Guest Post: Supporting the Women of Lebanon

Last month we introduced the talented team who will be advising TYO this spring as part of the Pangea Advisors at Columbia Business School. We are pleased to announce that for the next three Wednesdays the team will be guest blogging about their experiences on their recent trip to Lebanon and work with TYO. Enjoy today's post by Mallika Daswani and tune in next Wednesday for more Pangea perspectives.

A student at Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA program and a member of Pangea, a pro-bono consulting arm of the school’s Management Consulting Association, I arrived in beautiful Beirut Lebanon or Lubnan (as they call it in Lebanese) along with 2 other teammates (Eric K and Eric A) to assist TYO with their internet marketing strategy.

I have to be very honest, I have never traveled to the Middle East outside of Dubai and had no idea what to expect as well as how much I would come to love the culture, food and warmth of the  people of Lebanon.

The success of TYO’s fully operational center in Nablus, Palestine led it to look into replicating the model in Lebanon and this is where we came in. Our objective as I slowly discovered was to understand the cultural, socio-economic and unique challenges within Lebanon which would ultimately guide us in our analysis of the over-arching internet marketing strategy of TYO.

Before leaving for Lebanon I was aware that TYO performed non-profit work in the areas of women empowerment, youth development and early childhood education. However, upon reaching there and seeing things at a personal level made me realize how truly impactful TYO is in the everyday lives of people in the Middle East.

Our fantastic host and Program Manager of Lebanon- Nadine Okla had us meet women entrepreneurs who dream of opening their own business and longed to gain the respect of and be able to financially support their families. We met one such lady from North Lebanon who showcased her cooking talent by serving traditional north Lebanese cuisine at a restaurant in Beirut.

One of the challenges we discovered while speaking with Nadine was the issue around fundraising to support local businesses in Lebanon.  The Arabic culture does not allow “Khefalat” or the paying of interest. It is against the Islamic culture to accept payments or loans that come with “strings attached” in other words “interest”. This financing condition makes it very difficult for local businesses to start up and thrive in the Middle East and this is exactly where you as a donor can make a difference by assisting NGO’s like TYO to raise funds in order to help develop and support local businesses as well as the people of those communities. Donate to make a difference today!

Lebanon is also plagued with other challenges such as “brain drain” or local talent leaving the country in order to start their businesses abroad due to lack of entrepreneurial spirit, supporting infrastructure such as incubators, financing and mentorship for budding entrepreneurs and small business owners.

As an ambassador of Columbia Business School as well as Pangea, my goal is to bring these local issues to light so we can help NGO’s like TYO in their efforts to provide the support and platform that these local communities currently lack.

I hope my story and experience will help raise awareness and make a difference to the men, women and children of less fortunate countries in the Middle East such as Palestine and Lebanon in whatever small capacity it might be.

To make a contribution that could support this initiative and many others, please visit TYO's Racing the Planet Campaign.

-- Mallika Daswani, EMBA AVP-Pangea, EMBA Class of 2012