I hope you had a great week!
I started my mission last Monday alongside the NGO Codi Tech. Hortense, the organization’s founder, scheduled a meeting with me at exactly 8:45 a.m. to go together to Codi.
I have known Hortense for several years, and she is one of those social entrepreneurs who inspire me. After working for four years at BCG, she could have chosen a prestigious career. However, after conducting in-depth market research, she decided to leverage her network and skills to launch an NGO in Lebanon. Codi Tech is an innovative initiative that combines a coding bootcamp and a leadership course. Over a six-month period, an intensive and free training program enables students to become full-stack web developers (both front-end and back-end) or digital project managers. The NGO’s goal is to use coding as a catalyst for social innovation, inclusion, and employment.
Upon arriving at Codi
I was immediately immersed in action by participating in a team project presentation. The students were tasked with developing an e-commerce website for a client they had approached themselves. Quickly facing the market, some presented a platform for the purchase of limited edition sneakers, an e-commerce site in the fashion sector, or even a car resale website.
What struck me particularly was the exclusive use of English! Even though some students had a basic level a few months ago, Codi Tech managed to help them progress rapidly so they could also be exposed to international opportunities. The second point that stood out to me was the culture of feedback. After each presentation, mentors and students engage in constructive feedback to improve their skills and teamwork.
My two objectives at Codi:
With Hortense and Joseph, the program director, we quickly finalized the scope of my mission, setting two main objectives:
Objective 1: Organizing entrepreneurship workshops in Beirut and Tripoli. Given the students’ keen interest in starting their own businesses, we brainstormed together to come up with a workshop format. Even before the workshop began, I was bombarded with fascinating questions from students about their projects, such as a student who is a gym coach and wants to launch a specialized sports e-commerce website, or another student developing an EdTech with an iOS application that promotes reading through an immersive experience…
Objective 2: Developing a 2-3 year business plan. The aim is to support Hortense and Joseph in their strategic thinking to diversify their sources of revenue, so they are no longer exclusively reliant on donations, which can be unpredictable. We will materialize this in a 2-3 year business plan, which is an incredibly exciting project and closely aligned with my role as an investor at Blisce.
Lebanon is currently experiencing an unprecedented economic and social crisis.
The consequences are devastating for the population, especially with the exchange rate experiencing a drastic drop, going from 1,500 Lebanese pounds per dollar before the banking crisis to 100,000 Lebanese pounds per dollar in informal exchange offices. This massive devaluation of the national currency has led to skyrocketing inflation, significantly impoverishing the Lebanese people. According to the UN, 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, with 40% living in extreme poverty.
The crisis was caused by fraudulent financial practices involving the country’s economic and political elites. In fact, most of the national banks (18 out of 20) have shareholders linked to the political class, and 43% of the country’s financial assets belong to them. For years, public debt has been financed through artificially high interest rates, creating a “Ponzi scheme” where public funds were used to enrich the elites at the expense of social and healthcare services. In 2019, this financial bubble collapsed when the banks were unable to repay their debt. Faced with a default, the banks took drastic measures such as capping bank withdrawals at $100 per week or prohibiting money transfers abroad. In addition to inflation, people can’t even withdraw their money deposited in the bank. The crisis has caused deep distrust towards the banking system and the ruling class. At the hotel, the receptionist explained to me that everything is done to bypass the banks, even salaries are paid in cash.
The Temples of Baalbek
Peter and Zineb, two mentors from Codi, proposed an excursion to Baalbek. This is where, among others, the Temple of Bacchus is located, one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman temples in the world. I didn’t hesitate for long before accepting their proposal.
On the road, I noticed many propaganda signs. I wondered why… They explained to me that we were entering the territory of Hezbollah, a Shiite political-military organization. It’s almost like a state within a state. After the checkpoint, the regular police and army do not dare to enter, unless authorized by Hezbollah.
In 3000 BC, Baalbek was a flourishing Phoenician city where the worship of Baal, an eastern deity associated with lightning and beneficial rains, was celebrated. The place is magnificent, every stone is intricately carved.
Zineb, who knows the region well, then took us to the souk to taste the local specialty: sfihas. These are small meat-filled dough pastries that people order in large quantities for family meals. For price negotiations, I quickly realized it was better for me to step back a bit as my tourist appearance didn’t help.
Another excellent day! Have a great week, everyone.