Coworking for Sustainable Employment (CSE), previously known as Mideast Creatives, is all about developing the full potential of young people and specifically young women in the Arab world. In view of the challenges posed by the Arab Spring, Hivos decided to launch this programme with the initial support of the Swedish International Development cooperation Agency and Dutch Culture, and later with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs under its LEAD (Local Employment in Africa for Development) funding.
The aim of the programme is to support youth, and young women in particular, in the Middle East and North African region (MENA) in their quest for individual development and economic independence. In this way, we believe they will become a critical force for social change in their society. To this end, we facilitate the creation of coworking spaces and business start-up courses for people between 15 and 35 years old. This programme aims to contribute to the creation of more job opportunities for youth in the region.
The Arab Spring coincided with daunting challenges: high unemployment, reduced freedom of expression, and lack of prospects and financing opportunities for small and medium enterprises, among others. These obstacles prevent young people - particularly women and marginalised groups in remote areas - from developing their full potential. These urgent problems strongly contribute to societal discontent, radicalisation and migration to Europe, both legal and illegal. Yet the Arab Spring also led to an explosion of creative start-ups by entrepreneurs, innovators, environmental activists, artists and journalists. Mideast Creatives seeks to support these agents of change who are building creative and entrepreneurial movements. To do so, we focus on four elements:
A coworking space is a shared environment where everyone can share ideas, become inspired and access services. This is particularly significant for the creative economy that heavily relies on collaboration to thrive individually and collectively. Throughout the MENA region, these spaces have mushroomed and the numbers keep on increasing. CES has helped create and maintain these spaces in order to give young people a chance to live up to their potential and contribute to their society. Here are some examples of coworking spaces that we support: Cogite in Tunisia, The District in Egypt, Sylabs in Algeria.
To support young people in becoming more self-sufficient, CSE provides business start-up training. For example, to empower women entrepreneurs Hivos partnered with RAIDA in training 95 women creatives at coworking spaces in five cities in Tunisia. At the end of each training, the entrepreneurs pitched their projects, and the winner was awarded with a year of free access to the coworking space. In Egypt and Algeria, the programme is organising both business training and job fairs for youth.
Access to finance
In the Arab region, finding financing opportunities can be a real challenge, especially for small and medium enterprises. This is why we encourage initiatives for alternative financial models that enable young entrepreneurs to become independent from the traditional financial system. We help young entrepreneurs to be investment-ready and link investors to local businesses in growth sectors through matchmaking services. In addition, Hivos Impact Investment has currently invested in three companies from the region, which directly contributed to more jobs.
The end of 2016 ushered in the support of Mubadirat, a (social) media project to support women entrepreneurs in the region. Their main tool is the use of videos portraying women creatives, which has proven to be very successful, with over 350,000 views in 2016. For instance, the video of Peri Abou Zied (38) from Cairo was viewed almost 85,000 times. Four years ago, she founded a social enterprise that offers training and consultancy services, an ethical fashion brand, and a mobile handicraft school for marginalised girls and women.
To this date, coworking spaces have become strong local anchors, thus transforming the way of working and the types of jobs in the MENA society. Moreover, these spaces have inspired new initiatives outside capital cities. Indeed, out of 100 workplaces in the region 40% are now in non-capital areas. In 2016, Walid Hammami opened a coworking space in Kef (Tunisia) called Cirta following a training provided by Hivos on business modelling, finance, marketing, leadership and community building. His aim is to stimulate dialogue and cooperation among youngsters. He has already employed 11 young people so far.
By working with other local actors, coworking spaces have created many new opportunities. Their work with local government and the private sector is contributing considerably to the reinvigoration of the city’s cultural life whilst fostering freedom of expression. Moreover, they have increasingly collaborated with organisations that focus on women’s empowerment and other pressing issues. Cogite was awarded third best coworking space by Forbes. The space has now more than 100 coworkers daily and 90 events every year.