The UNRWA Innovation Lab Helped Me Turn My Dream into a Successful Project

24 February 2020
Before and after photos of furniture Rasha Yassine a young Palestine refugee has furnished in a successful small business she founded, Platfurn., © 2019 UNRWA Photo

Rasha Yassine, a beneficiary of the UNRWA Youth Unit’s Innovation Lab Social Entrepreneurship training, showcases before and after pictures of discarded furniture she transforms into stylish, refurbished pieces as part of her small business she founded, Platfurn. As pictured above, Rasha a young Palestine refugee from North Lebanon, uses many unique techniques to transform frayed and chipped wooden furniture into unexpected pieces, pairing bold pops of colour with traditional fabrics while preserving their classic silhouettes. Rashadescribes launching Platfurn as a dream come true: “I studied Graphic Design at the International Lebanese University, but as Palestine refugees, we face a big challenge to try to find jobs in Lebanon. The lack of future prospects, particularly for young people, often results in hopelessness.”

Rasha’s big break came when she attended Social Entrepreneurship training provided at the UNRWA Innovation Labs. “I was always thinking about how to overcome the challenge of employment. The UNRWA Innovation Lab in Nahr el-Bared Palestine refugee camp and the GIL Project (Generation of Innovation Leaders) enabled me to transform my idea from a project into a business – Platfurn.” After pitching her innovative idea, Rasha received seed funding of up to US$ 2,000 to launch her small business idea, Platfurn. “The training I received provided me with important skills, including dealing with craftsmen and painters who carry out the work, and to focus on producing unique and artistic pieces,” Rasha says. “I am still in the early stages,” she continues, “but my business has allowed me to earn some income. I feel independent and have started to help support my family. Through this work, it became easier for me to get the perfect definition of who I am. It gives me a sense of stability, confidence, social interaction and joy of being independent.”

Rasha Yassine, right) speaks to a visitor during an exhibition of the “Generation of Innovation Leaders” project in Lebanon. © 2019 UNRWA Photo
Rasha Yassine, right) speaks to a visitor during an exhibition of the “Generation of Innovation Leaders” project in Lebanon. © 2019 UNRWA Photo

In Lebanon, the majority of Palestine refugees are youth, with nearly half of the population under the age of 25. Many face a chronic lack of livelihood opportunities, poverty and live in insecure environments. Palestine refugees often face limited access to basic human rights, in particular with regard to the right to work, and remain barred from practicing in 39 professions, including as doctors, engineers or lawyers. Re-occurring political protests and deteriorating economic circumstances have further worsened the plight of Palestine refugees, and as a result they face increasing rates of poverty and socio-economic hardship.

As part of the UNRWA Youth Strategic Framework and in-line with the UNICEF countrywide Generation of Innovation Leaders (GIL) program, the UNRWA Youth Unit established two Innovation Labs located in Siblin-Saida area and Nahr el-Bared camp, which aim to address and alleviate some of the widespread frustration and lack of opportunity faced by Palestine refugee youth in Lebanon. The Innovation Lab programmes aim to upskill youth in the use of new technologies and build their capacity to think critically about market needs and trends.

Since establishment in 2017, 1,856 youth have benefited from Innovation Lab activities, including Palestine refugees from Lebanon (PRL), Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS), and other students (majority Lebanese nationals).

A group of young Palestine refugees attend a social media marketing course at the UNRWA Innovation Lab at the Nahr el Bared Palestine refugee camp in northern Lebanon. © 2019 UNRWA Photo
A group of young Palestine refugees attend a social media marketing course at the UNRWA Innovation Lab at the Nahr el Bared Palestine refugee camp in northern Lebanon. © 2019 UNRWA Photo

Sarah Shouman, the head of the UNRWA Youth Unit in Lebanon, explains: “The Innovation Labs offer professional readiness and employability training courses. It is a platform to transfer to youth digital, design and web competencies. Youth in this program can come up with new, innovative ideas which they can then convert into a real project to generate income from. The rationale behind the program is to provide further opportunity for Palestine refugee youth in Lebanon to escape from their current poverty trap by becoming skilled in new technologies and acquire knowledge on how to channel good ideas into business opportunities. Self-employment enables refugee youth to overcome the legal barriers they confront in more traditional labour market sectors in Lebanon.”.