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Lifeline For Growth SMEs are the core of Lebanon's economic revival- and Servcorp offers a winning enterprise solution.

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For much of the 20th century, Lebanon enjoyed an almost taken-for-granted cultural and commercial leadership of the Middle East. Today, a raft of ambitious national strategies set out the economic programmes designed to restore that status and finally shake off the legacy of a 15-year Civil War. Economic proposals such as 'Lebanon Can' (from the Association of Lebanese Industrialists), provide a visionary and detailed blueprint which is determined to ensure that the right infrastructure and regulatory reforms are put in place. As well they might: while Lebanon has a highly developed banking and finance sector - in many ways a benchmark across the Middle East - the economy has grown unevenly, leaving in its wake an unemployment rate of 25%, with youth unemployment as high as 34% (figures from World Bank).

Across the numerous strategy documents published, two factors emerge as vital to the economy's growth. Firstly, the re-building and re-positioning of Lebanon as a foremost trading hub. The Port of Beirut - for most of the 20-th century the most vibrant and best-performing port in the Middle East - has seen large percentages of its trade lost to Egypt and the UAE, especially since the blocking of key cross-country 'through-routes' via Syria.

Massive plans are afoot to re-boot the Port - and a string of six, smaller satellite ports - as a natural home to economic free zones, and as a centre not only for commerce, but for the core growth market of Hospitality. Important factors at a time when the export market needs drastic attention - currently, the balance of payments is 89% in favour of imports (World Bank).

The role of the SME

The other area designated as key to economic growth is the SME sector. In the 'Lebanon SME Strategy: a roadmap to 2020', the Ministry of Economy and Trade points out that "SMEs are the key economic engine for growth and job creation". The proposal highlights that Lebanon's SME sector was responsible for sales of US$8.8 billion in 2016, but follows the national trend with a decline in exports from US$4 billion in 2011 to US$2.9 billion in 2016.

Lebanon's SME sector is also massive: a study by the Center for Economic Studies, Fransabank, in 2017 shows that nearly 90% of all Lebanon's businesses are SMEs, responsible for 50% of the nation's employment. The fact is that the development of the SME sector is the most important single factor in kick-starting the renaissance of the Lebanese economy.

What is to be done? Starting with the fundamentals...

So, what are the factors that can empower this progress and accelerate the growth and vitality of the SME sector? The reality is that, as micro, small and medium entities, SMEs typically need to take a 'ground-up' approach and manage aspects such as cash-flow, running costs and licensing and office arrangements - wherever possible, minimizing any hindrances to getting on with the day-to-day job of doing business. So, initiatives that help in these ways can truly empower change and make entrepreneurship - intrinsically connected with risk and cost - as affordable and practical as possible.

One of the proven ways of reducing costs and fast-tracking operational readiness is Flexible Working, which has undoubted commercial benefits. Worldwide, Flexible Working is a key factor supporting numerous national SME initiatives. It's also one of the working practices favoured by a new generation of millennials, start-ups and innovative/creative entrepreneurs. In fact, the vibrant growth of the Flexible Working phenomenon is a headline success story of global business: by 2017, the number of flexible workspaces internationally had reached 15,500 - a staggering rise from the 2011 figure of just over 1,100. By the end of 2018, the figure looks set to rise to 18,900.

Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1.3 million people working in flexible workspaces globally. According to property and investment titan Jones Lang Lasalle, by 2030, up to 30% of all office space will be, in some form, flexible, or have an open layout design.

Related: Looking To The Future

The role of Servcorp - proven expertise and solutions

Servcorp - providers of the world's finest flexible workspace solutions - is playing an organic role in building the profile of Flexible Working in Lebanon - and thereby empowering business set-up and the new climate of growth and sustainability.

Representing 40,000 members worldwide, across 54 cities in 23 nations, Servcorp is well-placed to understand the very particular requirements of entrepreneurs, and specifically, for starting a business in Beirut - with the need for value and a time-saving, one-stop platform.

The unique Coworking spaces created by Servcorp allow small and medium businesses to benefit from all the advantages of a prestigious address, landing phone numbers and office support, without committing to dedicated office space. The reality is that Servcorp has invested more than $100 million in IT and telecoms to ensure clients receive the best service possible. Plus, as a specialist in Flexible Workspace solutions, Servcorp can meet the needs of many styles of business, regardless of sector or specialisation.

This level of support is now available to Beirut's entrepreneurs - Servcorp have created a sophisticated downtown Coworking space, with a superb facility extending over two floors- Levels 2 & 3 of the prestigious Louis Vuitton building (1479 Marfaa Beirut Souks, Allenby Street).

In this location, SMEs can enjoy the full spectrum of Coworking benefits, in addition to the important opportunities for networking and intelligence-gathering in a highly contemporary and well-appointed environment.

This prestigious workspace was in fact created by Hrag Geukjian Architects, a leading international fine architecture and interior design practice. The company prides itself on creating environments where factors such as innovation and creativity are paramount, and is well-known globally for providing highly functional and effective workspaces.

Founder and CEO, Hrag Geukjian comments that: "Servcorp is a multinational company and leader in providing its clients with workspace solutions. Whether you own a multi-million dollar business or you have a brilliant idea to start up a business, at Servcorp you can find a package that suits your needs. In my experience, the company is flexible and caring towards its clients - and this commitment is also reflected in the quality of environment which they choose to create.

"This is seen first and foremost in the choice of location. Here, the workspace is located in the heart of vibrant Beirut Downtown - an area surrounded by world class brands (Louis Vuitton, Omega, Ferrari etc.) and multinational companies, government ministries and banks. The building in which the servcorp offices are located has high architectural value; it was renovated after Lebanon's civil war to the highest international standards. There is 'second skin' architecture, emergency staircase and exits, an advanced level of firefighting and security features, dual elevators, and so on.

"In the workspace itself, everything is well planned - from the choice of materials to the footfall and circulation, the furniture, technology, safety, privacy, comfort, and so on. The space is planned so as to ensure smooth circulation of the clients and guests while at the same time respecting their privacy. In terms of the materials selected, large amounts of high quality solid wood and granite are used to give a luxurious yet welcoming and charming mood. Plus, several technological features are integrated in the floor to facilitate the way that clients can work and provide them with the safest possible environment. These include sophisticated servers, soundproofing, emergency lights, fire-rated materials and doors, etc. There is also advanced lighting, touch ID access, high quality HVAC etc.

"In addition to these structural advantages, we also created a focal point - a vibrant coffee spot and reception area - where different business owners will meet, interact and create new business opportunities. In fact, it's an ideal networking hub."

What is the view from a client's perspective? Lea Farah is CEO of Centimes Bourgeois Headpieces, a unique bridal accessory provider, which is home to more than a 100 signature pieces. Each and every precious Centimes Bourgeois piece is entirely handmade using the finest pearls, Swarovski rhinestones, gemstones and diamonds. Lea started the business from the workspace in the Louis Vuitton building, and comments that: "In 2015, I was looking for an affordable location in central Beirut as my business, Centimes Bourgeois, was still a startup. I found Servcorp online and their services exceeded my expectations. The environment was very friendly, and they treated my brides as their own clients. I couldn't ask for more!"

Aligned with a national vision

Commenting on Servcorp's role in supporting the development of Lebanon's important SME sector, Laudy Lahdo, General Manager, Servcorp Middle East, said: "Almost every blueprint outlining the future development of Lebanon identifies SMEs as the most important link in the economic chain - and by providing state-of-the-art, affordable Flexible Workspaces, Servcorp empowers SMEs in ways that not only bring advantageous commercial benefits, but provide environments ideally-suited to innovation and the needs of the entrepreneur. Servcorp has always been driven by the need to provide solutions in markets where the dynamics of business are changing rapidly and where entrepreneurs have to move quickly and cost-effectively in order to take advantage of economic growth. We are primarily facilitators - and this drives our commitment to offer solutions for SMEs that are practical, professional and empower successful enterprise."

Related: Change-Maker: How Servcorp Is Empowering Abu Dhabi's Economic Vision