Case Studies

/Employment and Peacebuilding – Building Bridges amongst ‘Youth at Risk’ in Lebanon
Case Holder:
Rania Bikhazi

Employment and Peacebuilding – Building Bridges amongst ‘Youth at Risk’ in Lebanon

Promotion of Youth Employment in Fragile Settings

Background & Context

The structural and proximate causes affecting Lebanon’s stability can be attributed to a combination of factors related to the impact of the ongoing Syrian conflict, as well as long-standing, pre-crisis factors that can be traced to the conclusion of the Lebanese civil war. Many of these factors have been exacerbated by the impact of the Syrian crisis which has resulted in a 25-30 per cent increase in the population within Lebanon’s borders, placing significant strain on the country’s capacity and further stress on vulnerable Lebanese. Recently the increase in inter-community tensions, and antagonistic rhetoric and discourses throughout Lebanon in the aftermath of a series of attacks on tented settlements, revealed that the underlying causes of tension remain prevalent in the country and constitutes a situation conducive to violent conflict.

Nationwide, an estimated 34 per cent of Lebanese youth are unemployed, with an overall unemployment rate of 1 in 5 as of 2014. In addition, a recent study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that the Syrian refugees’ unemployment rate reached 36.3% in the first half of 2016*, although the figure is likely to be significantly higher among refugee youth.

*  ILO, 2017, “Quantitative Framework for Access to Work for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon”.


The Problem

Competition for jobs is increasingly perceived as the primary driver of tensions between host and refugee communities, particularly in the most vulnerable communities. As such, this project will focus on selected vulnerable communities, particularly on the Lebanese and Syrian ‘youth at risk’, defined as those between 15 and 24 years of age who are not in employment and who have limited or no access to education.

More than 500,000 youth are at risk and located in areas where employment and vocational training opportunities are limited, and where there is a significant risk of such youth being attracted to nefarious activities. With respect to the Syrian refugee population, the population of ‘youth at risk’ is only set to grow, given that 48 per cent of 6-14-year-olds and 84 per cent of 15-17-year-old Syrian refugees are out of public education. As the period of displacement increases and vulnerabilities worsen, the proportion of both (increasingly younger) refugee youth out of school and those seeking informal employment may increase, exacerbating existing tensions, including in those areas selected for activities through this project. Prospects for Syrian refugee youth out of school are particularly dire, in the light of the risk of youth becoming exposed to illegal and exploitative labour.

It is estimated that 90 per cent of refugee youth have indicated their willingness to do any work available on account of their dire need, potentially exposing them to a range of protection risks.

A correlation between conflict, unemployment and poverty was also reported with 32 per cent of Syrian male youth in Lebanon aged 19–24 years reporting that they knew people who have returned to Syria to join the fighting because of (a) economic conditions, (b) the inability to find work, (c) tension within the family, and (d) pressure from the host community.

In light of these challenges, there is a need to urgently engage Lebanese and Syrian ‘youth at risk’, emphasizing the importance of providing meaningful opportunities, including through employment and vocational training, in order to reduce any potential for violence between (and within) the two communities.


The project will contribute to enhancing peacebuilding by means of entrepreneurship, youth empowerment via capacity-building in technical and soft skills, and self-employment. It targets in-school and out-of-school young Lebanese and Syrians with a view to increasing mutual trust and understanding among them as well as offering a positive alternative to their potential participation in conflict situations. It will allow young unemployed Syrian and Lebanese women and men to interact in entrepreneurship training and implement joint self-employment activities through the formation of joint business ventures, thus providing a good opportunity for dialogue and for breaking-down of stereotypes, all of which can contribute to increased social stability.

In locations where tensions due to job competition and economic conditions may lead to outbreaks of violence, the prospects for such violence will be reduced if Lebanese and Syrian refugee youth are provided with livelihood opportunities and pathways to community engagement, which in turn will address the problem of growing agitation amongst the Lebanese host community. Empowering youth to engage as positive community change agents who benefit from vocational training and skills-building provides concrete pathways to livelihood opportunities and increases the opportunity cost of engaging in violent conduct.

Value Proposition & Activities

The project will use the ILO Know About Business (KAB) programme that contributes to the creation of an enterprise culture by introducing and promoting awareness among young people of the opportunities and challenges pertaining to choosing self-employment as a potential career option. This aims to enhance social stability by using joint entrepreneurship classrooms to increase mutual trust and understanding among enrolled Syrian and Lebanese youth in addition to offering a positive alternative to their potential engagement in conflict situations. The course will encourage youth to choose self-employment and will promote potential joint ventures between Lebanese and Syrians. This will potentially lead to either independent start-ups among Syrian youth on their return to Syria (as is not allowed in Lebanon), or joint ventures in Lebanon with Lebanese ownership (in line with the Lebanese regulations), both of which facilitate the transition back to Syria with a view to contributing to its reconstruction and possibly also promoting future cross-border business linkages.

For Syrian and Lebanese youth who are unemployed and not enrolled in schools, a boot camp will be organized in collaboration with local community-based organizations and will include ILO training programmes such as My First Business (MFB) and a business plan competition to encourage joint Syrian-Lebanese business ventures. Financial and mentoring support will be provided to winners of the Business Plan Competition to ensure successful operationalization of their start-up phase.

The project also envisages delivery of self-employment sensitization workshops targeting parents of the Syrian and Lebanese youth enrolled in the boot camp. The sensitization workshops aim at the creation of an enabling, positive and supportive family environment that would encourage selected Syrian and Lebanese youth to venture into self-employment and consider business partnerships.

Partners: The project will collaborate with local municipalities and community-based organizations to reach Lebanese and Syrian youth. Regarding capacity-building activities in self-employment and promotion of joint ventures, the project will partner with local BDS providers and MFIs. It will be implemented jointly with UNDP and UNICEF.

Outputs and Activities:

Output 1: Capacity of youth is strengthened through vocational training undertaken by UNDP and entrepreneurial skills provided by ILO, viz.:

  • KAB Training of Facilitators’ workshops to teachers/ instructors in government secondary and vocational education schools;
  • start-up boot camp targeting out-of-school young Lebanese and Syrian women and men;
  • business plan competition targeting in-school and out-of-school Lebanese and Syrian youth to encourage joint ventures between them.

Output 2: Youth enterprise ideas are implemented through start-up grants, viz.:

  • build up the capacity of the local BDS providers for provision of the MFB programme;
  • train BPC winners (young Syrian and Lebanese men and women) on MFB;
  • provide intensive mentoring to Lebanese and Syrian BPC winners for business start-ups;
  • link BPC winners with micro-finance institutions for the provision of grants to start their businesses.

Output 3: Parents of young Syrian and Lebanese sensitized on self-employment and its role in increasing social cohesion, viz,:

  • develop sensitization briefs on self-employment and its contribution to poverty reduction, peace and stability and enhancement of social cohesion;
  • conduct sensitization workshops, targeting Lebanese and Syrian parents living in border villages, on the positive effects on their children, to ensure their support and encouragement.

Complexities of working in a fragile setting

Implementation of the youth employment and peacebuilding project in Lebanon entails a number of complexities, viz.:

  • As increased social cohesion between Lebanese host communities and Syrian refugees is a crucial objective, the project might face high resistance from both communities to come together under the activities proposed such as participating in the boot camp or joining forces to create joint ventures.
  • Lebanon being a multi-confessional country, the project should be careful to target major religious groups or sects in the selected geographical areas so as to avoid grievances or increased inter-community tensions.

Potential Risks & challenges

In partnership with the Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS), Yemen’s national agency promoting small and micro enterprises and a subsidiary of the Social Fund for Development, the ILO developed an entrepreneurship development training programme in Arabic tailored to women entrepreneurs in Yemen, entitled “Women Do Business” which is based on the existing Get Ahead and SIYB programmes.

A training-of-trainers workshop targeting women trainers from four national training institutes was delivered. This was followed by a number of training workshops targeting existing and potential Yemeni women entrepreneurs to help them access microfinance.

When the conflict erupted it became very difficult to reach women entrepreneurs in many geographical areas of Yemen. To overcome this challenge an online intervention supported by GIZ was launched in support of selected businesswomen who had already taken part of the Women Do Business Programme, to help them develop their own business plans and start or develop their businesses. The services provided relied exclusively on Internet-based means of communication, for example WhatsApp, a popular smartphone App for texting individuals and groups.

WhatsApp group sessions involving 10-14 women were organized to discuss business challenges and receive training from a female consultant, as well as peer-to-peer advice. The BDS were provided over the course of one month and focused on improving financial skills, business continuity capacities, and managerial skills. Since the intervention is implemented via the Internet, each WhatsApp group includes participants from various geographical areas. The majority of beneficiaries in the pilot phase were midwives and some were dentists.

Conclusion & any future variation

  • On completion of the project, lessons learned will be drawn for potential replication in other geographical areas affected by Syrian refugees or in other crisis-affected countries involving refugees.