Lebanese business ‘Com Fu’ – a success story


(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — In early 2011, after taking the starting a business course at AMIDEAST, Ralph Aoun launched his web-based communications agency, Com Fu (www.comfu.com), to tap into the potential for Internet-based commerce in that country and the region.

Com Fu – with a tagline of “Ultimate warriors of the web” — helps businesses improve their online presence by providing highly functional, appealing, and socially friendly web consulting, web development, online marketing and digital media services.

During the planning stage and his first year in business, and based on what he learned during the workshop, Ralph focused on the development of Com Fu’s brand identity, company culture, pricing strategy, internal processes and knowledge base.

Com Fu’s team currently consists of 14 people, with plans to bring more staff members on board within the next few months. Its offices have expanded during the first two years in operation and plans to expand to the Pan Arab region and the African continent are in the midst of development.

Ralph credits the AMIDEAST for teaching him how to develop a vision and strategy for long-term business success.

The practical training, exchange of ideas, mentorship and networking opportunities provided during the course helped him plan for and realize his entrepreneurial dream.

He notes how valuable the continuous support and mentorship offered by workshop facilitator Carole Abi Saad (co-managing partner of interactive communications firm Cre8mania) has been and how it helped him persist in an unstable political and business climate.

He was also inspired to give back to society, a value that he urges his team to embrace. “We measure success by our ability to preserve a young energetic team that is aiming not only to create business, but also to instill change in society.”

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I55t5vqJfJ0″ width=”500″ height=”300″]

The story behind entrepreneur Ayah Bdeir

Editor’s Note: Fadel Adib was selected as a top innovator under 35 in a list compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Click here to see the Lebanese Examiner original article.

Growing up in Beirut, Ayah Bdeir was taught that art and engineering occupied separate realms.

“In Lebanon, as in most of the world, there is little blurring of the boundaries between the professions: doctor, teacher, scientist, and designer exist in separate silos,” she says.

The company she founded in 2011, called littleBits Electronics, goes against that idea by making technology accessible across all disciplines and ages. It sells a library of modular electronic units that can be easily connected for projects as diverse as a sound machine, a night light, or a lifelike robotic hand.

littleBits makes roughly 50 different modules, which cost up to $40 each or come in kits of $99 and up. Each module is a thin rectangle measuring between one and four inches in length and containing complex hidden circuitry. Blue modules provide power. Pink ones allow for inputs, like switches, microphones, and motion sensors. Green ones are for outputs like lights, motors, and speakers. Orange ones provide wires or logic functions.

Bdeir designed all the modules so they fit together magnetically, ensuring that users join circuits correctly.

Her New York–based company has sold hundreds of thousands of units in about 80 countries, and Bdeir takes pride in the fact that the product appeals to girls and boys, children and adults, designers and engineers.

“A screwdriver is a screwdriver for everybody,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how you use it. Every person will find what they want.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Amanda Schaffer

Watch Ayah Bdeir on TED:

Delays in offshore gas licensing bad news for Lebanon

lebanon-offshore-drilling(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — The decision to delay gas-licensing for another six months has raised concern that Lebanon may miss a chance to tap potential gas weather in the Mediterranean sea in the near future.

The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit said that delays reflected the government’s failure to ratify two decrees that would outline terms of exploration and production.

It also said the committee in charge of reviewing decrees was not meeting regularly and was struggling to find consensus.

The EIU went on to caution Lebanon that these delays will erode confidence in the Lebanese government’s abilities to maintain international oil interests.

It pointed out that major international oil companies had little clarity on contractual terms for the country’s offshore reserves, as well as on the number of blocks that would be auctioned.

The EIU says that Lebanon was lagging behind other neighboring countries in the Levant Basin in this process, and Israel was already reaching the phase of monetizing its gas reserves.

It added that Lebanon could have started the drilling work by late next year if the government had approved the decrees and if authorities had completed the auction by mid-August of this year.

The EIU warned that these delays meant the economy would not benefit from hydrocarbon proceeds any time soon, especially since there was no certainty that the country was sitting on commercially viable oil and gas deposits.

Beirut’s only handicap-friendly taxi could close

(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — Disabled Lebanese citizens took another hit on Monday as Beirut’s wheelchair users faced the closure of the only taxi company that caters to their needs.

The London Taxi company, which advertises itself as the “sole provider” of wheelchair-friendly taxis, is facing financial trouble that could force it to shut down as early as this year.

London Taxi vehicles are equipped with a ramp suitable for electronic and manual wheelchair users.

The company is facing financial distress as a result of low tourist numbers, an ongoing security crisis, and vehicle gas consumption.

The Daily Star also reports that the company says “people have an impression that our prices are more expensive than other taxi companies.”

Although prices are similar to other Beirut taxi companies, London Taxi’s handicapped-accessible vehicles consume twice the amount of gas as regular taxi cars.

London Taxi works exclusively with the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union, which makes the closure particularly difficult for the hundreds of disabled Lebanese they cater to.

Cyprus takes control of Lebanese-owned bank over laundering concerns


(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — The Cypriot Central Bank (CBC) says it has took control of Lebanese-owned FBME Bank’s operations in Cyprus after the United States Treasury Department blacklisted it over money laundering concerns.

“The Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) announces that, under the powers conferred by law, starting today (Friday), it has taken over the administration of the FBME Bank branch’s operations in Cyprus,” the CBC said in a statement.

FBME, formerly known as the Federal Bank of the Middle East, is based in Tanzania, but primarily operates in Cyprus as a subsidiary of the Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL.

The two banks are part of “Saab’s Financial Group.”

FBME is said to promote “itself on the basis of its weak Anti-Money Laundering (AML) controls in order to attract illicit finance business from the darkest corners of the criminal underworld.”

In June, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a sanctions bill that prevents any financial and logistic institutions from funding Hezbollah.

In 2013, Obama renewed a “national emergency” which imposes a freeze on assets of people linked to Hezbollah, stressing that they still “undermine Lebanon’s stability.”

In August 2007, President George W. Bush ordered a freeze on U.S. assets of anyone Washington deems to be undermining the Lebanese government.

Bassil calls for free trade pact with Brazil

gebran-bassil-ani(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil called for an increase in Lebanese exports to Brazil on Saturday, urging other South American countries to adopt free trade agreements with Lebanon during his visit to Brazil.

“Lebanon’s exports are in 11th place out of Arab countries exporting goods to Brazil, instead of being the first, considering the country exports its most valuable resource – which is you,” Bassil told an audience of Lebanese diaspora during a luncheon with the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce.

He left Beirut on Tuesday for the outreach trip.

Bassil said Lebanon exports a meager $2 million or good annually to Brazil, compared with $360 billion from the entire Arab world.

Bassil discussed the issue of flights between Lebanon and Brazil with the Brazilian foreign minister, suggesting that Brazilian airlines begin direct flights to Lebanon.

“The Arab- Brazilian Chamber of Commerce should encourage the movement of trade and exports between Lebanon and Brazil, in cooperation with embassies and consulates and concerned ministries, especially the Economy and Trade Ministry,” Bassil said.

Bassil is in Brazil to discuss relations between the two countries, meet members of the Lebanese diaspora, and watch the World Cup final games.

Salameh: More cash to stimulate economy

(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — Lebanon’s Central Bank is considering pumping more money into the economy after commercial banks used up most of the $800 million provided in credit facilities in 2014, its Governor Riad Salameh said Wednesday.

The Central Bank announced a $1.46 billion stimulus package in 2013 and followed it in 2014 by another $800 million in credit facilities to commercial banks at 1 percent interest rate. The stimulus mainly targeted the real estate sector with more than 50 percent of funds reserved for housing loans.

“The funds have been almost used completely and we are looking at increasing that package,” Salameh said at a joint conference with the International Monetary Fund. “This package provided 50 percent of the growth that we saw in 2013. We did the same for 2014 and we are pleased to see that the credit enhancement we did was successful this year.”

The Central Bank also played a role in creating employment by providing incentives to commercial banks to make equity investments in startups or venture capital funds, Salameh said.

Under circular 331 issued last year, the Central Bank guarantees up to 75 percent of the value of banks’ investments in startups or VC funds. A commercial bank that agrees to invest in startups receives seven-year interest-free credit from the Central Bank that can be invested in Treasury bonds.

The total contribution of the program to the economy could reach $400 million, provided that commercial banks invest 3 percent of their total capital, which is a limit set by the Central Bank.

The Central Bank will continue with the same strategy that helped create employment, according to Salameh, but will pay close attention not to trigger volatility in interest rates and maintain the stability of the Lebanese currency, he added.

“This trend is going to continue but we are doing it in a way that will not put at risk the stability of the Lebanese pound and will not expose the banks to unusual risks,” he said.

Lebanon’s economy has been hit hard as a result of the spillover of the Syrian conflict, according to the “Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia” report unveiled by Mohammad Elhage, director of the IMF-Middle East Regional Technical Assistance Center.

Real GDP growth has declined from an average 8 percent during 2009-10 to 2 percent in 2013, Salameh said.

Political paralysis and sporadic violence in Lebanon have deterred Gulf tourists and investors, hitting hard the real estate, tourism and service sectors.

“The travel bans pushed the Central Bank to take steps to stimulate local consumption,” Salameh said.

The influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon, which has reached over 1 million, one-quarter of the country’s population, caused $2.6 billion in direct costs over the past two years and around $5 billion when taking into account lost opportunities, Salameh said.

However, the governor said several recent surveys are pointing to an improved economic sentiment, though the official growth forecasts for 2014 will not be released by the Central Bank before August.


Source: The Daily Star

Original Article

Report: 3 million Internet users in Lebanon by 2017


(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — A recent study conducted by Dubai-based research firm, Madar Reserach and Development Center, says the number of internet users in Lebanon is expected to reach 3.2 million people by 2017. The report, which was published in a Byblos Bank report says that 69.2 percent of the Lebanese population will be using the internet by the end of 2017.

As of 2012, 2 million, or 45.1 percent of Lebanese actively used the internet.

Lebanon, according to the report, will have the 5th highest numbers of internet users in the Arab world in 2017, coming behind Bahrain (87.4 percent), Kuwait (73.7 percent), Morocco (72.4 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (72.2 percent).

Youth unemployment hits 35 percent in Lebanon


BEIRUT: The National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR) hosted a seminar Friday, in which panelists both critiqued and offered solutions for an industrial sector plagued by 35 percent youth unemployment rates.

The “Seminar on Innovation in Lebanon’s Industrial Sector” was based off a 2012/3 survey taken by the World Bank that sampled 478 Lebanese enterprises, most of which were small or medium sized, and aimed to provide the sector with ways to drive innovation and creativity.

“Innovation can also find solutions to address specific needs for the poor,” said Randa Akeel of the World Bank, addressing a crowd of mostly academics. According to Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan, 75 representatives of Lebanon’s industry sector were invited to the seminar but few, if any, were in attendance.

The minister launched a scathing attack on the Lebanese state at the event, holding it responsible for many of the woes and obstacles the industrial sector faces today.

“Are the industrialists responsible for providing their own cheap electricity? No, the state should be responsible,” Hajj Hassan said.

“The true obstacles are the obstacles to progress that live in the policies of the Lebanese state,” he added.

Hajj Hassan highlighted the fact that Lebanon imports $19 billion worth of products each year but only exports $4 billion, leaving the country with an annual deficit budget of $15 billion. Hajj Hassan said that these policies enacted by the Lebanese government also lead to the so-called ‘brain drain’ or the mass emigration of the country’s talent and youth seeking employment opportunities abroad. The survey shows that 35 percent of Lebanon’s youth are currently beleaguered by unemployment.

Source: The Daily Star

Original Article

Khalil proposes 2014 budget with 35 percent deficit target


BEIRUT: Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil has finalized the 2014 draft budget with a projected deficit in spending at 34.9 percent, compared to 30.94 percent in 2013.

Sources told The Daily Star Thursday that Khalil had submitted his bill to the Cabinet Secretariat, which in turn will put it on the government’s agenda for discussion and approval. Lebanon has failed since 2005 to pass a single budget.

Local daily As-Safir said Khalil’s 2014 draft law budget did not include the controversial pay hike or mention sources of funding for the salary scale.

Parliament has struggled to pass the salary scale draft law amid concerns about its effect on the growing public deficit. Civil servants and public school teachers held numerous protests and strikes over the last two years in an effort to press lawmakers to approve the wage hike without any increase in taxes on the working class. Speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled a Parliament session for June 10 to debate the bill, after the last session failed to convene for lack of quorum.

“The draft budget was primarily designed to control spending,” Khalil told As-Safir.

The Finance Ministry has suspended advanced funding in a bid to cut spending in the absence of approved budgets as well as to control public expenditures.

Khalil said the 2014 budget was similar to last year’s spending, with salary increases as a result of the high cost of living and essential appointments in some ministries.

The 2014 draft budget contains no new taxes.

Projected expenditures amounted to LL21.92 trillion in the 2014 budget compared to LL21.3 trillion last year, an increase of more than LL600 billion.

Overall revenues were estimated at about LL14.25 trillion compared to LL14.1 trillion in 2013.

The 2014 budget deficit was estimated at LL7.67 trillion, an increase of 3.96 percent from last year.

The cost of the public debt servicing was estimated at LL5.89 trillion, compared to LL5.7 trillion in 2013, an increase of about LL190 billion.

The cost of public employees’ salaries totaled about LL8.12 trillion, nearly 27 percent of the total budget expenditure, without taking into consideration any increase if the new salary scale is passed.

Source: The Daily Star

Original Article

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