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Foundation Helps Lebanese Businesses Improve and Compete
April 16, 2010

Rania Frem strives to continue Georges N. Frem Foundation mission

By M. Scott Bortot
Staff Writer (Department of State)

Washington — Lebanon’s fruit is improving in quality and taste thanks to the efforts of a single organization.

The Georges N. Frem Foundation (GNFF) supports Lebanon’s fruit growers so they have a fighting chance in local and international markets. But this is only part of GNFF’s story.

GNFF director Rania Frem is a social entrepreneur who helped make the organization what it is today. Frem aims to improve the lives of Lebanese through a series of programs designed to maximize small business potential.

“I have committed myself and the organization to honor the legacy of its founder, translating the Frem family commitment to the well-being of society into sustainable, long-term, high-impact programs,” Frem told America.gov. “At the GNFF, we measure our success by the number of beneficiaries and the impact we have on their lives.”

Frem was invited by the Obama administration to attend the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington April 26–27 because of her efforts to promote small business growth in Lebanon.

When the GNFF transitioned from the INDEVCO (Georges N. Frem’s company) Foundation in 2002, the organization faced challenges shared by many start-ups. In particular, it needed an organized, transparent structure that would carry out the Frem mission of fostering “economic development for job creation.”

“We designed the proper structure, defined scientific criteria based on which programs we support in different sectors, and set systems and procedures,” Frem said.

Lebanon’s ancestral fruit orchards are being revived and made competitive with GNFF help. More than 472,000 imported fruit-tree rootstocks have reached Lebanese growers through the GNFF. The imports produce higher-quality fruit and more of it.

“The GNFF’s agriculture programs are specifically focused on strengthening the competitive position of Lebanese fruit growers through its orchard modernization program and agriculture and marketing extension programs,” Frem said. “GNFF’s marketing extension activities educate growers on how to better market their product and take advantage of market opportunities in local and export markets.”

Irshad News, a monthly newsletter published by the foundation, contains advice for growers on how to improve their businesses. In the March 19 issue, Irshad News reported on how local fruits could compete against agricultural imports that are promoted more actively by vendors in Lebanese stores.

“When national produce improves in terms of quality and appearance, consumers will demand more of it, leading to price rises they will be willing to pay for,” Irshad reported. “Store owners will see this happening and as a result be more concerned about the presentation of Lebanese produce.”

Supporting farmers is only one dimension of the GNFF.

Small and medium-sized Lebanese businesses use the GNFF’s Lebanese Business Network (LBN), a virtual marketplace, to reach international markets. Under Frem’s direction, the LBN matches Lebanese products and services with those of Lebanese expatriates around the world.

A microcredit financing program through the GNFF enables entrepreneurs and growers to start or expand a business.

“In addition to implementing economic development projects directly, the GNFF provides financial support and leadership to other organizations’ programs that it believes will have a significant impact on economic development,” Frem said. One such program is a business incubator. “It assists entrepreneurs and early-growth businesses in the technology and health sectors by providing business facilities, services and start-up capital.”

The foundation helps would-be Lebanese entrepreneurs even before they are old enough to start a business.

Students living in rural areas have access to free bus rides to schools through the GNFF, and the organization supports initiatives that promote responsibility and tolerance.

“We run a permanent children’s theater whose primary purpose is to disseminate values of civic education, family principles and appreciation of arts to children, their families and the community at large,” Frem said.

Frem is attending the Washington summit not only to meet entrepreneurs, but to honor President Obama’s international outreach efforts.

“President Obama declared, in his Cairo speech of June 4, 2009, a new beginning, and extended hands to the people who wish to live in peace and work towards the economic and social improvement of their people,” Frem said. “Our presence is a testimony of our desire to work with the president in achieving peace and prosperity for our nations.”