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Jon Hancock: Economic recovery in Libya lies with its entrepreneurs

While Libya's political and social challenges will continue in 2023, economic progress is possible if we acknowledge commercial opportunities driven by Libyan entrepreneurs

Libya Creative Commons
Despite political unrest in Libya, the commercial innovation of its people could start a bottom-up recovery

Scan any headline, listen to any report or ask any Libyan-focused academic and we hear the same rhetoric: Libya’s troubles are tribal, cultural, the mob rules, politics is corrupt, and security is key.

While much of the above is true, it’s also correct that the tide of change is rippling from the bottom up. 

The focus in 2022 was on the stalled Libyan elections, the fight for institutional and infrastructure control, oil production and international demands for elections.

Lost in the rhetoric are the subtle changes being made through innovation, entrepreneurship and commerce. A number of countries have quietly noticed this and have stealthily made commercial gains. 

The Libyan populace (although small at 6.95 million) includes many with aspirations and entrepreneurial spirit, and there is a workforce that has used the relative calm of the last 18 months to move forward. 

Libyan commercial organisations continue to interact internationally with visits to countries including Indonesia, the UK and Spain, and even planned trips to the US. This is a clear indication that chambers and associations driven by members are engaging in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago. 

If you add to this commercial impetus the desire for the application of institutional change, the desire for vocational training, the need for capacity building, international partnerships, innovation, technology applications and a desire for a functioning educational system, then perceptions can be altered and a sense of purpose can be instilled.

By supporting, developing and motivating ‘those that can’ out of the failed historic forced systems and approaches of previous regimes the future can look encouraging.

The international community needs to look beyond the headlines. While much of what they say has truth, it cannot ignore the reality of the strength of the populace.

Many global businesses are evolving to fit with new behaviours and demands – in Libya it is more fundamental. Part of the key to future success is understanding people and supporting their commercial endeavours that ultimately supports (and supplies) social wellbeing.

By understanding Libya and its people we can help unlock and develop its potential. Supporting the increasing commercial activity is essential but international organisations need to formulate a clear and consistent strategy in its approach. 

  • Seek clarity and support via proven trade routes, organisations and associations
  • Explore the opportunity that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), public-private partnerships (PPPs) and capacity building brings 
  • Clarify and identify best practices on routes-to-market and investigate historic obstacles to success
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of local knowledge and support
  • Commercial success will not be achieved from afar – do not underestimate the importance of having an in-country presence 
  • Offer solutions to problems as opposed to just selling products and services. Libya welcomes guidance and actively pursues the transfer of knowledge and skills
  • Engage with local resources, help in their transition to economic development and realise that this key support can make subtle but effective changes and deliver commercial benefits 

Libya recognises the importance of small and medium enterprises. The need to strengthen SMEs is crucial, because these same SMEs will be an essential element of economic growth, employment creation and transformation that supports Libya’s development. 

While 2023 in Libya will still require focus on the resolution of fundamental political, social and infrastructure issues, we cannot ignore the step-change process that is developing through economic progress, driven through the people.

This will continue to gain momentum and have a positive impact.

Jon Hancock is chairman of the British Libyan Business Association