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Stephanie Liechtenstein

Italian OSCE Chairmanship promotes social and green entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean region

Stephanie Liechtenstein
News 03 May 2018

Last Thursday six young entrepreneurs from the Mediterranean region were presented with the OSCE GEMS Award by the Italian OSCE Chairmanship.

Each winner received 15,000 Euros that can be used to enlarge and upgrade socially and environmentally sustainable business ideas. The money for the award is provided by the Italian government.

The award was presented during the regular Permanent Council meeting in Vienna in the presence of delegates of the 57 participating States of the OSCE as well as the OSCE Partners for Cooperation.

The Italian OSCE Chairmanship partnered with the SwitchMed, an initiative that supports innovative entrepreneurs with green business ideas that improve the environment and have a social impact in the Mediterranean region. SwitchMed and its implementing partners helped to select the six winners out of the 240 applicants.

The implementing partners are the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banking (FEBEA), SEFEA Consulting, and the Regional Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC) under the UNEP/Mediterranean Action Plan.

Improving stability and security in the Mediterranean region

Ambassador Alessandro Azzoni, Chairperson of the OSCE Permanent Council, explained that the idea for an award for young entrepreneurs emerged last year during the Mediterranean Contact Group Meeting. “There are too many words and not enough concrete projects here at the OSCE,” Azzoni explained. “We are hoping that the concrete business ideas by the young entrepreneurs will help to improve security and stability in the Mediterranean region,” he added. He said that “the combination of existing environmental challenges in the Mediterranean, high youth unemployment figures and migratory pressures make investing in green start-ups a logical step to tackle all these challenges at once”. Azzoni also emphasised that the award signified a bridge between Europe and regions in North Africa and the Middle East, where the six winners are from.

The six winners

Lina Al-Kurdi from Jordan studied production engineering. She was one of only two women in her class. She has always dreamed of starting her own business in the area of green energy, but didn’t have the knowledge on how to go about it. “Switchers Fund helped me to develop an entire green business plan,” she explained. Lina wants to use the award money to increase the production of green energy and to initiate a marketing campaign to promote the use.

Leila Rima Boussada and her brother Hammou are from an oasis area in Algeria. They started a company that produces stuffed dates, dates syrup and vinegar. “The main trees in the oasis area are date palm trees,” Hammou said. Once the dates have been harvested, they are processed into syrup or vinegar. This work is traditionally done by women. “In our family, we tried to combine the ancient, female knowledge and my own studies of biology to develop a company,” Hammou explained further. Leila and Hammou are planning to increase their production capacity with the award money.

Soumia Hasnaoui and Othmane Benhlima from Morocco have a company called Cookit. Soumia said that many years ago she noticed that women in rural areas of Morocco were suffering from respiratory health issues caused by the inhalation of toxic fumes while cooking with wood and charcoal. “We wanted to reduce and eliminate this unhealthy cooking style and therefore developed an invention that can reduce the amount of toxic fuels by up to 75%,” Soumia said. Soumia and her partner Othmane will use the award money to develop their product further with the goal of eliminating more toxic fumes, devise a marketing strategy, and to hire more people.

Ati Nisaf from Tunisia could not be present at the ceremony and was therefore represented by Gianluca Gasparini, a project manager at one of the implementing partners. His idea is related to improving the quality of the breeds of goats in Tunisia, so that they are better suited to address the needs of the local market.

Yakir Tadmor, a student in mechanical engineering from Israel, teamed up with Mike Sassoon, a consultant engineer, to work on better collectors to amplify the sunrays in order to create affordable and green energy solutions. “With the award money, we want to develop a fully functioning prototype and find investors,” Mike Sassoon explained.

Yara Yassin is a designer from Egypt. She has a company together with a partner that produces eco-friendly backpacks made from recycled plastic bags. Yara always wanted to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle in Cairo, the city where she was born. “I discovered that plastic bags are actually a very valuable resource. Yet, they are flying around everywhere in the city of Cairo because there is no infrastructure to recycle them,” Yara explained. In order to minimize the damaging effects of the plastic bags on the environment, Yara now uses them to design her backpacks. She also expressed hope that people will become more aware of the detrimental effects of plastic bags on the environment. She will use the award money to enhance the characteristics of the material so that it better meets the needs of her customers.

Alignment with OSCE documents

The project and award have a strong foundation in OSCE decisions and documents. Since the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the importance of the Mediterranean dimension for European security has been mentioned. In addition, in theMinisterial Council Decision No.4/16 on Strengthening Good Governance and Promoting Connectivity,OSCE participating States recognized the importance of promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns as well as strong good governance and adherence to labor, social and environmental standards. The award also reflects OSCE priorities contained, for example, in the OSCE 2003 Strategy Document for the Economic and Environmental Dimension.