Enterprise and dignity, the pillars of a microcredit project in Beirut
Located in one of the neighbourhoods most affected by the 2020 port explosion, the Hope Center seeks above to help young people irrespective of religion or ethnicity. For its CEO, a person's rights start with a home and a job. In a few months, some 40 projects, most food-related, received funding.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – “It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” an adage that underpins the Hope Center, a new company dedicated to microcredit.
Located in the heart of Gemmayzeh, an old iconic neighbourhood that saw homes and businesses devastated by the explosion of 4 August 2020 in the Port of Beirut. For its CEO, Maurice el-Beaino, “To preserve a person's right, you have to provide them with a roof over their heads and a job. We provide the job.”
Working from his office on the 3rd floor of the Centre Saint Antoine, a building covered in white marble, the 39-year-old consultant, who graduated in economics and political science, runs the Hope Center with a steady hand.
He is aware of the need to stand out among a host of associations that mushroomed after the port explosion, and to justify every Lebanese pound or dollar spent. Even the wages the Hope Center pays out are tightly monitored.
Founded by a businessman, the Hope Center receives support from L'Œuvre d'Orient, a French NGO, and is co-financed by the French Development Agency (AFD).[*] This provides for total transparency on financing and spending.
The Center, which has about 15 employees, is for the Lebanese, irrespective of communal affiliation. Its goal is to ensure that 50 per cent of its funding goes to people under 35, 30 per cent of them women.
For Maurice el-Beaino, “By making Lebanese entrepreneurs players in their economic life, the Hope Center intends to boost the local economy and stem mass emigration caused by the country’s collapse of the country,”
"Our goal,” he adds, “is to support and train 500 micro entrepreneurs (bakers, hairdressers, carpenters, restaurateurs, educators, couturiers, taxi drivers, etc.) in three years, as well as to strengthen living together through the creation of a kind of community of beneficiaries."
In seven months of existence, the Hope Center has already granted funds to some 40 beneficiaries. Gaël Chaèr, 26 and single, works for a pharmacy in Bourj Hammoud. Her story is one example.
Seriously wounded in a leg by the port explosion, she was barely surviving on three million Lebanese pounds, hardly enough to live, with dependent parents. But her sense of initiative, her passion for cosmetics, her know-how, and help from the Hope Center got her out of her dead-end career.
With a master's degree in dermatology and certified training in cosmetology, she created her own range of beauty products, The Skin Savvy, in Sad el-Bauchrieh. She meets her clients in the once unoccupied upper floor of the pharmacy where she works. Her desire of getting married is no longer a dream.
The applications that reach the Hope Center are vetted by two selection committees. The credibility and feasibility of each project are subject to a rigorous review. “But the human side is never forgotten,” says Maurine el-Beaino.
“There is always risk taking. We are here to give hope. If necessary, we train the applicants, and we accompany them for a while, to ensure that they can carry their project through.”
Most of the 40 approved projects are food-related. "This may be because the Lebanese are used to making their own provisions in the summer, or everyone needs to eat,” he notes.
Amused, he goes on to explain that the Hope Center financed, among other things, the purchase of a scooter for a retailer, and an electric nutcracker for a producer of almond milk, a substitute for cow's milk that is currently in high demand. Plans for gym in Furn el-Chebbak have also been approved.
Muscles and smiles
Gym owner Charbel Wakim, whom we meet at the Hope Center, assures us, all muscles and smiles, that he is a "certified advanced personal trainer”. With a dull eye, Charbel Wakim was regularly rejected when he applied to get a diploma in sports studies.
“We also helped set up two centres specialising in educational support, in Mansourieh and Raouda, on the outskirts of Beirut," the Hope Center’s CEO says.
"Yes, we exercise a certain right to review fees, so that they are in sync with the needs of the people who live in neighbourhoods where the dropout rate is high,” he says answering one of our questions.
For Maurice el-Beaino, “Preserving beneficiaries’ dignity comes first in the Hope Center’s approach; in particular, we are concerned about the new poor, the old middle class, which is the most affected by the crisis.
“In fact, those who belong to the latter do not know how to ask for help. The poor are used to it, but for the new poor, it is their dignity that is involved.”
[*] Agence française au développement.