Rationale and Background:

Fragility, poverty, and gender inequality are interconnected issues that can be addressed through entrepreneurship and the closing of gender gaps. Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are crucial in fragile settings, as they are often more flexible than larger foreign firms and able to maintain business continuity during times of insecurity. In addition to providing goods and services, MSMEs also create employment opportunities that are essential for both livelihood support during conflicts and for reconstruction and development in the aftermath.

However, many MSMEs, especially those owned or led by women, are forced to close during these critical times. The Business Resilience Assistance for Value-Adding Enterprises (BRAVE) program was designed to enhance the resilience of private enterprises in fragile contexts and serve as a catalyst for innovation, employment, and improved quality of life. BRAVE provides specialized business training and grant-matching support to help businesses maintain operations and create new employment opportunities.

The program was originally implemented in Yemen in 2016 by the IsDB/ICD, funded by the MENA Transition Fund, and has since been replicated in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Yemen through the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).

Program objective: to support the Private Sector actors in Fragile and Conflict-affected States (FCS):

The traditional response to supporting businesses affected by conflict is usually to intervene during the aftermath rather than in the immediate. Furthermore, the majority of post-conflict reconstruction programs tend to be purely humanitarian in nature and neglect the private sector. International programs such as these may distribute direct cash, medical supplies, and so on.

BRAVE, conversely, found a new way of supporting the private sector during episodes of conflict (rather than after it) where fighting has paralyzed economic activity and put MSMEs at risk. BRAVE has been designed to enhance the resilience of MSMEs, value chain lead firms, and business associations/cooperatives in fragile contexts, with the potential for scaling up and replication. It aims to address the economic problems induced by the ongoing conflict and fragility context, ensuring the resilience of the private sector as the engine of sustainable growth. The project is supporting firms via the provision of grant-matching assistance coupled with specialized business trainings to help businesses maintain and survive through difficult times.

Components of BRAVE:

BRAVE is a multi-component and multi-country program, with potential for scaling up and replication.

It combines training and grant matching aimed at supporting MSMEs’ investments for resilience and growth. The program is packaged around several components that are structured to serve 2 main objectives: 1) collecting a large sample of firms (MSMEs, Lead firms, Business Associations/Cooperatives) who to provide training to 2) further categorizing those firms based on size and importance in the economic sectors of the different countries to allow the grant and its matching counterpart to respond to the firms’ specific needs. Sectors and number of beneficiaries are expected to have some variation from country to country to address the specific needs of those firms within the general approach adopted at the program level.

In parallel to those components, BRAVE invests in the local Project Management Units (PMUs) and IT system to provide the local implementation agencies with additional human, operational, and technology capabilities towards that objective. Moreover, lessons learned and applied methods provide donors with additional experience with possible applicability in similar conflict-affected environments.

There are 5 components of BRAVE set up to deliver its objective:

Theory of Change:

The design of the BRAVE is based on the following theory of change: providing specialized business training and grant-matching assistance will help businesses maintain and continue operating in a fragile context. Ultimately, it will improve the operational and financial performance of MSMEs, create new employment opportunities, improve the quality of existing jobs, increase their access to finance, and improve the quality of life for the local communities.

The following figure illustrates BRAVE’s Theory of Change:



BRAVE inspired confidence to expand

“BRAVE came like a light of hope to us, to say that we are not alone ... and encouraged us to open a new branch,” said Elham Jameel, Executive Director of healthcare firm BioMove. “Our vision in the BioMove center is to reach every home that has a person with special needs in Yemen,” Elham said the private sector had been neglected – no one supported it. “We were surprised that BRAVE supported the private sector.” BioMove transforms people’s lives through prosthetics and physical therapy: “There was a lot of pressure on us, as many cases came from cities outside Sana’a, searching first for a place to stay to get treated.” 


A stitch in time for clothing companies 

Al-Ameer Tailoring Factory was established in Sana’a in 1984 and won support from BRAVE that enabled the firm to continue operating “in all circumstances” despite the challenges, said facility owner Mohammed Aldubai. “BRAVE allowed us to expand the number of our customers because of the high-quality product we offer.” The support also enabled staff expansion, from 60 to 100 workers, with further plans for growth, including for more female staff, Mohammed said. Retailers said the quality of the product could now match that available outside Yemen – yet at local costs. “We weren’t the only ones who benefited,” Mohammed said, “everyone benefited”.


BRAVE Women is different from other programs for women

Azah Shoukri, owner of Sabia for cloth: “We already got in the past different support programs from several local or international organizations but, with BRAVE Women project it’s completely different. This unique project starts first with professional training to enhance our capabilities to prepare our business continuity plan and then we can get access to the matching grant support. In addition, local banks are supporting us as well to get loans. In the last 5 years, all the financial institutions in Yemen stopped giving loans to women entrepreneurs but now we are so excited to get back those services. This restores the trust relationship between women entrepreneurs and the banks which have been completely lost during the war”.



Providing affordable education services in a war zone

Mrs. Elham Haider is the principal of Alnabras school in Taiz which is one of the most affected areas in Yemen: “Due to the current situation in Taiz, most of the public services were partially stopped including education. 80% of the education facilities are not functioning with most of them destroyed because of the ongoing conflict. In some areas, schools have been taking over by militaries and are regularly targeted by airstrikes. Lately, with life conditions getting worse, I decided with my team to make our services affordable so many students will have a chance to go back to the education system. In the last 3 years, we succeeded to cover our operational costs and allowed internally displaced students to come back to school as well. 


More stories in video:

Thematic areas of the Program:

Fragility: PS intervention in fragile settings

In Conflict-Affected Environments (CAEs), a combination of restoring macro stability; building infrastructure to create employment and address a possible binding constraint to growth; promoting entrepreneurship, and improving the functioning of value chains that matter for the poor, is proven to be effective.

BRAVE has been designed to address the challenges faced in fragile settings: specifically, help to address the drivers of fragility through inclusive and equitable access to employment and improve financing institutional capacity to create sustainable and profitable economic opportunities. Given the usual limited local stakeholders' oversight and control when operating in a context of high fragility/conflict, BRAVE has been designed to limit the potential misuse of funds or fraud.

MSME Support:

BRAVE is focusing on developing and increasing the economic opportunities for MSMEs through skills training aimed at business viability (i.e., profitability) in targeted country-specific value chains. It will enhance the bankability, entrepreneurial, and market development skills of MSMEs which are critical to sustainable local growth and job creation. Furthermore, it will promote pro-poor growth by targeting the value chain in the market segments and sectors where the majority of the poor earn their living and tackle gender disparities in economic opportunities by targeting women entrepreneurs.

Specific to conflict-affected settings, firms need to focus on managing risk while investing in growth. BRAVE focuses primarily on planning for and co-funding (by matching grants) capital expenditure on productive assets for MSMEs. This allows for easier tractability of donor funding, better leverage potentials with the local financiers keen to offer short-term working capital, and prioritization of investment options by the entrepreneurs while observing short-term market risks and long-term opportunities. These assets are procured via the local partner banks participating in the scheme, thus ensuring mutual commitment, actual delivery, and subsequent monitoring of asset performance, which improves the attraction of the firms to the banks. In conflict-affected contexts where banks tend to be even more conservative lenders, such engagement allows a gradual shift from collateral-based finance to viability lending.

Value Chain support:

Conflict affects the way information and technology are available and used in value chains. Conflict and fragility may drive the introduction of new technologies and innovation. Conversely, previously accessible sources of information and technology may have been lost during the conflict. Enterprise growth/resilience interventions should design an exit strategy. The value chain development approach in BRAVE targets enhancing the lead firms, Business Associations, and sector-specific cooperatives and aims to ensure the sustainability of impact in target sectors. Collective action organizations such as Business Associations/Cooperatives can play a key role in helping enterprises and producers to address value chain requirements irrespective of their exact legal form. They can facilitate and leverage market linkages for small-scale entrepreneurs and producers, improve their bargaining power and access to market information. A Value Chain Development approach can help in providing crucial information about end markets and about key underlying constraints that hinder further development. This in turn can inform and enhance the work of business associations and cooperatives or help small entrepreneurs in the decision of why and how to form a collective action organization.

Women Empowerment

Female entrepreneurship in fragile contexts is mainly driven by necessity rather than an opportunity. During periods of conflict women have even fewer opportunities for employment; according to the OECD, 43% of those in severe poverty live in countries in fragile situations, 70% of which are women, youth, and children. Encouragingly though, one of the predicaments for women to emancipate from poverty is entrepreneurship. In this context, access to financial and non-financial services is one of the biggest barriers to starting and growing MSMEs, especially for women which are disproportionately affected by a number of factors, including their low education levels, the burden of care work, and poor infrastructure, no access to information and no control over land, inheritance and other productive assets. Besides, women entrepreneurs usually operate in a contextual vicious circle of informality, which isolates them from formal business networks and financial institutions systems.

Moreover, many women entrepreneurs in the missing middle segment, although they may have a personal and/or business account, are not taking full advantage of the array of services financial institutions provide because of a limited amount of education about those services. Furthermore, in the context of fragile and/or conflict settings, market failures have a higher effect on hampering investments channeled towards developing and growing women-led/owned enterprises and value-adding enterprises among the MSME sector in general.

As such, the IsDB/ICD fine-tuned the initial BRAVE design and implementation structure to have better women inclusion and empowerment. As a result, it conceived a tailored-women MSME support intervention namely “BRAVE Women” as a solution for women entrepreneurs’ resilience in fragile settings. BRAVE Women is innovative and unique as it tackles and addresses the typical constraints faced by women entrepreneurs including the lack of access to finance, inadequate business skills, inadequately skilled labor, limited access to market, lack of equipment and technology, and restrictive regulatory frameworks. BRAVE Women Program is currently implemented in Yemen, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.


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