The Youth Learning, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Programme (YLEAP)


Up to 50% of the population of the Levant is aged 24 and under[1]. With this figure set to increase significantly in the next decade—by up to 37% in Syria in 2030— young people are key to driving social and economic prosperity in the region. But this potential remains largely untapped, with youth unemployment in the region rife- in Lebanon, up to six times as many new jobs are needed to absorb just the regular market entrants[2] – and growing, exacerbated by harsh labour laws, particularly towards refugees, and large-scale migration. A large informal economy has resulted, with serious social risks for its workers, and macroeconomic consequences for the region. Young people are particularly affected.

Faced with these challenges, young people in the Levant are increasingly turning to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship offers young people the independence, flexibility and creativity they need to navigate their economic complexities. Where social impact is prioritised alongside profit, it offers them scope to apply innovative problem-solving to the most salient challenges facing their communities, from environmental issues to education. This can generate real, sustained change for the communities in which it is embedded.

From 2006 to 2019, the Asfari Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Programme addressed youth unemployment by providing young people with opportunities to support their transition into independent adulthood and engaged citizenship. We did this by providing access to formal and informal education opportunities that empowered young people, increased their employability and sought to help them into stable jobs. In 2019, responding to the call for greater support for young entrepreneurs in the region, the programme evolved to become the Youth Learning, Entrepreneurship and InnovAtion Programme (YLEAP).

We believe that youth-led social entrepreneurship and innovation offer a powerful solution to the social and economic challenges of the Levant. By strengthening the entrepreneurship ecosystem in which they are supported, young entrepreneurs are able to access the opportunities they need to build strong, sustainable, rewarding enterprises, driving inclusive, sustainable growth in our region.

Through YLEAP, we offer funding and wider support to organisations which support young entrepreneurs, from ideation to impact investment. We invest in organisations which offer innovative solutions to social problems, and connect actors from across the entrepreneurship ecosystem – local, regional and global – who share a vision for the region, promoting learning, knowledge-sharing and mentorship support. Through YLEAP, we work to build a global community of practice dedicated to social and economic change in the Levant, guided by evidence and experience, and led by innovative youth.

The objectives of the programme are:

  1. To reduce the obstacles faced by young entrepreneurs in the Levant, including improving access to entrepreneurship programming outside major cities; finance and markets; and mentorship.
  2. To promote entrepreneurship skills as key skills of the future, extending access to non-traditional learning and entrepreneurship programming so that young entrepreneurs are equipped to succeed.
  3. To strengthen existing entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems, encouraging collaboration between actors to help achieve impact at scale.

How the programme works:

  • We fund organisations that make up the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, recognising that by supporting these organisations, young entrepreneurs will benefit.
  • We support organisations seeking to bring tried-and-tested approaches from further afield to the region, contextualising them to local realities. This may include new technologies.
  • We fund solutions that expand markets, address funding gaps and improve bureaucratic and regulatory systems.
  • We collaborate across the entrepreneurial ecosystem to develop context-specific learning products for young entrepreneurs, aimed at helping them to build robust enterprises with clear social impact.
  • We work with the third sector, the private sector and other donors to develop co-investments in solutions that make change for communities across the region.
  • Social enterprises established under YLEAP may be eligible for funding under the Civil Society Programme, which offers multi-year grants to support organisational development.
  • In 2020 we will pilot the ‘Asfari Challenge for Social Innovation’ which invites young entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions to the social challenges of our region. These challenges will centre on the recommendations of the Foundation-funded Arab Horizons report (2018) published by the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Note: In 2020 the programme will be piloted first in Lebanon only.

To apply for funding in 2020, click here.

Photo credit: © UNHCR/Shawn Baldwin

[1] UNICEF, 2019

[2] World Bank, 2017