EU and Amsterdam’s Spark to run $8.9m project to support entrepreneurship in Mena

Initiative will promote start-up ecosystems in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Nick Webster. News. Yannick Du Pont, Chief Executive Officer, Spark, Amsterdam. The Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference (DIHAD). Tuesday, March 16th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The EU has teamed up with Amsterdam-based non-governmental organisation Spark to run a four-year €8 million programme to support young entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The initiative aims to promote an “inclusive, sustainable and tech-driven future in the region”, the entities said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Spark, alongside two of its regional partners, Iace (Tunisia) and Ruwwad (Jordan), is being funded by the EU to design, enact and improve start-up ecosystems in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

“Led by refugees and local communities, with a focus on women and vulnerable youth, businesses will be supported to grow and create sustainable, decent jobs for the region’s economic prosperity,” the statement said.

“The project will accelerate the current development trend towards scaling and equipping ecosystems with the means to replicate their best practices.”

Entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the region in recent years, with funding also supporting its growth.

Start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa region registered record venture capital funding worth $2.6 billion last year through 590 transactions, a report by data platform Magnitt said.

Thirty five start-ups announced exits in 2021, indicating a maturity in the region's start-up landscape.

Founded in 1993, Spark develops higher education and entrepreneurship programmes to empower young people in conflict-affected societies.

The project by the EU and Spark will focus on greener, socially responsible and tech-driven entrepreneurs to support the move towards an innovative and knowledge-based economy in the Mena region.

“With an important budget and a long-term duration, the project will provide comprehensive support aimed at strengthening competitiveness and faster growth, as well as the ability of local SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to generate more and better employment,” said Yannick du Pont, founder and chief executive of Spark.

The initiative will contribute to the creation of “sustainable jobs” in the region, said Henrike Trautmann, acting director for the Southern neighbourhood and Turkey at DG NEAR, the directorate-general for neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations at the European Commission.

“Our objective will be achieved notably through capacity building of the ecosystem players, exchange of expertise and co-operation with European clusters and networks, paving the way for a greener and more inclusive future.”

Updated: March 17, 2022, 6:10 PM