Libyan Women in Entrepreneurship

Lubna’s Zantouti’s vision for young women in Libya

Published 8 months ago in Middle East & North Africa and Culture

libya feminism women's equality entrepreneurship

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A female protestor in Libya (Source: Rosie Alfatlawi)

Lubna is an entrepreneur who has recently started her own business called “Space340”. When I first met her, I couldn’t help but admire her personality. She is driven, passionate, motivated and an inspiring figure to look up to. 
She is one of many Libyan women who is aspiring for change in the Libyan society as a whole. Education and development are surely her cause. She believes in getting a good education and using it to improve herself and help others around her.  She has a vision for a better future in spite of the hard circumstances that Libyans currently face, such as continuous power cuts, the tremendous increase in prices of goods, clashes between militias, and a decrease in safety measures. 

Her vision relies on empowering and enabling children to have a quality education and a good quality of life, and on encouraging independent youth who can invent solutions to improve our society. 

Our first encounter happened through mutual friends and I was able to get to know her through volunteer work at the University of Tripoli in Libya. She reached out to others in case any help was needed or if anyone was looking for volunteering opportunities. She was a supportive figure and welcomed anyone with her genuine smile and good intentions. Throughout my years in engineering school and my years of knowing her, I was introduced to the students’ union through Lubna and she has opened my eyes to other aspects other than being a student. Lubna championed the importance of giving back to the community and of working towards achieving our dreams.  

Throughout our interview, I was curious about Lubna’s passion and drive to contribute to society, where and when it had begun. Lubna narrated her life story to me, and these are some of the highlights. 
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Malak Altaeb: Can you tell me more about yourself, Lubna?

Lubna’s Zantouti: This question may sound simple but this introduction is a reminder to me of how much I have changed. My name is Lubna Zantouti, a 24 years old electrical engineering graduate. My life changed a lot when the Libyan revolution rose. All I dreamt of before the revolution was to graduate and get a masters and Ph.D. My dreams were simple and I was simple. However, after the revolution, volunteering helped me see the world from a different angle. I realized that life wasn't only about living, learning and getting a job, it was more than that. It felt as if I had left a world and stepped into another one. 
 
MA: When did you start volunteering?

LZ: I first started in 2011 with charities. I worked on small projects providing basic needs of food and medication for people here in Tripoli and other close cities. I believe that those small projects prepared me to work in the students’ union of Tripoli University later on. I worked with Ambition (Tomoh) Foundation which aims to increase volunteering work and the importance of giving back to the community especially those in need. I also worked with the students’ media center which focuses on raising awareness about university choice of study for high school students since it became one of society’s problems that led to so many issues for freshmen students in the university. I then worked with the University of Tripoli’s union for two years in a row and took a year off to focus on my graduation project. In addition, I now work on entrepreneurship project called ‘Made From Home’ and the project focuses on empowering women in the business world.

MA: When did you first start volunteering? And what is the highlight of your journey?

LZ: At the beginning of my volunteer work back in the revolution, I worked in small projects providing basic needs of food and medication for people here in Tripoli and other close cities. I believe that those projects prepared me to work in the students’ union of Tripoli University. 

The experience with the union was different, as it wasn't an organization, a charity, or a movement. The students’ union is a body that connects you with the real world and what truly happens in departments with corrupted management. I enrolled in it in 2015 and I was the head of the cultural office, where I came up with the Open Month project. 

Open Month was the first big project that aimed to provide skills and language courses to university students at very affordable prices. The students union was mainly male-dominated. Before I became an active member, the majority of students were all males. Females were not highly encouraged to become members in it but when I became a member, it was a bit strange for males to follow the lead of a woman since they were new to the idea of having a female within the team. So many people asked me how it was like to work in such an environment and how the males’ reaction was since I was responsible for such a big project. I worked mainly with guys who didn't see much in women, but once they understood that I was passionate and believed in a great cause, they treated me with respect and supported me. The number of women in the Student’s union has increased drastically and I think that my journey encouraged more women to enroll and to have a direct impact. 
 
MA: How is life after graduating?

LZ: After graduating, I faced a dilemma, which is to choose between pursuing a career in my field as an engineer or choose entrepreneurship. I finally decided to go with the thing I always wanted to do, which was starting my own business and it was focused on working spaces. I truly find myself in it because I get to collaborate with youth through it and provide what the business market demands. It is called Space 340. For women, I admit it, it is not easy. However, I encourage them to get into the entrepreneurship world and learn more about how to make the vision they have a reality and how to overcome the obstacles that come with it.

MA: How do you see your Space340?

LZ: For Space340, I hope to create a new training market. Not just providing the basic skills needed but more into the advanced skills like designing, marketing, and so. This project is also a training for me because I want to study projects administration and I am learning more and more on a daily basis. I am responsible for the administration and social media content creator. About the team, I have a partner, she is responsible for some of the work in the space and we help each other to finish the daily tasks. There are two other workers, one in the morning shift and another in the evening shift and also the accountant. The capacity differs from one day to another but the minimum is 45 students who come to study especially when the electricity is cut. Our halls and classrooms are used for so many purposes, local companies rent halls to give a certain workshop or lecture, teachers, startups, and they are available and affordable for everyone. 

MA: What is your vision of Libyan youth? And what changes have you witnessed?

LZ: I am very hopeful about Libyan youth. I have worked with all kinds of youth throughout the years. I have worked with the ambitious, the underprivileged, the very well educated, the ones who hope to change the world, and others who only wish to change their day and make it the best day. And they all have the same vision. They all agree to have a better future for our country. The revolution caused the changes I have witnessed; it has changed us from being dependent to independent. It has opened the eyes of youth within the society to make a move now to have a better future tomorrow.

Alaa Murabit speaking at a conference advocating for Libyan women's rights and access to socioeconomic advancement. (Source: Skoll World Forum)



MA: What is the role of women in youth entrepreneurship?

LZ: I advise women to seize their rights by doing as opposed to vocalizing their discontent and lack of equal opportunities through entrepreneurship because women are supposedly more creative than men. Start working and get your rights with your hands. Entrepreneurship depends greatly on creativity and women are known for being more creative and it is already seen in our Libyan society.

MA: What is your advice to youth living in Libya?

LZ: I always say this and I will repeat, 'Always keep your good intentions and focus on developing yourself but mainly remember to help others.' When we stay positive, it will help us do well and develop. In addition, our differences within the Libyan community are a blessing. We can embrace this diversity, and use it to collaborate further. 

Editor's note: Visit https://www.facebook.com/utsu.main/ to discover more about Open Month and Lubna's efforts to engage young people in Libya.

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