The situation for women entrepreneurs in Lebanon is more favourable than other countries in the Middle East. However, female entrepreneurship in Lebanon is still relatively low and the majority of women-owned businesses in the country operate in the informal sector, making it more difficult for women to access formal finance from banks. Women tend to use their personal savings to start their businesses and expansion is limited to investments that can be made from subsequent earnings.
In partnership with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women initiated a project in 2011 to support women entrepreneurs in Lebanon. Working with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization and the René Moawad Foundation, the project enabled 42 women entrepreneurs in North Lebanon to develop and scale up their micro businesses. Despite the political unrest that gripped the country, particularly affecting the North, the project achieved significant results and the growth of these businesses resulted in the creation of 49 new jobs.
Building upon the success of this project, we started work with Al Majmoua, in partnership with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, to support 200 Lebanese and Palestinian women entrepreneurs in the underserved areas of the Northern region (Tripoli and Akkar), Eastern region (Bekaa Valley), Metn region and in Saida in the South. The project provided incubation services for women who wanted to scale up their businesses and enhance their marketing, financing and networking opportunities. A key focus was building strong links with financial institutions to encourage them to provide tailored services to these women.
This project was designed to ultimately support upward the economic mobility of women in Lebanon, helping them to grow profitable and sustainable businesses that are market oriented and scalable and which will facilitate job creation.
‘This project has helped me to define my strategy, strengthen my business skills and identify new networks for the sale of my accessories.’
– Houwayda Sharaf Al Dine, project participant
Ghada Obeid moved to Palestine from Kuwait over 10 years ago and settled in the village Anabta, near Tubas, with her husband and family. Ghada is passionate about the health benefits of organic mushrooms and began growing and selling them in 2009. Producing mushrooms is a rare trade in Palestine, but Ghada was passionate about her idea and despite facing many hurdles, she successfully set up a business called Anabta Mushrooms. She uses innovative hydroponic techniques to grow the mushrooms, which she learned through various training programmes with international organisations.
The agricultural sector is a challenging industry for a woman in Palestine, as male farmers are often reluctant to work with women. Ghada herself found that some shop owners considered her work “less than” or “not serious”. Although she refused to let gender stereotypes halt her business, Ghada lacked the necessary business skills to take her enterprise to the next level. After joining our Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle-East (FWEME) project, Ghada received training in business development, English and IT. She also received support in accessing finance as well as networks, which increased her skills and knowledge and enabled her to tap into vital opportunities to expand her business.
Through the FWEME project, Ghada developed her own business plan. She says: “Previously I was very unorganized. I didn’t have a clear vision for my business, and I didn’t rely on costs and revenue when developing plans”. Ghada has also expanded her business networks and says that she “received good marketing advice through FWEME […] for example, my coaches suggested attaching a recipe to my products to attract the customer. This was a great idea and helped to increase sales!” Ghada says that sharing experiences with other women in the project, as well as the trainers, has helped her to become more open-minded.
Not only has the project improved Ghada’s business, it has also empowered her. At first her husband refused to give her permission to leave Nablus to attend the training sessions, but Ghada was determined. After her husband started to see the progress she was making he changed his mind. Now she is financially independent and can manage her children’s needs without asking her husband for support, which has given her a lot of confidence.
‘I am proud that I am able to support my family. I am inspiring other members of the family to be more independent and start their own businesses as well.’
The JPMorgan Chase Foundation is an affiliate of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Through strategic partnerships with organisations across the region, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation focuses its investments on the most vulnerable people and supports sustainable programmes that have a clear and measurable impact.
Tomorrow’s Youth Organization is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that works in disadvantaged areas of the Middle East, enabling children, youth and parents to realise their potential as healthy, active and responsible family and community members.
Al Majmoua is the leading micro-finance and Business Development Services organisation operating in all regions of Lebanon since 1994. As an independent, non-profit association, Al Majmoua is dedicated to helping disadvantaged micro-entrepreneurs, in particular women, expand their businesses and take part in a gradual and steady process of upward economic mobility by offering those sustainable financial services and adapted non-financial services.