By Hajir Almahdi
When you think about the post-soviet countries, images of abandoned Lenin’s statues, communism maybe the cold war spring to mind. You think of small, scattered, undeveloped countries not per se the places of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Take the Baltic region as an example; it consists of three small coun- tries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These countries of less than 1.5 million populations each (and no oil resources) had witnessed a craze of economic growth in the past two decades since they regained their independence from the former Soviet Union. Entrepreneurship was one of the key factors for this transformation. According to the World Economic Forum, the Baltic countries are among the most entrepreneurial in Europe.
Estonia in particular has managed to build its economy on technology, where now it’s considered one of the most tech-savvy countries on earth. In an addition to it holding the record for Europe’s number one country for entrepreneurs and startups.
Estonia nowadays is a place where Internet access is declared human right. But it hasn’t been always like this, the Soviet occupation of the nation in 1940 has crippled the country’s economy. By the time it regained its independence; Estonians decided that instead of patching old legacies, to tear down and rebuild their crumbling state from scratch. The country started over during the technology boom of the 1990s. Using the Internet to build up the scattered nation was the turning point for its economical growth. These changes laid out the groundwork for Estonia’s big tech breakthroughs such as Kazaa and Skype. When they saw what these entrepreneurs could do, Estonians were inspired to think; ”I can do that too.”
Estonia’s entrepreneurial breakthrough could be taken as an example to follow. It is important to ask, how entrepreneurship can transform an econ- omy, and how we can replicate that in the Libyan context.
It’s not a secret that Libya’s economy has been going downhill since 2014. The 2011 subsequent Libyan governments inherited the economic legacy of the old regime with its high dependency on the oil sector for its main revenue, in addition to the overcrowded public sector, and corruption . To make things worse, the political instability and ongoing conflicts in the past three years brought a set of challenges along with them, inflation and lack of cash liquidity for instance.
It’s easy to look at the current situation and feel powerless. However, this presents Libyan entrepreneurs with the opportunity to salvage the economy and make their contribution to it. The country’s crumbling situation has already inspired many to consider starting their own businesses. We are seeing this shift in attitude especially in the youth. As a result, Libya has been witnessing the rise of startups and small businesses, providing different services from restaurants and delivery services to Internet providers and recycling companies.
Entrepreneurial culture is taking shape in the country and it is manifesting the rise of new businesses and innovative initiatives. Entrepreneurship if it is enshrined in our everyday life, will have transformative implications for the Libyan economy. With the current skyrocketing unemployment rates, entrepreneurship can turn things around by diversifying the economy and providing employment opportunities away from the public sector and more importantly creating an ambitious generation capable of creating and innovating.
So, how do we ensure, like Estonia we are providing entrepreneurs with the groundwork and the resources they need to grow and develop their ideas and businesses?
This is where programs like Tatweer Entrepreneurship Campus (TEC) come into the picture. TEC is a program funded by European Union and commissioned by UNDP in partnership with Tatweer Research; the program is designed to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Libya. TEC aims to create a movement that enables young entrepreneurs with the support and resources they need to succeed.
Entrepreneurship is a critical driver of growth, innovation and prosperity. This program and other similar initiatives come as an essential step in creating the foundations to build on and transform Libya, increasing productivity, stimulating the economy and encouraging innovation. Taking the nation in the direction of a brighter future.