Although Lebanon is not at war, life there remains far from easy.
These are difficult economic times for the country. The vast influx of refugees from neighbouring Syria has placed considerable strain on relations. Over one million Syrian refugees currently live among Lebanon’s domestic population of four million. The country has a land area of 10.452 km², which is just a quarter of the size of the Netherlands. The simple jobs that were previously so readily available there, are now often done by Syrian refugees.
As a result of these challenges, PUM was asked to carry out a number of missions in Lebanon. PUM therefore began operating in Lebanon on 1 July 2016. And Jan Koeman, had the honour of being selected to depart for this quite exceptional country.
Jan Koeman: “I am to advise the Bread Basket Square Bakery in Tripoli. Tripoli is a city with a population of roughly one million, located in the north of the country. The bakery is run by Soumaya, a keen young lady who founded the business with the joint assistance of her family and investors. It has a production line manufacturing Lebanese pita bread, made of either rye flour, oats or spelt, and intended for the rapidly expanding health food market.
On my first day there, I observed the working methods applied and listed the range of other products manufactured. The bakery is keen to make the widest possible use of natural and preferably organic ingredients. It presents itself as a wheat and gluten-free bakery. It is going to be quite a challenge to come up with good products therefore, as wheat flour is pretty much an essential ingredient in baking.
During a team meeting, I am introduced to the new sales team, and witness first-hand how 28-year- old Soumaya keeps a firm hold on the reins, while keeping everyone motivated with her adept use of humour. And although this builds confidence, the key issues during the weeks and months ahead will be to make the right marketing decisions and employ the right people. While this is the fourth year that the bakery has been operating, after incurring substantial start-up losses, Soumaya is nevertheless determined to make a success of it. Although outsiders had only criticism for her decision to employ a Syrian refugee as a member of the production team, it certainly promotes faith in this exceptional bakery’s sense of social responsibility.