Fifty years ago, the UN General Assembly created the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). At that time, many developing countries were gaining their independence and national authorities were regaining control over domestic resources by spearheading a new course of economic growth. Manufacturing was seen as essential to economic and social growth, especially in developing countries.
During the late 1960s, Lebanon was in the era of state building and institutionalization. Defined by some contemporary diplomats as one of the most precious jewels in the Middle East crescent, Lebanese writers, musicians, thinkers and businesspeople were conquering the world. Beirut was called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’.
Since then, scores of UNIDO technical cooperation projects have been executed with a broad range of local partners. In retrospect, the evolving nature of this cooperation has mirrored a timeline of parallel mutations in the Lebanese economy, while UNIDO itself was adjusting to changing demands.
The early years saw a strong focus on the establishment of modern industrial bases to satisfying internal demand, attracting investment and facilitating the availability of Lebanese products on the international market. In the 1990s, after the signature of the Taif Agreement to end the civil war and with the creation of UNIDO’s Office in Beirut, support for Lebanon’s reconstruction and development plan was accelerated by focusing on the rehabilitation of industries and encouraging industrial investment.
At the turn of the new millennium, UNIDO and the Government of Lebanon signed their first medium-term cooperation strategy agreement, focusing on industrial partnership and investment, enhancing the quality and safety of food products made in Lebanon, and strengthening industrial infrastructure, cleaner technologies and environmental protection.
UNIDO’s assistance achieved its greatest impact in the area of food safety, with the drafting of a new law and the deployment of the first countrywide awareness campaign for the public and industrial sectors. In this context, following the liberation of south Lebanon in the year 2000, UNIDO was among the first UN organizations to deploy resources to that area in order to help local producers to process agro-based goods. As one of the executing agencies of multilateral environmental agreements like the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, UNIDO assisted Lebanon’s strawberry farmers with the adoption of ozone friendly soil disinfection techniques, and contributed to the issuance of a decree that limited the import of ozone depleting substances.
In the aftermath of the 2006 conflict, UNIDO concentrated its assistance on rehabilitating the food, textile, leather and furniture industries operating in the most war-affected areas of Lebanon, enabling them to resume production and upgrade their technologies. This support produced a significant number of jobs and led different enterprises to adopt new production techniques for better products and of a higher quality than those of pre-war times.
By 2010, Lebanon’s economy started to boom again. UNIDO shaped its strategy to consolidate Lebanon’s economic recovery by enhancing the competitiveness of the industrial sector in order for it to access global markets. The plan focused on strengthening institutional capacities for industrial development, and increasing the capacity of rural youth and women and engaging them in agro-industrial entrepreneurial initiatives.
In the context of the economic slowdown resulting from the impact of the Syrian crisis, the Ministry of Industry’s ambitious “Integrated vision for the Lebanon Industrial Sector 2025” was a well-calculated effort to enhance the contribution of manufacturing sector to the Lebanese economy and stimulate growth and job opportunities. In line with this new strategy, in 2015 UNIDO readjusted its cooperation strategy to support the development of industrial parks, improve the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (especially in the agro-industrial sector), promote sustainable investment in energy efficiency solutions in the industrial sector, and include women and youth in economic activities in rural areas affected by the crisis.
Looking back at these 50 years of UNIDO-Lebanon cooperation, one can be proud of the impact of UNIDO’s projects. Today, Lebanon is benefitting from successes like the LibanPack, the innovative packaging support centre established in collaboration with the Government of Switzerland and the Association of the Lebanese Industrialists; and Creative Lebanon, supported by the European Union and the Government of Italy. Located in the heart of Beirut, the Creative Lebanon hub showcases successes of artisans and creative cooperatives in the fields of food, jewelry, furniture, etc., giving the entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their products and tell their stories, and disseminating a message that Lebanon is resilient through creativity.
The impact of our projects that support industrial companies has been substantial. Examples include helping micro, small and medium enterprises and cooperatives in the Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon to manufacture products capable to compete on the international market; greening industries and reducing their production costs with innovative production technologies through the Lebanese Cleaner Production Centre, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and the Industrial Research Institute; and delivering training and business counselling services on enterprise creation, growth, and investment promotion.
The adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was a sign of endorsement by all UN Member States of the role of inclusive and sustainable industrialization in achieving shared prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Over the last 50 years, UNIDO was on the side of Lebanon to promote environmentally friendly industrialization for poverty reduction and inclusive globalization. Today, supporting the productive sectors of the Lebanese economy is more critical than ever. At a time when unemployment is growing, the economy is slowing down and the labour pool expanding, industry has the potential to be a major driver to creating jobs and economic opportunities for young women and men.
With the support of our donors and in partnership with other UN agencies, and the Government, private sector and civil society of Lebanon, we are determined to play our part in facilitating the implementation of the SDGs in Lebanon.
In the longer run, we aspire to witness and celebrate the success of Lebanon as a model of inclusive and sustainable industrialization, which promotes social cohesion and inclusion for all. There is no doubt that this will be a challenge, but it is one to which, Lebanon, as it has done many times in past, will rise.