In the West Bank, Palestinian women entrepreneurs are achieving extraordinary success against huge odds. I recently had the privilege of meeting some of these women, who are part of a project that my organisation, the Trafigura Foundation, is supporting.
The initiative is helping over 200 women in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron to scale up their enterprises, through a combination of business training, coaching and incubation services.
Palestinian women entrepreneurs operate in an incredibly tough context, facing significant social, legal and religious barriers to establishing and growing businesses. Access to capital is a particular problem. Women often run micro-businesses which, because of their small size, are not prioritised by banks for loan services. Women are also unlikely to meet high interest rates or collateral demands from banks and microfinance institutions. And, last but not least, ongoing political instability means that financial institutions have become more risk averse in their lending behaviour, which further restricts women’s access to finance.
Our project has empowered women entrepreneurs to navigate these challenges. Alongside equipping women with financial literacy skills, we hosted an open house event with four financial institutions in Ramallah and Bethlehem, to enable women to learn more about the services available to them. We also worked with two banks to provide access to financial products at favourable rates. In addition, the project established a Product Development Fund, which offers grants to help women develop new or improved products and services.
The three inspiring stories below are a powerful reminder of what can happen when Palestinian women are able to access the business skills and financial tools they need to realise their ambitions. I am proud to support these incredible entrepreneurs.
After her husband died at a young age, Jameela was left with four sons to support. With no source of income or formal business training to fall back on, Jameela started taking on small embroidery jobs to earn money.
Jameela’s products quickly became popular and her enterprise soon outgrew her home. By the time Jameela joined our project she had already set up a small shop and hired staff. Given her own experience, Jameela made it her mission to employ other widows and women who were struggling for money.
But she didn’t stop there – Jameela had ambitions to expand her business even further. Through our project, she developed a new business plan, a budget for growth and a marketing strategy. As a result, she secured a bank loan which enabled her to buy a more efficient sewing machine and increase her production. Jameela also designed a new sign for her shop front, to attract tourists and new customers.
Jameela has started participating in local bazaars, where she jointly markets her embroidery with other women’s wool and accessory products. Overall, the changes Jameela has made to her business have had a real impact, boosting her profits by 30%.
Jameela now employs 15 women, mainly widows, and is determined to provide more opportunities for others. She told us: “When I started, I only needed money to pay my family’s expenses. My dream now is to expand my business to create more jobs for women in need.”
After spending fourteen years working as a chef at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Fathme decided it was time to branch out on her own. She set about making pastries and traditional Palestinian dishes, and selling them from her home. By the time we met her, Fathme’s operations had grown and she had opened her own café in Ramallah.
Eager to improve her managerial skills and grow her enterprise even further, Fathme joined our project. She received one-to-one coaching on how to work with wholesalers to purchase raw materials – reducing the overall cost of her products while continuing to see a profit from her sales. The training also taught her to prepare financial statements and budgets.
As a result, Fathme secured a bank loan as well as a grant from our project. In total she raised $3,400 to invest in her business. Fathme used this money to buy new refrigerators which allowed her to keep her ingredients fresher for longer so she could buy produce in bulk, at a cheaper price. This, in turn, enabled her to increase her production.
Fathme is passionate about collaborating with other women entrepreneurs. After attending networking events organised by the project she began buying produce from other participants, and has even become a mentor to the next cohort of women in the project.
Buoyed by her success, Fathme even entered a cookery television show, called Sorfah Daemeh, and also won first prize in a cooking contest, called ‘Today – you’re the chef’. This positive publicity has given her a competitive edge over other cafés in her area.
Sana Sweets has been in business for over a decade. Its founder, Sana, relied on the income she generated from her baked goods enterprise to support her family. They had always struggled financially but things became tougher for Sana when she had to pay for health care for her son, who has diabetes.
When Sana joined our project, she had a substantial client base but was struggling to meet her daily orders. She knew she needed better equipment to produce goods at a faster rate. Through our training, Sana secured a bank loan and a grant from our project. One of her biggest purchases was a new oven, which enabled her to save time on production and, as a result, take on more orders.
Through the project, Sana also developed a new logo and packaging, learned how to stage her products for promotional photos, and participated in various trade events and bazaars. Sana is now building her brand by using her new-found skills in social media and food photography. And she is reaping the rewards of her hard work – her monthly profits are up from $80 to $300.
Sana is optimistic about the future, telling us: “One day I will have stores in each city here in Palestine. Who knows – maybe one day I will export Sana Sweets internationally!”
And yet, while Sana is thinking globally, she is also sharing her skills locally. Sana is currently training a friend to make sweets and is encouraging her to start a business of her own.
Top image: Jameela
All images by Tamara Abdul Hadi