A year after the explosion in Beirut, French women are still helping Lebanese entrepreneurs


ENCOUNTER – Frédérique Picard Le Bihan, in Paris, and Caroline Fattal, in Beirut, have joined forces to set up a program to help six women revive their businesses destroyed in the explosion of August 4.

In a few seconds everything changed. The explosion of August 4, 2020 in the port of Beirut blew everything in its path and left more than 200 dead and 6,500 injured. Homes, restaurants, shops … many have been reduced to nothing by the explosion caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a dilapidated warehouse at the port.

Caroline Fattal, businesswoman and founder of the NGO Stand for Women and Frédérique Picard, president and founder of the Dare Women association have each decided to mobilize for the women of Beirut, whose explosion destroyed the activity. The first in Lebanon, the other in France, they have joined forces to set up a program that helps six women entrepreneurs to relaunch themselves. They tell their fight to Figaro.

LE FIGARO. – What atmosphere reigns in Beirut, on the eve of the commemoration of the explosion?

Caroline Fattal. – On the eve of August 4, it is very difficult. We live in times of deep anguish. All the more so, since a year later, nothing has changed. Justice is still not done and we have the feeling that the victims left for nothing. Moreover, the situation in the country very worrying. We have to face a shortage of drugs but also of gasoline. There is also a devaluation of the Lebanese pound. The minimum wage of 600,000 pounds which was worth $ 400 two years ago is now only worth around 32. We are in a total crisis. The Lebanon we were so proud of became a third almost fourth world country in the space of 18 months.

Why did you decide to help Lebanese women entrepreneurs?

CF. – Unfortunately during the explosion I lost my aunt. It is said that there are five phases of grief, one of which is finding meaning. After what happened, I wanted to make sense of this horror and I said to myself that we had to take to the streets, to have an action on the ground. If help was quickly organized to rebuild the houses, I thought of those whose businesses had been destroyed because I wanted at all costs that the women keep their business and that they can continue to help their families. . This is why I created the fund for Marion Hochar Ibrahimchach, in memory of my aunt. First, with my NGO, Stand for Women, we identified 240 women’s businesses that had been damaged during the explosion. At the same time very vulnerable women, hairdressers, florists, seamstresses whose business often supports a whole family. But also women who have employees and for whom it was very important to maintain these jobs. Finally, we have also helped women who perpetuate a certain cultural cachet in Beirut: designers, jewelers, artists… In total, we have helped 140. Then Frédérique contacted me so that we could act together with Dare Women.

Frédérique Picard. – When I saw the devastation caused by the explosion, I could not stand by and do nothing. I wouldn’t know how to explain it, but my heart is in Beirut. This city gave me so much that I had to mobilize with my association Dare Women. We couldn’t give a lot of money, but at that time we were setting up a program for women with disabilities in Paris. Suddenly I had a spark: we had to go and offer Lebanese women this program.

How did you come to work together?

FP. – In 2011, I embarked on a world tour and notably lived in California where I became a coach. Americans are not afraid of anything. I drew a lot of inspiration from them to create Dare Women and help women develop their daring. My friends told me: “You cannot have a project on daring without meeting the Lebanese”. The first action of Dare Women was therefore to go to Lebanon in Beirut in April 2019 where I met Zéna Chamoun, who became our ambassador in Beirut, and Caroline Fattal during a visit to the higher school. cases in which she is involved.

CF. – When we met with Frédérique, it immediately matched and we said to ourselves that we were going to do things together. After August 4th, she called me and said: “Caroline we can’t stay like this, we want to do something to help you”. That’s when we decided to launch this program. Frédérique asked me to select six French-speaking Lebanese women entrepreneurs who were motivated and whose businesses could be redeployed and we were able to set up this six-month program with Dare Women.

In what moral and physical state were these women when you started the program?

CF. – All were impacted by the explosion and many were ready to give up. Guilda Khoury who has an organic cotton business saw her workshop and her store completely destroyed. Just like Carolina Chammas who makes head jewelry and whose activity had already been slowed down by the health crisis and the end of marriages. There is also the Cannelle pastry shop run by two sisters, Nicole and Joëlle Haddad, which has exploded, as well as Cynthia Chamat Debanné’s fashion store, which also houses a stock of 70 designers. Finally, Sherine Geagea was injured in the explosion and she still has sequelae. Here are five businesses run by six women who lost everything that day when they had put all their capital, their energy, their dreams and their hopes in their activity.

(From left to right) Zena Chamoun, manager at Dare Women in Lebanon, Frédérique Picard, Sherine Geagea, Caroline Fattal, Sophie de Vilmorin, pilot and coach within the program and Nicole Haddad. Frederique Picard

And the situation is getting harder and harder. Without electricity, there is no internet, without gas the employees can no longer come to work. The Cannelle pastry shop, which had just moved to a better location and which had multiplied its sales by five, had to temporarily close five days ago because it can no longer operate its fridges. These women have lived it all, they have managed to overcome the difficulties and there, we are going to finish them again. They fight every day, every minute of their life.

What does the program you offer them consist of?

FP. – It is based on three pillars: individual coaching. There are 5 executive coaches, two in Lebanon including Caroline and three in France including myself. The second pillar is collective intelligence: almost once a month these six women are brought together remotely in order to find solutions together to solve the problems they encounter in their activity. The third pillar is based on workshops with experts so that they can learn how to manage their activity, especially in a country which is experiencing a strong devaluation of its currency. Even if we are obliged to do these meetings remotely, we were still able to bring them together a short time ago during a 3 day trip to Lebanon. We were able to see each other’s workshops and businesses and especially put them together and strengthen a little more this sorority, this group which helps each other. They all have talents that they can share and support each other morally because they are going through such difficult things.

CF. – In addition to the program, Frédérique and her friends took the initiative to open their networks to these six women who, even if they sell in Lebanon, have a great need to develop their export business. And for her, it is something strong. They tell themselves that they are not stuck in this country where the market is shrinking like hell. What is most important is that they feel supported.

How do they manage to recover and continue their activity despite the very difficult context?

FP. – These are women who have known war for 15 years. With this history, the Lebanese people are made up of people who know how to take advantage of the present moment. They have this faculty to take this present and to make of it something which overflows with energy to project themselves even if today in Lebanon they cannot project themselves further than the next day.

CF.Most of them told us that they are continuing for their employees. These women have this attachment to the people who work with them, they feel responsible for these families. Guilda Khoury also said something very beautiful to me: “I didn’t want to punish Beirut”. If we women entrepreneurs leave, who will stay? We don’t want the forces of evil to win, we want to show the Lebanon we love. That’s why they hang on. But if they hadn’t had this financial and psychological help, it would have been very hard.

What are the next steps ?

CF. – On the one hand, the program that we have put in place is not finished. These six women need further help. In a second step, with Frédérique, we would like to create other promotions of Lebanese women and entrepreneurs that we could help and, if possible, enlarge the groups to welcome more from 2022. The objective is that all help each other. between them.

FP. – But for that we will need funds. Everyone has been very generous so far, we have received voluntary help. So this is our next step with Caroline. And this also involves media coverage, we need to get people talking about us. There is in particular a podcast which traces their history which was made voluntarily by our partner, Podcaster Media. And we will continue to open our networks to them

CF. – This program is truly a fine example of a sorority. Knowing that in France, women are thinking of us, helping us, putting us forward moves me a lot. We have the feeling that we are not forgotten and that beyond the horror there is solidarity and hope.

To support and deploy new promotions of “Lebanon rebound 2021“: Https://www.helloasso.com/associations/association-dare-women/collectes/rebond-liban-2021

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