Voices of Healing: the Work of the Near East Foundation to Support Business Recovery

Friday, May 21, 2021
ATFL Series: Voices of Healing

ATFL has been gradually shifting its focus from humanitarian relief centered on medical supplies to supporting organizations involved in support efforts for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). We convene regular meetings to discuss opportunities, obstacles, and experiences that enrich the group’s understanding of how to most effectively support community businesses in Beirut and beyond. Several organizations in the group are well known: Anera, the Rene Moawad Foundation, the Near East Foundation, and Mercy Corps. Others are Lebanese groups that target specific community needs in mental health, the aging, and rural communities.

This series, Voices of Healing, puts a spotlight on those organizations that want to tell their stories and demonstrate that hope is still alive among the people of Lebanon. This information was provided by Andrea Crowley of the Near East Foundation (NEF).


The devastating and destructive August 4, 2020 Beirut Port Explosion took lives, destroyed businesses, and displaced thousands. Critical community needs, such as hospitals, schools, businesses and homes, faced widespread damage. Eight months on from the explosion its impacts have been lost amid the overwhelming needs surrounding the health crisis, a worsening and severe economic crisis, and a protracted refuge crisis – causing a dangerous physical, psychological, and economic strain on the people of Lebanon.

Soon after the explosion, the Near East Foundation (www.neareast.org) mobilized with local partners to launch a rapid livelihoods recovery program, building onto its ongoing program in Lebanon, to provide aid to individuals and micro/small businesses in three highly impacted and vulnerable Beirut neighborhoods: Bachoura, Bourj Hammoud, and Karantina. With support from the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Elsa & Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation, and private funders, the Rapid Livelihoods Recovery Project addresses the nexus of relief and recovery, supporting safe shelter rehabilitation, small business recovery, and employment.

NEF has helped 130 micro/small businesses to recover losses and resume business activities through cash assistance and guidance focused on business adaptation and recovery. This includes support for mini markets, grocery stores, a butchery, mobile phone vendors, tailors, appliance stores, a pharmacy, and salons.

The cash assistance provided is unconditional, allowing flexibility for business owners to make decisions regarding the repairs of their business, recouping assets, and meeting the needs of their families.

NEF is also supporting 130 skilled workers to recover lost materials and secure employment, linking them to repair projects of vulnerable homes and businesses in the target areas using “cash for work” to subsidize their income while providing repair services free of charge. 100% of the skilled workers supported are the sole providers for their families.

Shouwshan in her upholstery shop in Beirut. Her shop was damaged, including the front door, walls, and display stands. She received a grant from NEF to help with the needed repairs so she could safely resume business operation. Image: NEF


George owns a mini mart in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut. He used his grant to help replenish products that were lost during the explosion so he could start selling as soon as he could. Image: NEF

Due to heightened currency fluctuation in Lebanon, grant distribution was temporarily paused earlier this year. During that time, the NEF teams conducted a rapid security risk assessment to determine when it would be safe to continue financial grant support and were able to resume grant support in early April 2021. In Beirut, grants are disbursed in USD to protect against the continued devaluation of the LBP. The NEF team continues to closely monitor the currency situation and its impact on the safety of project participants and project resources.

NEF conducts mid-term and endline assessments to measure impact to ensure impactful and responsive interventions that address both immediate and longer-term needs. Data collected also helps to determine if project participants under the Beirut Rapid Livelihoods Recovery project could be eligible to receive additional support from NEF’s broader livelihoods programs in Lebanon.

Critical to NEF’s approach is ensuring that coordination, complementarity, and transparency is prioritized to avoid duplication and effective use of resources. NEF’s response is closely coordinated with relevant stakeholders, working groups, and in partnership with local community organizations and other NGOs. This includes partnership and coordination with the American Task Force on Lebanon, SHIELD (a local livelihoods NGO), ANERA, ACTED, American University of Beirut – Urban Lab, Mercy Corps, the Danish Refugee Council, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), and the Bourj Hammoud Municipality in addition to the broader Referral Information Management System (RIMS).

NEF’s experience and impact in Lebanon dates back to 1918, when NEF first launched programs there focused on improving the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable Lebanese through technical and financial assistance to improve education, income, agriculture and food security, rural development, and access to finance. In recent years, NEF’s work in Lebanon has focused on providing livelihoods support for vulnerable Lebanese and refugees in poor communities (with a focus on women and youth), helping them to access the tools and resources to engage in safe ways to earn an income, support their families, and improve their lives.

NEF channels assistance through Siraj Centers, community-based livelihood hubs that offer technical training and essential resources – geared toward social and economic empowerment – for crises-affected people to recover their income and strengthen their local economies. NEF has Siraj Centers in Akkar, Tripoli, and Bekaa, and in 2021 opened a new location in northern Beirut. Last year, NEF expanded its business support services to include an accessible online learning platform – Siraj Digital (www.sirajdigital.com). Through Siraj Digital NEF will provide nonfinancial services tailored to business recovery and adaptation, addressing impacts of the Beirut port explosion and ongoing economic impacts of the health, financial, and refugee crises.

Since 2016, NEF has helped to launch 3,900 businesses and directly support over 18,000 people in Lebanon with support from Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and private funders. And while sustainable livelihood support is often seen as costly, a 2021 impact and learning assessment of NEF programs from 2016-2020 revealed a 2.6 return on investment, with revenue from project-supported businesses generating 28 billion LBP.

This video of two NEF-supported Lebanese entrepreneurs, Hanan and Hayat, provide an example of this work: https://vimeo.com/447133436

In early April 2021, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Ambassador Dorothy Shea, visited one of NEF’s Siraj Centers in Akkar in recognition of NEF’s long-time partnership with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

US Ambassador to Lebanon, Amb. Dorothy Shea, visits a NEF Siraj Center in April 2021. Image: NEF

NEF’s Rapid Livelihoods Recovery Project and broader program in Lebanon continues to evolve to facilitate safe pathways to livelihoods recovery, resilience, and ultimately self-reliance for vulnerable and marginalized people through inclusive, tailored, and community-driven initiatives.

For more information on NEF’s work in Lebanon, please contact Andrea Crowley, Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy, at acrowley@neareast.org.