U.S. envoy urges clampdown on corruption in Lebanon

“We have given our support since day one,” Richard, left, during the conference with Zeenni and Karam. (The Daily Star/HO)

BEIRUT: U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said Thursday that the new Lebanese government needs to tackle corruption and improve transparency in order to safeguard the country’s economy. “We are encouraged by the commitment stated by virtually every political party during the elections to tackling the problems of corruption and transparency. With Lebanon having dropped from 136 in the 2016 Transparency International corruption ratings to 143 of 180 countries in 2017, you must hold your government to account in getting hold of a problem that threatens the entire economy,” Richard said.

Her remarks came during a news conference to announce that a group of 25 Lebanese executives will soon travel to Silicon Valley to network with tech giants, gain expertise in their fields and look for investment opportunities, as part of the third edition of Startup Lebanon.

Thursday’s event was organized by the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, and was also attended by tech business experts.

“We have given our support since day one,” Richard said. “Together, we have a very fruitful history of economic ties between the two countries. This high-tech AmCham retreat is a great opportunity to meet with Silicon Valley experts and innovators. It offers them a chance to experience Silicon Valley firsthand.”

The ambassador noted that $4.5 million has been invested in 16 Lebanese startups and two investment firms through USAID.

She stressed that foreign investment in Lebanon is critical for the country’s growth, but pointed out the need to address corruption through reforms and transparency.

In the third edition of Startup Lebanon, the Executive Innovation Retreat, June 4-8, aims to promote business relations between Lebanon and the U.S. through tours and meetings with major technology firms, such as Google and Facebook. The Lebanese executives will take part in a two-day design workshop held by global design firm Frog Design.

“At heart of our mission, AmCham is devoted to developing the relationship between Lebanon and the United States, where Lebanese people excel here and in the U.S. This year, we went a step further. We want them to learn about cutting edge technology and the future of innovation,” said Salim Zeenni, chairman of the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce.

“Whereas the first two years focused on enabling and empowering entrepreneurs and innovators for the bottom-up impact that sparks cultural change, this year AmCham is focusing on large enterprises that form the backbone of Lebanon’s economy for top-down results that will transform the economy through innovation,” event organizer and founder of Startup Megaphone Samer Karam said.

“The idea was to understand the ecosystem in Silicon Valley, to develop a relationship with Lebanon, to bridge the relationship in an organized context and to have some form of expertise-sharing between both ecosystems, especially because Capital Markets Authority and the Central Bank have been heavily involved in promoting the knowledge economy,” said audience member and 2016 participant Tarek Zebian, director of research and communication at the Capital Markets Authority. “For us, if we manage to get lessons learned from Silicon Valley, recipes for success would be an added value for the ecosystem in Beirut. One of our takeaways was the close proximity and support between the technology institutions, the education facilities and the availability of capital.”

The American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce launched Startup Lebanon in 2015 as a series of bridge-building events, with a focus on the knowledge economy.

The first edition, Startup Lebanon – New York City, showcased Lebanese startups and entrepreneurs at a conference featuring keynotes, panels and an exhibition. The second edition, Startup Lebanon – Silicon Valley Roadshow, took place in 2016 and showcased the best of Silicon Valley. Twenty-five executives, entrepreneurs, startups and investors participated in the five-day program, with visits to Facebook, Google, Instagram and Stanford University.

This third edition will be Lebanon’s first innovation retreat for senior executives from Lebanon’s leading firms and institutions. Participants will include Fadel Group, Lucid Investment Bank, CMA, LBC TV, the Lebanese office of Philip Morris, Itani Group, Haykel Hospital, Born Interactive, Booz Allen, and MT2.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 25, 2018, on page 4.




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