SPARK offers access to higher education and supports entrepreneurship development in fragile states so that young, ambitious people can lead their societies into stability and prosperity.
SPARK offers a variety of business and entrepreneurship programmes around the world. We believe that sustainable, economic growth is essential for the alleviation of poverty. By offering private-sector development services young people in conflict-affected regions, to improve their socioeconomic status. In doing so, the potential for further conflict is significantly reduced.
In terms of business development in fragile states, we are a full-service organisation. We offer a range of options that enable local partner organisations to provide existing SME’s and new entrepreneurs with all the tools they need to flourish. In the past decade, SPARK has set up around ten Business Support Centres in the EU and Africa. Business plan competitions are also often organised, and winners of these competitions receive business skills trainings. Another of the tools we offer is value chain development and access to finance. Finally, we work closely with various governments in fragile states to improve conditions for entrepreneurs and job creators.
SPARK is responding to the higher education crisis for Syrian refugees and vulnerable youth residing in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq/KRG. A lack of opportunities can lead young adults into poverty, radicalisation or to take the dangerous journey to Europe. By offering young people a chance to continue their education in the region, an educated workforce will be available to rebuild Syria once the conflict is over. Scholarships are offered for courses necessary for rebuilding, e.g. Civil Engineering, Childhood Education and Psychology.
In the MENA region, SPARK offers three solutions; scholarship packages, language & vocational trainings, and advocacy. Our scholarship packages allow vulnerable young people, primarily Syrian refugees, to access higher education in the region. By partnering with local universities, we ensure that successful applicants are automatically offered a place at an institution, without having to further apply. The packages also offer student services, including psychosocial support; economic empowerment courses; and leadership development. In addition to these activities, smaller-scale vocational and language courses are provided. Finally, SPARK encourages hosting governments to introduce better regulations for integrating refugees into the educational system.
SPARK consults with its stakeholders in the design of its interventions by conducting needs assessments and baseline surveys. Stakeholder perception and satisfaction survey also provide information to SPARK for meeting the real needs of its beneficiaries. Overall, SPARK’s field presence enables the organisation to be in consultation with its direct stakeholders.
Inspired by a lecture they attended as students at the University of Amsterdam, directors, Yannick du Pont and Michel Richter, began SPARK in 1994. Following a presentation by an 18 year-old boy who spoke about his experiences in a detention camp in the Balkans, Yannick and Michel knew that this would be a life changing moment.
Deeply impressed by the story, the two friends took action by recruiting students and professors to form the ‘Youth in Solidarity with Yugoslavia’ (YSY) Foundation. The group sought to enable their peers in the Balkans by improving the educational system and restructuring and reforming universities.
After several more programmes, YSY shook off its student image and transformed itself into the Academic Training Association (ATA). Funds were secured to finance a Summer School in Pristina, Kosovo in 2001 and a total of 30 courses were provided. Even though ATA’s educational programmes were a success, participating students were still left unemployed due to the lack in employment opportunities. As a result, ATA combined their expertise in education and youth with elements of business to boost the economy in post-conflict societies.
Seven years later, ATA had evolved into SPARK. Bustling with ambition, SPARK decided to expand its activities into post-conflict societies far beyond the Balkans and opened up offices in Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Enabling entrepreneurs worldwide to set up businesses and provide access to higher education for students in fragile states.