|Top US CEOs flesh out job-creation plan for Lebanon
|'When you invest in a country, you make money for everybody' - embassy official
A fund led by leading American CEOs will finance initiatives in Lebanon to promote job creation and workforce training, and develop the information technology sector, the group announced at the Paris III conference Thursday.
The Lebanese-American Partnership - including the heads of Microsoft, Citigroup, Cisco Systems, Intel, Ghafari Inc., and Occidental Petroleum - did not specify the value of the fund, or whether it would invest in income-generating activities. But the first $1 million raised will fund relief projects.
The group has already compiled a list of 100 potential recipients in the Lebanese private sector, including ventures in technology, tourism, banking and finance, agri-business, healthcare and manufacturing.
In mid-February, partnership representatives will meet with US-government commercial agencies, as well as Kafalat and the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, to consider joint ventures or other injections of capital to develop the projects.
"The US-Lebanon Partnership is a great friend to the people of Lebanon, and a leader in the effort to marshal international support for the rebuilding efforts," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said at a meeting of the group on Thursday morning, which was also attended by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
"Lebanon faces real and substantial challenges in the wake of the recent conflict, with damages to homes, schools and other critical infrastructure costing billions of dollars," he added. "We will continue to work with the leaders of the partnership to find a more stable and prosperous future for the Lebanese people."
The partnership was formed in September at the request of US President George W. Bush.
Rice said Thursday that the fund would help lay the foundation for sustained economic growth and long-term stability.
The partnership is working to identify and place 500 Lebanese interns in Lebanon and the US over the next three years. The heads of the group have committed to placing 115 interns within their own companies.
Cisco also pledged to open new network academies in Lebanon to train people for IT careers. Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers visited Lebanon in November and promised $10 million on the spot, a US Embassy official told The Daily Star. Cisco officials were in Lebanon Monday and Tuesday to flesh out plans for the partnership.
In Paris, Chambers, Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel Corporation, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed to bolster Lebanon's IT infrastructure by developing the international gateway and Internet-exchange point that connect the country to the world's telecommunications networks. Partnership companies will provide online access points so the public will have easier access to public resources such as health care information, online education, online libraries and job training.
Assistance will also be made available to the Lebanese Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, a key to privatizing the Lebanese telecom sector, in establishing an enabling environment for ICT in Lebanon that can promote innovation, investment and infrastructure development.
The initiatives were designed to foster long-term cooperation between the American and Lebanese private sectors, and partner companies have expressed their commitment to creating lasting, sustainable development.
"This is just a starting point," the embassy official said.
"It's not just we dump some money there. They're very interested in building something that's sustainable. When you invest in a country, you make money for everybody.
"We want to show US support for Lebanon is not just government funds. The American people want to work with the Lebanese people."
The Daily Star