As the world marks one year since the COVID-19 outbreak and the disruption it caused to billions of lives, Syrian populations inside and outside Syria will be commemorating ten years of one of the deadliest conflicts in the modern history of the Middle East. Millions of Syrians have been forced from their homes and now live in both neighboring and distant countries. For refugees, the damage that a decade of war has brought will have only been made worse by an unprecedented global health emergency.
One of the groups made vulnerable in this health crisis are Syrian entrepreneurs and business owners in host countries. They were among those negatively impacted by the aftermath of the pandemic and its repercussions on livelihoods and economies. For many Syrian businesses, it was an economic catastrophe worsening an already-existing social and livelihood crisis.
This research –conducted through 271 semi-structured online interviews and focus groups with Syrian founders, business experts, and NGO representatives –explores the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on Syrian business in four countries: Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. It provides insight into the operational, financial, and even existential consequences of the pandemic on business revenue, income, sales, employment, and coping strategies.
The study provides an in-depth analysis of a set of challenges that preoccupy Syrian refugee businesses during the pandemic. The challenges were identified by business founders and experts. While not conclusive or inclusive, the challenges pertain to several factors shared by the majority of those surveyed. They can be listed as follows: funding sources; location and mobility; laws and regulations; logistics and supply chain; business knowledge; infrastructure; and other challenges such as language barriers, future uncertainty, social tension, and mental health.
Of all challenges, investment and finance were top of the concerns for Syrian businesses, with 62.9% of businesses believing a lack of financial support to be extremely challenging. This is followed by location and mobility (49.3%), laws and regulations (30.6%), infrastructure (30.1%), supply chain (30.1%), and finally, business knowledge (6.2%).
The research has found that:
- – 64.8% said they run their business informally. Of those, 45.6% are home-based, 28.2% are SMEs, 22.8% are startups, and 3.4% are large businesses.
- – Female business owners make up 35.7% of the total number of respondents who had active businesses at the time. However, 35 out of 83 female-owned enterprises that participated in this research had to suspend operations at some point of the lockdown.
- – Only 4.7% of businesses already generating an income said they had seen an increase in revenue.
- – 61.1% of those surveyed had joined a business training program and rated their business knowledge skills as a beginner (13.9%), intermediate (70.2%), and advanced (15.9%).
- – Of those surveyed in this study, 87.4% said COVID-19 negatively impacted them. 43.5% described the impact as ‘extreme.’
- – SMEs –which principally rely on traditional, face-to-face, and direct contact with customers –were worst off in this survey, with 51.30% saying they were extremely impacted by COVID-19, followed by home-based businesses (44.4%), large enterprises (38.9%), and startups (31.4%).
A look ahead
As the global business world pins its hope on science to get it out of its long dark tunnel, businesses of different sizes, development stages, and resilience will emerge from the crisis at different paces. Syrian businesses in refugee-hosting countries will predictably take longer to recover. Many will have reached a stage where survival becomes the primary concern rather than the rate of recovery.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that people adapted quickly to the home-bound circumstances and reskilled out of necessity. Likewise, refugees need to be supported to reskill and broaden their knowledge in a way that prepares them for extensive recovery. Whether that is through taking online courses, learning coding and product development, or starting a business, it will be apparent that the global shift that this crisis has created will lead many people to become bold in their ideas, even if they take them away from their education or past experience into something less predictable and much more adventurous.
Download the full report for free: here.