The conventional wisdom on Libya is that the country’s problems stem from tribalism, cultural divisions, divisive politics, and interference from foreign powers. While these factors play a role, it is important to recognise that change can also come from within, from the grassroots level.

Libya has a long history of local governance and self-organisation, with tribal and community leaders playing a significant role in decision-making. This bottom-up approach to governance has the potential to be harnessed to create positive change.

One example is the emergence of local councils in Libya’s eastern region, which have been responsible for providing basic services and maintaining security. These councils are composed of community leaders and volunteers who have stepped up to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of central authority.

Similarly, civil society groups have played an important role in promoting human rights and advocating for political reform. Despite facing significant challenges and threats from armed groups, these have continued to work towards a more just and democratic Libya.

A sustainable solution to Libya’s problems will ultimately require combining top-down and bottom-up approaches. While international actors support a political settlement and provide humanitarian aid, local actors must be empowered to shape the future and build a more inclusive and resilient society.

It is common for media coverage to focus on major political events and conflicts, while the subtler changes taking place in the business world (may) go unnoticed. However, it is important to recognise the impact of innovation, entrepreneurship, and commerce on a country’s economic growth and development.

In the case of Libya, where political instability has been a longstanding issue, some countries are taking advantage of the current commercial opportunities despite the challenges. By investing in local businesses and supporting entrepreneurial initiatives, these countries can stimulate economic two way growth and create jobs, which ultimately contributes to stability and long-term prosperity.

It is worth noting that this approach has its challenges, as businesses operating in unstable or conflict-affected environments may face various risks and obstacles. However, innovative entrepreneurs and companies can succeed even under challenging circumstances with the proper support and resources.

While political developments in Libya continue to grab headlines, it is important to recognise the potential for economic progress through entrepreneurship and commerce. By supporting local businesses and fostering a culture of innovation, countries can help to build a more sustainable and prosperous future.

Despite Libya’s small population, many people with aspirations and entrepreneurial spirit are working hard to succeed. The relative calm of the past 18 months has allowed these individuals to progress and achieve momentum through their grassroots efforts, practical applications, resilience and persistence. The underlying message is that successful commerce can drive positive change.

Regarding economic indicators, figures suggest that a growing number of entrepreneurs and business owners in Libya are actively contributing to the country’s economic growth. This could be measured by tracking the number of new businesses that have been established, the amount of investment capital being injected into the economy, and the overall level of economic growth being experienced. Other relevant indicators could include changes in unemployment rates, improvements in infrastructure and transportation systems, and increases in international trade and investment.

Headlines from the World Bank state that ‘The fiscal balance witnessed a massive reversal from a 64.1 percent of GDP deficit in 2020 to a 10.6 percent of GDP surplus in 2021’ and that “Libya’s trade and current account balances rebounded in 2021 and early 2022, thanks to recovering oil exports and receipts

As an example, indicators from external actor’s such as the United Kingdom have printed that, ‘Total trade in goods and services (exports plus imports) between the UK and Libya was £1.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022, an increase of 151.7% or £915 million from the four quarters to the end of Q2 2021. Of this £1.5 billion:

Turkey has declared that ‘Exports to Libya in Turkey increased to 239.67 USD Million in October from 213.84 USD Million in September of 2022.’

Hydrocarbons significantly contributed to trade improvements, but the private sector’s involvement in commercial trading, commodity import and export, construction, and services industries must be noted. Libyan commercial organisations are engaging with countries across the globe, which would have been impossible a few years ago. This engagement indicates that chambers and associations, driven by its members, actively participate in institutional change, vocational training, capacity building, international partnerships, innovation, and technology applications.

The international community must look beyond the headlines conveyed by the so-called experts and academics and recognise the strength of the populace. The youth and young leaders need an educational system that allows them to adapt and benefit. By supporting, developing, and motivating those who can move beyond failed historic forced methods and approaches, the future looks promising.

Many global businesses are evolving to fit new behaviours and demands, but in Libya, understanding people and supporting their commercial endeavours is fundamental to unlocking and developing their potential. By understanding Libya and its people, we can support their commercial efforts, ultimately leading to social well-being.

It is essential for those looking to engage to have a clear and consistent strategy for increasing commercial activity. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Seek clarity and support from proven trade routes, organisations, and associations helping you to establish reliable partnerships and access key contacts in the local market.
  2. Explore the opportunities that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), public-private partnerships (PPPs), and capacity building can bring so that together this can help to develop the necessary skills, resources and strategy to succeed in the local market.
  3. Clarify and identify best practices on routes to market and investigate historical obstacles to success so that the challenges and opportunities in the local market to develop an effective strategy.
  4. Research sectors and validate your prospective partners allowing you to identify the most promising opportunities and build strong relationships.
  5. Be aware of the importance of local knowledge and support which can be invaluable in navigating the market and building strong relationships with key stakeholders.
  6. Have an in-country presence as commercial success is unlikely to be achieved from afar. An in-country presence can help you build relationships with stakeholders and develop a deeper understanding.
  7. Offer solutions to problems rather than simply selling products and services, it is necessary to offer solutions to the challenges faced by local businesses and communities helping help to build trust and establish long-term relationships.
  8. Engage with local resources and partner to provide economic development and deliver commercial benefits in the local market.

The statement that ‘people are the most important resource in the world’ is particularly relevant in Libya as there is no doubt that individuals and SMEs are helping drive economic growth and progress. SME’s are essential in creating employment and driving economic growth. As Libya continues to  see that recognise this critical part of the business community and takes steps to strengthen them job opportunities will be created helping to transform the country’s economy.

Libya must continue to support the development of the whole of its commercial sector and the people within it to ensure sustained economic progress and prosperity, the statement “The power in the people is stronger than the people in power” emphasises the importance of empowerment to bring about positive change. When people come together and work towards a common goal, they can achieve great things, even in the face of adversity.

Considering Libya’s various challenges and opportunities, it is clear that a bottom-up approach to rebuilding the country’s economy and society is essential. Working directly with municipalities, local councils, civil society groups, and small and medium enterprises can contribute significantly to the country’s overall development.

Municipalities (the local government bodies responsible for providing services and infrastructure) have a unique understanding of their communities. By engaging directly with these municipalities, international actors and organisations can ensure that their support and resources are channelled effectively, resulting in a more sustainable and long-lasting impact. Furthermore, by collaborating with local councils, civil society groups, and businesses, municipalities can create tailored solutions that address their communities’ unique needs and challenges.

In conclusion, a bottom-up approach to Libya’s development can strengthen local governance, improve service delivery and boost economic growth by harnessing the power and potential of communities and individuals. As the country continues to navigate the complexities of political instability and conflict, it is crucial to recognise and support the grassroots efforts that can drive positive change and contribute to a more inclusive, resilient, and prosperous society.

Time for a bottom-up approach in Libya?

The BRITISH LIBYAN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION – supporting commercial engagement in Libya