Helping Yemeni youth establish new businesses and serve their communities
Outside major cities, there is little on offer to help Yemen’s younger generations develop an entrepreneurial spirit – or the necessary skills – to build their own businesses. Even where vocational and entrepreneurial skills training has been available, young people – and women in particular – are often unable to attend these courses either because of the cost or the need to travel to training centres.
Even before the latest conflict erupted or the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen was a country confronted by increasing economic, social, and political challenges. Today, by the latest estimates, some 24.1 million people – more than 80 per cent of the population – are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance or protection.
In direct response, a new training programme – supported by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) – is bringing business skills to some of the poorest communities in Yemen. The Vocational and Business Skills Training and Support Project is helping young women and men (18-40) from rural areas gain the skills they need to build and maintain their own businesses and foster economic growth and a new entrepreneurial culture in their communities.
Helping these young people build sustainable businesses is not just about ensuring an income for that one family: it is part of a drive to restore livelihoods and eventually contribute to the country’s economic recovery. The project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Agency (SMEPS) who see these young Yemenis and their new businesses as a critical part of a more resilient future for Yemen.
“The ‘My First Business’ training focuses on how to start your own business. Trainees are taught the concepts of entrepreneurship, self-management and time-management, as well as business planning,” explains Mr. Mithaq, an entrepreneurship skills trainer in Lahj.
The course is all about the practical steps needed to make a business a success. For example, trainees are shown how to create a business plan, looking at gaps in the market and helping them understand what is needed to make their own business succeed. They calculate expenses and revenues and identify the assets needed to start a small business. Each trainee also receives essential tools and equipment - in-kind - to help them get their business off the ground.
“We work with the trainees throughout each of these steps,” says Mr. Raouf. “We help them to estimate the value of their product and to understand the criteria for profit and loss. By the end of the programme each trainee will have come up with a business plan to help them get started.”
The participants receive theoretical training in their different fields, as a first basic step in the project. They then move onto vocational and technical training where they learn from experienced professionals working in their trade of choice. For the last step, the trainees create their business plans – and receive essential tools and equipment – to turn what they have learned into a real business. The value of the in-kind support they receive depends on the trade they are training in, with a maximum of US$ 1,000 for those in mobile phone maintenance.
Mr. Faris, a trainee in weaving Ma'awiz (a men’s kilt commonly worn in Yemen), says: “My First Business will support us with US$ 600 for the basic materials and equipment to start our projects.” Ms. Taiba, a trainee working in pastry making, explains that her grant will total US$ 700. “I now have sufficient knowledge in how to manage money,” she says, adding that she has studied the market and is confident there will be demand for her products.
The participants come each day from villages across Lahj to be trained in business management skills. Each individual is driven by the same motive: to create a different reality for themselves and to help change the lives of their families for the better.
“My husband is a daily wage worker, and we barely manage to provide for our basic needs,” says Mrs. Afaf Ali, a trainee in pastry making. Ms. Shams – a trainee working in Ma’awiz weaving – is in a similar situation. “We live in a house shared by three families, and no one has a stable job,” she explains.
The Project covers eight districts across Hadramout, Lahj, Ibb, and Dhamar governorates, and has worked with trainess across food processing (196), textiles and handloom (226), and technical skills (90). “This project will change my life,” says trainee Mr. Moqbel, with an air of confidence. “Before, we led a small life, and now we are moving to a better life. I am optimistic about my Ma’awiz weaving business – it will bring us out of our difficult living situation.”
For Ms. Nima Ali, a trainee working in pastry making, the project has given her a new sense of self. “Being on the course made me feel like a businesswoman,” she says. “I started learning, I trained and now I can start my own business and improve my life.”