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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: Culture
With an ambitious vision, Shighl Beit aims to address a pair of societal problems in Lebanon. Shighl Beit’s first concern is helping Lebanon’s mothers, many of whom lack the higher education or professional experience needed to obtain a source of income. “They have a lot of skills to offer the community,” explains Idriss. “And these skills are being lost to globalization and [now] women are not able to sustain not working. They have to get an income for the family and, at the same time, they are losing a lot of the aspects of traditional living … Twenty or thirty years ago, it was not normal for a woman to get a college degree; it was something extraordinary. Now they are expected to work and to have an income.”
Second, Shighl Beit strives to empower migrants working in the domestic care industry. In Lebanon today there are over 200,000 foreign nationals working as domestic workers. Much is expected of them in terms of cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. Many of these domestics entering Lebanon at the young ages of 17 or 18 have no prior experience in housekeeping or childcare and, therefore, conflicts arise within the household.
Furthermore, the treatment of migrant domestic workers by their employers is notoriously harsh. Reports of violence and abuse of these foreign nationals – many of whom come from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines – are not uncommon. Shighl Beit intends to alleviate the pressure and improve the situation and status of these migrants.
“Imagine if a domestic worker comes out of our courses and she is able to cook perfect Lebanese cuisine,” suggests El Hage. “She can go ahead then and move out of the household employment to work in a restaurant or to work as a professional au pair. The sky is the limit when you deliver them the training. [Also] they are not going to go home with just the money they have and the scars they have.”
Shighl Beit’s tone and scope are distinctly local. Its mission is deeply rooted in tangible outcomes that intend to impact, and improve, the dynamic in Lebanese homes. Unfortunately, it is precisely its identity as a social venture that presents its biggest obstacle. In today’s market, where technology, mobile applications and social media dominate investor interest, social entrepreneurs like El Hage and Idriss that focus on investing in communities are often overlooked.
“Shighl Beit, being a social venture, does not promise the easy millions that other non-social ventures do, thus building a simultaneously realistic and investor-friendly financial model posed a real challenge,” explains El Hage.
When asked about the challenges facing young entrepreneurs like themselves, El Hage and Idriss pinpoint the major obstacle experienced by the vast majority of aspiring entrepreneurs in the Arab region.
“Although we don’t want to admit it, we are afraid of failure,” says Idriss.
The existing culture in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East is not conducive to risky new ventures. Society and particularly family tend to pressure young people to pursue well- established professional career paths rather than venturing into the unknown. According to El Hage, when given a choice between a steady job and becoming an entrepreneur – which will likely mean years of insecurity, challenges, and even perhaps bankruptcy – the culture pushes you to follow tradition. The message is: find a good job with a good salary and be secure.
Entrepreneurship is not about doing what is easy. In the absence of encouragement from society, Idriss and El Hage are pushing back against the naysayers. While continuing to court investors, Shighl Beit has adjusted its business plan to incorporate assumptions from other markets with large migrant worker populations, such as those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and is in the process of launching a pilot program.
For aspiring entrepreneurs such as himself, El Hage had only words of encouragement: “Don’t take the easy way out. Believe in yourself.”By By Maria Teresa Vanikiotis, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: mozzoom
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