Arab women chart a new business path
Meet a group of Arab women entrepreneurs and find out how women thrive when they get access to finance and support to develop their business. And when women flourish, the whole economy benefits.
At Zain Innovation Campus in the centre of Amman, young Jordanians come to pitch and share their ideas with fellow entrepreneurs, students and professionals. “In many ways it’s a golden era of entrepreneurship, born from very difficult circumstances,” says Emile Cubeisy, the manager of Badia Impact Fund, which offers mentoring and capital to young people and women. “If we collectively harness this opportunity we can do something very special.”
The women whose stories we tell here—Amina, Hayat, Adla, Shua’a, Amani and Chirine—are charting a new path for women entrepreneurs and professionals in the EU’s Southern Neighborhood, covering 10 North African and Middle Eastern countries. The European Investment Bank invests in that new path by financing funds like Badia Impact and backing projects in which women and girls benefit equally and equitably.
Liwwa is one of 11 early stage high-tech companies in the Badia Impact Fund’s portfolio. It is an online platform, where borrowers can apply for small business loans quickly and on reasonable terms.
A loan from Liwwa meant Amina al-Ramadna’s company could expand to meet a growing demand. Amina is the founder of Amman-based Green Fields Oil Factory, a now leading manufacturer, supplier, exporter and importer of natural oil and plant-based products. The work at the factory begins with carefully cold-pressing fresh seeds and ends with the bottling of haircare and skincare products, supplements, and food.
When Amina applied for a loan at Liwwa, the company checked her business as a whole. But it did not ask for her husband’s authorization—a step that is typical in the region. “They treated me like a human being and not like someone who needs approval to get a loan or run a business,” says Amina.
The European Investment Bank’s office in Jordan’s capital coordinates with partners on the ground and works closely with the government.
The Badia Impact Fund is one of the European Investment Bank’s most active venture capital funds in Jordan. The EU bank invested US$8 million (JD6.7 million) in Badia Impact to support young Jordanian entrepreneurs, especially women.
Around 8 000 other Jordanian women turned their activities into booming businesses, thanks to the support of the Microfund for Women and the financial backing of the European Investment Bank. Our close partnership with the EU Commission is key to making projects like these a reality.
The impact of the Microfund goes far beyond money. It is also about cultural change, as successful women inspire their daughters and other women.
In the hills of Ain El Basha, 20km north of Amman, Hayat manages a successful farm, owning 200 sheep and selling milk and cheese. She is her family’s main provider, a unique case in the region. Starting with 10 sheep, Hayat explains that the Microfund gave her the money to buy more and provided expertise on managing expenses, packaging and marketing her products.
“I went from zero to the best,” says Hayat. “I’m the master of my family.”
Two decades ago, Adla picked wild thyme leaves for recipes in the area around Jerash, an ancient city brimming with Roman sites. Now she runs a popular grocery store, with the backing of a loan from the Microfund for Women.
“I became an example and other women are following my footsteps. I started from nothing and managed to be very successful,” says Adla.
Her business created six permanent jobs. During harvest season, six more women work to prepare the pickles and jam.
The EU Bank is providing €860 million of loans and grants to Jordan during 2019-2020 for priority projects in various sectors, including small businesses and start-ups.
Jordan hosts almost 1.5 million Syrian refugees, who face monumental challenges when starting a business. The Microfund for Women helps them overcome the odds by extending loans.
“I went to the Microfund for Women and told them I had a sewing machine and wanted to expand my business,” says Shua’a.
A talented Syrian dressmaker, Shua’a has made Jordan her home for more than 20 years. She expanded her business thanks to the Microfund for Women and reinvests her profits to buy more fabric and sell more dresses.
When civil war started tearing Syria apart, Amani fled to Jordan with her family. The young woman and her husband started selling sweets to make a living. Soon they were doing enough to open their own business.
But the intricacies of the bureaucracy can be a challenge. The Microfund for Women supported the young couple and explained to them all the procedures, local market rules and regulations. The aim: to give their four children a better start in life.
“This business with my husband is for them, everything is for them,” says Amani.
Moving to Lebanon, to the town of Zahle in the heart of the Bekaa valley, we find the Lebanese Company for Modern Food Industry. It is one of the region's largest and best-known producers and distributors of Middle Eastern fresh food. The company's products are marketed under the Gardenia Grain D'Or brand name, in around 3000 sales units domestically and in 42 destinations worldwide.
Lebanon-based Byblos Bank is backing small and medium-sized companies like Gardenia Grain D'Or with a €200 million European Investment Bank credit line. The EU bank’s support is part of its Economic Resilience Initiative, designed to strengthen the Southern Neighborhood’s ability to withstand shocks.
In this video, you will meet Chirine Harb, a successful Quality Control Manager at Gardenia Grain D’Or. She is a good example of the way investment can help retain talent and stem the brain drain, as she did not have to leave the countryside to work in the city.