The project on "Promoting Competitiveness in Micro and Small Enterprises" (MSE) was initiated in 2000 by the Economic Research Forum, with the main objective has been to expand the knowledge on this sector in the Middle East and North Africa region, with the ultimate aim of designing relevant policies and specific programs to help this sector fulfill its enormous growth potentials. Constituting an average of 95% of the number of enterprises in the region, it is presumed that promoting this sector will have a positive spill-over effect on the economies of the region.
Discussions on the results of the project have pointed to an emerging consensus that it will be filling a knowledge gap related to the micro and small enterprises sector in the MENA region. Policies and strategies designed to promote this sector have not been adequately targeting their needs, and thus this project is considered to be of great relevance to the policy making process.
Specifically, the main contributions may be summarized as follows:
1) The database gathered through the project based on field surveys is considered unique, as to the number of enterprises covered (18,000), and the information produced, including information on the enterprise, the entrepreneur and the household. A special focus on women entrepreneurs have been made throughout the survey. This mine of data will undoubtedly provide background information that enables policy makers to design relevant policies.
2) The "Policy Briefs" gives a concise summary of the outcome of each country study and highlights the recommendations reached based on the analysis.
3) The current Country reports series is prepared based on the findings of the surveys, detailed information about the performance of the enterprises, determinants of success and prospects for the future are given. Special focus on the status of women entrepreneurs is also made.
4) The Synthesis report will have a comparative analytical approach of the case studies of the four countries. This report will asses the MSE sector in the four countries and will draw relevant policy recommendations for the region.
It has been evidently shown that promoting this sector could contribute to the solution of the increasing unemployment problem in the region, and a means to alleviate poverty through income
generation. The spillover effects that this sector if properly developed will positively affect the development of the countries concerned. However, the real level of knowledge about the MSEs is
Similar to most countries in the region, economic growth and technological progress have been slow in Lebanon, with a predominance of small scale enterprises in the economy. The private sector has traditionally been a major partner in the development of the country, also with a dominance of small and micro enterprises5 that constitute the bulk of private sector activity. The MSE sector has, thus, the potential of providing substantive support to the development of the country in the medium and long terms. This is especially true as a large proportion of new jobs generated are in the informal sector – a sector characterized by low productivity, poor working conditions, and high vulnerability to shocks.
Research on the topic in Lebanon is scarce, making this research endeavor the largest known MSE research project undertaken in the country in the past decade or so. The earlier desk reviews and the data base gathered in the field survey will enable policy makers and researchers to understand the characteristics of MSEs, to appreciate the constraints faced by the sector, and to realize the potential laden in some of the niche activities and enterprises.
The main objective of the study is to expand the knowledge of the economic and social characteristics under which the informal and MSE sector operates in Lebanon in order to address its contribution to growth and employment generation, especially for the poor. In this context, the study examines the sectors’ current status, existing constraints and potential for growth. This enhanced understanding is expected to permit the formulation of policies and programs that would allow this sector to fulfill its
potential growth with expected spin-off effects on the national economy. Such a framework is crucial, especially given the substantial share of the said sector in the economy of Lebanon and in light of the changing environment towards globalization and trade liberalization, and the subsequent threat to the protection of traditional incomes and livelihoods of a major disadvantaged segment of society. The study specifically intends to provide insights into the factors determining the competitiveness of
MSE, suggest effective ways for the involvement of the various levels of government to support higher income and competitiveness of the sector, identify constrains and potential linkages with the formal private sector, and determine gender differences in the sector. The analytical variables included in the conceptual framework of the study include inputs (human resources, facilities, technology, financial status, marketing, and information), environment (enabling and inhibiting factors- infrastructure and regulatory framework, and linkages), processes, and outputs (contribution to economy, employment, and income).