Women-owned enterprises represent a very small number of total enterprises in Palestine; they tend to be small-scale and are often home-based. The main constraints facing female entrepreneurs in Palestine are access to capital and markets and deeply embedded cultural attitudes which make it difficult for women to start or grow a business enterprise.
In partnership with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO), the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women implemented a project in Nablus which ran from December 2009 to February 2011. The aim of the project was to support a group of women entrepreneurs to develop innovative and successful businesses based on their individual skills, education and goals.
The project supported a total of 24 craftswomen and university graduates to develop sustainable businesses by providing support with product development, training in key business skills and access to networks. Women were supported to set up a range of businesses, including a socially responsible paper recycling initiative, a coffee roasting venture and a sheep farm.
The project also provided further tailored support to those women entrepreneurs seeking to scale up their businesses and develop their marketing, financing and networking opportunities. The project combined its efforts with TYO Lebanon in order to create a wider network for women entrepreneurs across the Middle East, helping to create a more secure future for countless families.
‘On the first day of the training I felt confused. I was worried about whether I would succeed or not. After the training, I feel now that I’m capable of starting my business and am confident about my abilities to succeed.’
– Programme participant
When Aya first heard about our project she saw it as the first step to turning her dream of owning her own farm into reality. Traditionally, in Palestine, men own the farms and women assist with the work. Aya is now the first woman in Palestine to own and raise sheep.
Aya’s farm is called “Solidarity Farm,” a symbol of the cooperation she hopes to encourage among her employees. In the initial stages of her project she purchased sheep that were two and a half months old, and raised them for four months before selling them to local butchers’ shops. She also slaughtered sheep directly on her farm and sold the meat to restaurants and hotels in Nablus. She has formed links with a number of local butchers and secured contracts with several of them for local purchases.
Aya received a plot of land from her father and constructed a barn where the sheep are raised. Since the start of her business in 2010 she has been granted $5,000 from the Welfare Association after winning its ‘Innovative Palestinian Youth’ award, and was also given $5,000 by the Business Women’s Forum after winning its Business Plan Competition. Aya invested her award money back into her business, and by 2012, she had earned enough profit to expand her farmland and construct a second barn to house more sheep. She uses the profits from her operations to put back into the business, gradually increasing the number of sheep on her farm. Her goal is to eventually have over 500 sheep.
Before engaging with the project, people in Aya’s community would laugh at her plans but with the support of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization and the other women entrepreneurs she has met through the project, Aya has stayed confident and pursued her business plans, taking on challenges as they come.
Looking to the future, Aya hopes to employ more staff and continue using new ideas and techniques on her farm. She also hopes to become a financially and socially independent woman and to inspire other women to create their own businesses.
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.