Najla Almissalati Is Empowering Women With Tech Skill Acquisition In Libya

Starting a business is never an easy feat, but establishing one in the midst of war and instability is even more challenging; this is the case with most of the startups springing up in Libya. Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been plunged into instability and unrest, divided into competing political and military factions. Yet, amidst these issues, there is a crop of entrepreneurs striving to change the near-decade-long narrative of instability and unrest and build the country’s future.

Najla Almissalati is the co-founder of She Codes, a startup that teaches Libyan women and children to code and write computer programmes thereby empowering them with the skills and knowledge needed to start their own businesses and compete in the job market. About half the population of Libya is female, but the typical Libyan culture frowns at women taking up jobs outside the confines of the home and promotes female dependence on male figures for financial support. However, given the current situation in the country, it is no longer practical to have only the men as breadwinners; Libyan women now have to work to support their families.

Almissalati and her co-founder, Omima El Kilani, launched She Codes at the beginning of the year determined to increase the number of women actively working in Libya. “The skills they will learn will provide them with sustainable jobs. No matter how conservative their families are or how terrible the conditions in their city, they would be able to work from home using only their laptops to feel good about themselves and earn a living,” Almissalati told Disrupt Africa.

The future of Libyan children is another motivating factor for establishing She Codes. Children under the age of fifteen make up a third of the Libyan population; considering the country’s present climate, these children face seemingly insurmountable odds at securing a bright future. Hence the urgent need to engage them in projects that rehabilitate their minds. “I strongly believe that if we don’t make the change, then who will? If all the good people leave Libya and flee with their lives, then we are selling out a beautiful country and we are letting down our grandchildren,” Almissalati said in an interview with Ventureburn.

She believes now is the best time to make a change, create impact in her country and be a role model for young Libyan girls and children. “This is my drive and this is what made me stay and start a business,” she said. Despite her courage and tenacity, she does admit that operating a business in a volatile climate such as Libya is difficult. “The current situation is really difficult and the political instability is actually affecting everything. We’ve encountered several challenges and we learnt to anticipate things that could go wrong and find a solution beforehand,” she said.

In operating, they have to be careful in picking venues for teaching the coding courses to avoid unsafe places where the trainees might get harassed. They also have to pre-download materials and use power banks to circumvent the regular power outages and irregular internet connectivity. There is also the issue of a lack of funding as many investors do not want to take the risk. According to Omar Barakat, an associate of Seedstars Middle East and North Africa, it is near impossible to raise venture capital in Libya and most Libyan startups are only generating investment from grants and competition money. Also, the country’s currency crisis and high exchange rate of hard currency do not help the situation.

But these challenges do not stop Almissalati in her quest to empower Libyan women through tech skill acquisition. So far, the startup has been self-funded but has successfully raised sponsorship for its pilot programme which currently runs in Benghazi. “We have an amazing team and a potential partnership with a Libyan organisation that showed interest in funding our boot camp in Tripoli,” said Almissalati. Currently, the startup is looking at international partnerships for bigger projects that would have a great positive impact on Libya.

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