The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the world in all its aspects. It questioned the ability of the governments to protect their citizens and the ability of national and international health organizations to mitigate exponential contagions, death, and widespread panic. Economies were shutdown, uncertainty at its peak, and the ability of some businesses and organizations to deliver on their promise significantly decreased. However, the stringent call for hope never ceased to empower these businesses and organizations to double, even triple their efforts to demonstrate their dedication to their cause and customers, despite the current health crisis. CEED, Center for Entrepreneurship and Executive Development, is one of those organizations that saw opportunities in crisis time, and worked hard with all its network of amazing entrepreneurs, trainers, speakers and mentors to not only deliver target results, but also to sustainably improve its work processes and tools to adapt to the new reality.
CEED launched CEED-Grow program, Women’s Edition, a women-entrepreneurs focused capacity building program in the middle of the crisis in Morocco and Tunisia, under the brand of: WE Inspire – Women Entrepreneurs Inspire. The program was launched in partnership with the Union For the Mediterranean with the financial support of the Norwegian Embassy. The overall objective of WE-Inspire, is to enhance the leadership, management and entrepreneurial skills of existing small and medium sized businesses led by women, in order to allow them to create jobs and positively contribute to their national. With CEED’s cross border model, we committed to offer the opportunity to entrepreneurs from Tunisia and Morocco to network with like-minded entrepreneurs from the various countries to learn about different ways to overcome challenges while learning about various business opportunities internationally.
The pandemic challenge
The program kick-off took place on February, and few weeks after the team started preparation actions, both Morocco and Tunisia authorities announced strict restrictions as a reaction to the covid-19 pandemic. CEED teams started work-from-home on early March, and very quickly put together a contingency plan allowing a smooth activities continuity. Below are the main actions implemented by CEED team as a reaction to the lockdown:
- Broaden the scope of the program from simply supporting women to grow their enterprises, to helping them navigate the covid-19 crisis and keeping their companies alive for the most vulnerable ones
- Redesign of the program activities from In-person activities to virtual activities. Activities include candidates’ identification and selection, training sessions implementation, mentoring relationships match-making and facilitation, and networking event organization
CEED teams’ quick reaction to the lockdown restrictions allowed the implementation of the program in a smooth way and the over-achievement of all targets. Between February and June 2020, 110 women beneficiaries were on-boarded to the program (vs a target of 100), 52 mentors were identified (vs a target of 50), 14 training workshops were held, and 1 Networking event was organized, without any impact of the overall budget. Furthermore, CEED Morocco and Tunisia teams were able to develop new practices and processes around virtual delivery that were shared with our global network of centers.
As a result of moving all activities implementation to a virtual mode, we made the following adjustments in the program design:
- Instead of implementing the program via 2 cohorts of 25 beneficiaries in each country to reach out target number of beneficiaries, we have recruited 1 cohort of 50 beneficiaries in each country, thus allowing each participant to benefit from 8 months of support program instead of 4 months planned initially.
- The fact that trainings have become virtual allowed us to host more participants (in opposition with In-Person training sessions where venues limit the number of participants). Instead of inviting each participant per country to 4 training sessions for each cohort, each one of them was invited to 8 training sessions
- Instead of focusing on beneficiaries in Casablanca, Morocco and Tunis, Tunisia, we could accept beneficiaries from 11 cities in Morocco and 14 cities in Tunis.
Virtual trainings made it possible for us to host speakers and trainers from different countries: Morocco, Tunisia, France, Italy, Slovenia, USA, UAE, Indonesia, and India, and running the networking events virtually allowed the Moroccan entrepreneurs to network with Tunisian ones.
Through We Inspire, CEED made it possible for the women to benefit from the program remotely, in compliance with government restrictions, and in complete safety. If anything, the successful turnout of this program has demonstrated, not only the CEED’s ability to thrive in times of adversity, but especially its ability to creatively find alternatives to unplanned changes and the ability of Mediterranean Women to lead and inspire. CEED teams’ adaptability to unsolicited changes and uncontrollable factors has enabled them to become a beacon of hope and an example to follow, especially in terms of the significant impact they have been able to produce for entrepreneurs.
The program is still under implementation, we are proudly continuing to support women entrepreneurs in Morocco and Tunisia to help them navigate the crisis, stay in business, and grow their companies through seizing the opportunities offered by the same crisis, and we are looking forward to sharing success stories and best practices in few months!