranean innovation. Researchers first pictured a portrait of the situation, before making suggestions for developing this sector, « which could represent a hope for the future, to solve daily problems », according to CrowdSolving Yomken’s Tamer Taha.

A future already taking place in fact. All researchers agree to say that the international context, economic competitiveness, and growth partly require innovation. « Innovation is actually the only sustainable way of competing in international markets » states Przemyslaw KOWALSKI (CASE, FEMISE). He adds that « expert competition based on innovation and knowledge provides you with a better prospect of economic development and increasing standards of living ». Meanwhile, the General Manager of OPEE and Kedge Business School professor Maarouf Ramadan says that « the Mediterranean region does not avoid the international questioning on innovation ». He indeed studied the issue a lot, and proposed, with researcher Sonia Ben Slimane, a conceptual framework to achieve efficient and effective National Innovation Systems (NIS). « A lot of potential can be unlocked if Med countries start really looking into what aspects they want to develop » states Maryse LOUIS, (ERF, FEMISE General Manager). She highlights how « as we celebrate the World Innovation and Creativity Day, we are reminded of the challenges that the South med Countries are facing to establish their innovation systems ».

 « Investing in research and innovation systems »

«Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa suffer from the so-called missing middle phenomenon, with just a few middle-sized innovative enterprises » adds Markus LOEWE, German Development Institute. The phenomenon is due to 5 factors, including entrepreneurs that « lack access to capital and informational markets » and a of « lack rule of law » which is the most important factor according to the researcher. Maryse LOUIS (ERF, FEMISE) lists the common challenges to the region: low funding of research and development, unclear laws on the IP, coordination between the different actors, the unfavorable private sector environment for Young entrepreneurs and for research.

Thus, change can be an opportunity for systematic innovation. But how can it be achieved? Dalia Seif (FEMISE and ERF) specifies that under the work produced by FEMISE within the EU-funded TheNextSociety project « we have created a Scoreboard with more than 80 variables to measure the performance of innovation in the South Med countries ». This work « is about looking into more details of the innovation performance in these countries from different aspects: institutional, economic and social to be able to point to the challenges in each country and provide a road-map on how to establish an innovation system in these countries ». 

For Sonia Ben Slimane, « there is a necessity to invest in research and education systems », in order to « promote an innovative and creative culture » the researcher explains. She delivers a set of recommendations, from a bigger conciliation between industries and education and research systems to intellectual property protection, not forgetting to mention the financial issue. Yomken is central to this question. Through what it calls « challenges », the Egyptian platform matches companies, NGOs and industries with « young people with creative and innovative ideas » Yomken founder Tamer Taha points out. The platform is managed from Cairo, in several countries.

« Social innovation is also a way of addressing the needs of societies in a more effective and efficient way » states Katarzyna SIDLO (CASE, FEMISE). Success stories of social innovations in the MENA region include childcare services to allow women to go back to education or to the labor market, as well as initiatives to providing training and work opportunities for refugees.

The financial allocation issue is also addressed by Dr. Jocelyn Ventura from FEMISE. He lists some sectors like aeronautics in Morocco, pharmaceutics in Lebanon and Jordan, and praises a strategy in which « local decision-makers allocate resources in well-identified sectors ». Promoting an innovative, creative and developing environment would allow for the Schumpeterian entrepreneur to become the economic revolutionary, following his theory. “

by the Ecomnews Med editorial team in collaboration with FEMISE