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#LoveLocal: How a New Facebook Initiative is Helping Support and Upskill SMBs in MENA

Startup Scene Speaks to Ramez Shehadi, Managing director of Facebook MENA, about the social media giant's new initiative picking up the pieces of an ecosystem shattered by COVID019.

In a tech-soaked, hyperconnected world, it’s entirely impossible to dismiss the influential effects of a social media presence. For individuals, it’s proof of (social) living. If you didn’t post about it, it didn’t happen. So what’s the relevant sentiment for businesses and their digital footprint?

Likes, double-taps, shares and engagement. These aren’t just buzzwords, but a new digital world order that thrives on connectivity. And who other than the social media behemoth Facebook has had a bigger impact on the way communities connect – be it locally or on a broader scale. The social giant is kicking off a new initiative titled LocalLove; dedicated to the support of small and medium-sized businesses across the entire MENA region. Through an aggregated amount of dedicated resources, networks and mentorship programmes, the initiative will support SMBs in the region, be it financially or otherwise, to help bolster their businesses and elevate them into even greater heights.

“Like all other major events in life, there is a period of simply reacting to what has occurred in an attempt to process it,” Ramez Shehadi, Managing director of Facebook MENA (pictured above), tells StartupScene. “And as we come out of this, and the dust settles, begins a period of recovery and, ultimately, a period of growth.”

Having an Instagram Business account or a Facebook page for your brand has now become a normalised expectation of starting any venture – regardless of the industry it falls under. A social presence creates ripples of buzz and traction that’s achievable so efficiently through just existing on feeds and explore pages. And while it’s almost doubly the no-brainer to launch social media pages for, say, a lifestyle or tech brand, Shehadi believes that all businesses, in all stripes, should utilise social media to interact with the communities and societies it serves.

“SMEs have historically relied on physical communities and physical engagement. COVID has been a major gamechanger for the way things used to be around the world, and in particular, it has had an impact on the MENA region,” Shehadi notes. “They serve a radius, a physical catchment, be it a pastry shop, convenience store or a tailor, these businesses are relevant to a community in a very physical sort of way. When COVID restricted mobilisation and movement, the blow that SMEs have sustained is quite harsh.”

Whatever form it takes, challenges are no stranger to a business leader. One of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur is that of resilience, to keep fighting, to find a way to make it work no matter the circumstances.

LoveLocal is designed to be an adaptable hub that is equipped to provide all sorts of businesses from across the full spectrum of industries with all the necessary tools to thrive, including mastering the entire Facebook product suite with all its offerings to elevate commercial activity or audience engagement. There will be an SME training hub, more than 40 webinars covering a myriad of topics for different industries and a business resource hub that equips entrepreneurs with the know-how on adapting, operating and structuring themselves to manage and lead a business.

“Interestingly, the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and what makes them successful, is not unique to the pandemic,” Shehadi points out. “It is still pursuing their business despite the odds stacked against them, with all the challenges. Those challenges have come in the form of a pandemic, economic/socioeconomic or maybe physical or community risk; whatever form it takes, challenges are no stranger to a business leader. One of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur is that of resilience, to keep fighting, to find a way to make it work no matter the circumstances.”

While COVID has impeded physical mobility, and add onto it the constant, run-of-the-mill impediments, the resilience by entrepreneurs have allowed for great milestones to be achieved. In H1 2020, startup funding had already reached 95% of the entirety of 2019. Be it by virtue of the pandemic or not, many startups have not only launched by being mindful of being online, but several have pivoted to accommodate the inescapable tool that is social media, and have access to consumers in a way they’ve never had.

“This initiative is open to all and any businesses all across the Middle East and North Africa. We want businesses of all shapes and sizes to step up and plug into the digital economy,” Shehadi adds. “There are many examples, namely in Egypt, of how several brands and platforms have found their lifeline during the pandemic thanks to going online. This paradigm shift we’ve been seeing, is one that we’re confident will be here to stay. We invite all businesses to log on, and find ways to scale better than ever before.”

We care about your state of affairs, your future. The success of SMEs is vital to any economy, it creates jobs, improves wellness, trains and equips people with services and capabilities.

Consumers are also encouraged to join in, and incorporate the hashtag #LoveLocal as they showcase their favourite local businesses. “On top of these multiple ways to support SMEs, there’s also a consumer campaign coming along the way very, very soon. The campaign encourages consumers to identify, be aware and engage with the local businesses in their communities well beyond the physical radius they occupy.”

Earlier this year, Facebook rolled out several initiatives and tools to aid SMBs in MENA. Boost with Facebook saw it teaming up with local and regional platforms such as RiseUp Summit and Startups Without Borders to best help budding Arab leaders, while Facebook Shops was launched help businesses have their own digital catalogue and storefront for commercial transactions. Entrepreneurs can immerse themselves in webinars detailing all of Facebook’s campaigns and shiny new features that can help propel their operations, traction and sales to great lengths.

“Broad-based advice has always been tricky because each business faces its own set of circumstances,” said Shehadi. “But I do want them to know sincerely, from Facebook, that you are not alone. We care about your state of affairs, your future. The success of SMEs is vital to any economy, it creates jobs, improves wellness, trains and equips people with services and capabilities. Love Local is designed to help businesses survive in light of these types of changes. Recover, and then ultimately thrive again.”




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