What does a Lebanese do online?

April 12, 2010

Working in the South of Lebanon: problems of small industrialists

My work took me today to Saida

For us, it’s considered quite far from where I live (75 Km. The total length of Lebanon from North to South is 221 Km). It’s a predominantly Sunni city, alcohol is forbidden there. The Christian part has shrunken considerably over the past 30 years, and is mostly concentrated in the Eastern part. This is the map of the road I drove today from my house to Saida. I indicated my hometown as well, because it is a small village in the extreme South, on the borders with Israel. I first went there in 2009, and you literally cannot cross it, because it’s Israel on the other side, and Lebanon and Israel aren’t really friends, at the moment (I’m very positive this will also change in the near future, because this is so boring)

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Map: Copyright Google Maps

I passed by the regional agency in Saida to take with me a woman who is supposed to be in charge of SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in the RAS (regional agency, Saida). Here is another problem we face. In Saida, working with RAS, is another body called South BIC that is also handling the requests of SMEs. So then, we should be cooperating with them, and we should have somebody from them, not this woman, to accompany me in my visits, as they will be the ones continuing the activities with the SMEs once the project of the German comes to an end in 2013. As you might expect, this is not happening; what is actually on the grounds are two bodies, pertaining to RAS, one already in close contact with SMEs, called South BIC, not working with us, and another, a simple woman, very enthusiastic, it is true, but not related to SMEs, cooperating with us… Good luck SMEs in Saida.

We visited 4 companies. It always amazes me how much these small industrialists are capable of achieving on their own, without the support or protection of the government for their small industries:

1- Cost of electricity: Not all of them are entitled to the industrial electricity, and even if they are, they face another problem, that of the interruption of the electric current. The electricity in Lebanon is supplied to households and industries alike at an average of 12 hours per day. What do we do in this case? We buy electricity from local suppliers of generator power. These are tyrants, who charge anywhere from 40 to 80$ (depending on the region) per 5 Amperes! So yes, we end up paying double electricity bills.

Take for example our house: We paid for the months of January / February: 436,000 LL (290$) + the regular 120$ we pay per month for generator power, which amounts to: 290+240 = 530$ for electricity per month!

2- No protection on imports: A printing house’s owner was telling me that it costs a client 0.22 cents to get a packaged, printed box from Syria, whereas it will cost him 0.38 cents to have it printed in Lebanon, as the cost of the package alone is around .27 cents! The government does not protect these small industrialists by waving taxes on imports, VAT, and other direct taxes on their raw materials. They get industrial electricity, which is good, but they don’t get diesel as cheap as the electricity, and because they use their own generators, because of the electricity’s interruption, they end up not benefiting from the industrial electricity.

3- No promotion of small industrialists: They market their own products, open up markets on their own, and make contacts all form their single, very individual efforts! The government has never once thought of grouping them into yearly exhibitions, never once thought of creating a catalogue or a brochure to distribute to other regional agencies worldwide, and for that matter, neither has the regional agency, which by now, you should know my feelings about them and their “competency”

4- Lack of training: Almost all of the small industrialists in Lebanon are operating 60’s and 70’s machines! Meaning they are at least 35 years old! And I was stunned, truly stunned by how much they were able to modify them, to compete with the current machines! I swear on this; I saw a Palestinian (who isn’t allowed to work in Lebanon), modify his turning machine, into a fully work C’n’C. A C’n’C is a computerized machines that takes orders from a drawing on the computer (autocad or the like) and implements it. It allows its owner to run it 24/7, and to create whichever design he/she wishes with almost no limitations. This guy modified his machine, with a spare keyboard, a 14-inch 20-year old computer screen, and a cpu as old as the screen, and was able to have his 30 year old machine work as if it was a modern C’n’C freshly bought from Italy for 150,000$!

This guy is hard working, and he was lucky enough to have studied mechanics in the university around the mid-50s. His English is good, and he goes online every night to update his information and to learn new techniques that would help in his business. <br>

Others are not so lucky; most have inherited the business from their parents, studied something different, or didn’t go to school altogether, their English is weak, and their computer skills very limited. To those people there is a solution: it’s called training.

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This is where our role, as RSTU staff, in cooperation with regional agencies comes to play. With so much promises of the assistance that they want to provide SMEs, I am no longer disillusioned by their claims, and have come t fully understand that their role is basically limited to training. They said they were going to lobby, with the regional agencies, the ministries to introduce laws, more protection to small industries, but all this is not going to happen. The RSTU are weak in Lebanon; the regional agencies have their balls cut and hanging in front of them.

Since we keep telling the small industries we can’t assist them financially, because we are not a financing institution, and since we are here to develop them (by now, I say, whatever that means), I say let us propose meaningful training for them: technical, managerial, let us assist them in networking with other buyers and or sellers, at the regional agencies (this is something the regional agencies can do, because all they have to do is give us a conference room, and they can go home, and we take it from there), develop for these industrialists websites to promote their work, have them attend English courses, computer courses… The possibilities are endless. <br>

This was not done in 2009. We only provided a generic training in HR and marketing. Not relevant to the small industrialists’ needs. <br>

Tomorrow, I will have to digitize the questionnaire I had the companies fill today, and I can then go into recommending courses of action for: 1- the companies themselves, 2- the regional agencies (which always will end up giving us a conference room), 3- RSTU, to subsidize technical and/or managerial consultants to provide support for these small industrialists. <br>

I cannot post these questionnaires here, nor the recommendations, but I will give you a general idea. Tomorrow, as a result of this blog, I am actually excited to go to work, as I will be jotting down everything weird that happens with me, and that happened today, as I will get full reports from my awesome colleagues!

I tagged this post with human thought, so I will write something very brief about this shortly later

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April 11, 2010

Random pictures on a dull day

Since yesterday I had no work as it is the weekend, I couldn’t post anything on my professional. So I will post on my personal life. I like to take pictures, but I feel I have a LOT to cover still before I could call myself a photographer.

Recently, I’ve been going to this website: www.chromasia.com

It’s a pay site, but it’s worth it. It helped improve my Photoshop skills and my understanding of digital files. There isn’t one single website or one single book that covers every aspect of post-processing and/or photography, so I am also combining the book of Martin Eveneing, Photoshop CS4 for photographers. Both are geared at improving the knowledge of photographers in the digital world.

As such, I decided to upload the before and after of my walk yesterday around my house. The timing was not very good to take pictures, and the overall ambience was a dull grey, so I knew I would be converting everything to black and white.

Tent, before and after

Painterly, before and after

The shore, before and after

The shore, after, is my favorite. It was difficult to take, because in Lebanon people become quite defensive when they sea a camera. This picture is a three-shot panorama, as is the house. I had to clone out the wires because they were too intrusive, and I adjusted the horizon, because of the severe distortion in my lens. The black banding is a result of the stitching software. It’s a very complicated one, and I don’t know how to use it besides the stitching, so I correct what is needed in Photoshop.

When I finished my shots, I was approached by a fisherman who questioned me, and wanted to find out why I was taking pictures. This is not the first time it’s happened to me, actually I’m getting used to it, and I try to be friendly to people, try to gain their trust (not that I’m doing something bad, or infiltrating behind enemy lines!).

Tomorrow, I am going to a coastal city called Saida to visit companies, promise them that we are going to assist them, and then go back to my office the next day, knowing very well we are incapable of assisting them. I will write more about this tomorrow.

Already I am feeling better expressing myself online, even if no one is reading this, but the thought that somebody might, or, wishful thinking, one of my supervisors is reading it, fills me with excitement.

As I write this, I listen to Le Moribond, performed by a group called Beirut (nothing to do with our capital, or Lebanon). This song was originally written by my favorite singer: Jacques Brel.

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