Feature: written by Harriet King.
Libyan-based research companies are funding projects to assist young, bright and innovative students in rebuilding the country – shadowing years of violence and political instability.
Following the 2011 revolution in Benghazi, the country has experienced five years of chaos and political turbulence. Libya, divided and damaged, is still a long way off the ultimate dream of democracy.
But optimism continues to shine through the conflict zone. Research and development organisations are launching and funding projects to help the country’s pioneering, young and talented students develop infrastructure, technology and business. The idea is organisations fund Libya’s brightest students to study overseas, at some of the world’s best Universities, where they learn about new technologies. The students are then equipped to mirror these initiatives when they return to Libya, in order to rebuild the country in a number of sectors.
Libya has the potential to be wealthy a country due to its natural resources, yet sectors such as hydrocarbons only employ two percent of the population. This thriving sector is an ideal region for bright, young students to take advantage of, and effectively create more jobs so half of the population are not working for the pubic sector. However, higher education within the country is under huge pressure from Libya’s government to prepare the next generation of graduates with the relevant skills to encourage innovation and economic growth.
The country’s universities are functioning in very difficult circumstances and therefore need help from international universities, which can provide students with a safe learning environment.
Many Libyan-based companies have funded students to study overseas. Tatweer research, owned by the Libyan Local Investment Development Fund, nurtures the brightest young minds in Libya, incubating the ideas of ambitious entrepreneurs and attracting international talent and investment.
In 2014, Tatweer funded 23 Libyan technology graduates to study abroad for a year at Cambridge University. The ambitious project aimed at providing the students with the skills to rebuild their country.
While studying in the UK, the students learn different areas of academia, in order to collectively improve Libya’s prospects. Some students learn about technology, others medicine in order to treat victims of the war.
Two of the students who studied in Cambridge created Libya’s first advance prosthetics project, giving artificial limbs to Libyan amputees. Engineers in the UK introduced them to ITAP – a method of treating amputees with metal. This enabled the students to gain a better understanding of the technologies available, and apply the work to the situation in Libya, through developing similar projects to help victims of the conflict, who have lost body parts through fighting.
Abdulgader Melouda, a 23-year-old from Misrata, was awarded a scholarship funded by the Libyan Ministry of Defence to study naval studies for three years in the UK. “I gained an enormous amount of experience whilst living in the UK – including learning the language,” he said.
“The projects are great. I can see many civilian products have been brought back to Libya from all over the world and the training from overseas has been applied to our country. For example, one project, which has had a great turn out, is the launch of using your debit card instead of cash in shops. It’s a really successful development for Libya.”
Funding from companies such as Tatweer are vital in Libya, as they are working with students and young people who could essentially reshape the country’s technology sector – and help diversify Libya’s economy.
Tatweer is one of the few successful companies still efficiently operating in Libya, as the country struggles to drive state and foreign investment for businesses.
Ahmed Ebhaire, a business developer based in Libya, believes the reason it is difficult to launch business in the country is due to bureaucracy, corruption and political instability.
“I decided to begin helping foreign investors develop their businesses in Libya in 2012. I thought the country’s corruption would be eliminated after the revolution, and the government would be more transparent – therefore believed it was a fair opportunity for businesses to begin earning again,” he said.
“Although my country has a lot of resources, I soon realised it is not equipped to build the business sector due to lack of sufficient governance which has led to insufficient infrastructure, weak executive authorities, public sector control over the economy, and a lack of skilled labourers.”
Ebhaire personally volunteers with programmes that rebuild and develop Benghazi’s financial plans. He believes the programmes prove how the war has affected the country’s economy and infrastructure, and aims to overcome obstacles – in turn establishing new cities to solve issues such as the housing crisis.
“In my opinion, innovation is an important element in development. Most of the developed countries rate high in innovation, and you need innovation to survive as a business. With the current quality of Libya’s education system, and the continuities of war, the amount of young people contributing to changing the future of Libya remains minimalistic – as they continue to fight for the military instead,” he added.
Ebhaire believes the goals that need to be achieved in order to develop Libya include national reconciliation, appropriate legislation, financial development outside of the public sector, diversification of income sources, improvement of communication and transportation infrastructure and to eliminate corruption.
Situated between Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Libya has the potential to become an international hub across a variety of sectors. However, the country is too big a risk for foreign investment, and needs to focus on providing opportunity for Libyans in order to secure stability, before expanding internationally.
The country unmistakably relies on research organisations such as Tatweer, in order to fund students with the potential to discover new technologies and opportunities for infrastructure. These young entrepreneurial minds offer a chance of a brighter future, and Libya could one day see a boost in employment, foreign investment, and most importantly a decrease in corruption.