Towards a Democratic Economy with Dana Abed, Firas Zayter, & Maher Abou Shakra

For the latest webinar from our Lebanon Growth Accelerator’s Speaker Series, we were joined by Dana Abed and Firas Zayter from Oxfam along with Maher Abou Shakra from Daleel Tadamon. We talked about how MSMEs can help build a more democratic economy while examining the underlying infrastructure and frameworks, and future pathways for these economic structures.⁠

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Here are some highlights from our conversation.


When it comes to empowering small businesses and economies, what about the current context in Lebanon in order to reach the creation of more social enterprises and cooperatives?

Dana: The old system in Lebanon has lost a lot, with inefficiencies and failure after the economic meltdown. Pushing through economic policies is crucial by introducing policies that support a democratic economy: SMEs are wide in Lebanon but not in a very great place, because the elite benefits from policies that don’t target the SMEs.
We need advocacy for human rights and life standards, as well as frameworks for social entrepreneurship and progressive taxation to avoid monopolies and fiscal frauds, including the creation of a supporting system for SMEs to boost their sustainability.

Firas: Lebanon is not a good place in terms of policies and on-communal level for social enterprises and cooperatives. Lebanese people are brainwashed by the current economic modality. Lots of work is needed in terms of outreach, communication and engagement to impact the change of policies.


How to approach social economy and entrepreneurship?

Firas: It goes back to individuals to become socially responsible, deliver a level of social responsibility, and launch the ideation phase on social entrepreneurship within a business modality based on a social mission.
Many businesses are flourishing when it comes to food security. They are relying on organic farming and using e-commerce to boost exportations. Moreover, huge opportunities are arising in the recycling industry due to the high demand on recycled items. There is no need for policies that regulate manufacturing for some sectors. Instead, we have to expose sectors that we are in need to invest in and boost market satisfaction.


Dana: Better policies are needed and success stories are not individual nor limited to enterprises. We have to promote policies that enhance support for entrepreneurs to have their businesses flourish, hence creating a viable floor, especially for small businesses.


Platforms for cooperatives have been used to reach more people and increase market share. Is it a change we are seeing in Lebanon?

Maher: There are lots of concerns working on the ground through advocacy. There is no belief that a social economy is a possible solution in Lebanon. Cooperatives are a disfigured concept and regarded by people as supermarkets. In fact, cooperatives are an economic model for producers and not consumers. Popularizing economic solidarity and productive societies groups is important, because such solutions are possible and applicable, and worth being taken into account by reducing the individualism of people.
We are currently working on technological innovations to foster the capabilities of cooperatives. However, we need to renovate frameworks and policies to organize cooperatives and fight against corruption in the field. For example, efforts are made by the directorate of cooperatives in closing inefficient cooperatives, and supporting the launch of new ones.


What is the probability of making a real change?

Firas: Change must be done on a community level. Communities are on the same boat suffering from the same conditions. That’s why we need to engage the largest number of communities, and showcase modalities and success stories to enable an efficient decision-making process. Moreover, the mindset of communities must be changed to organize cooperatives and foster communication with people on the ground.


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