July 6, 2023

How do refugee artisans grow their businesses through e-commerce?

 In a world marred by displacement and adversity, Aya and Mahmoud, Syrian refugees residing in Jordan, have defied the odds and established a successful business. Through their passion for art and creativity, they have crafted unique handcrafted pieces and found solace and empowerment in their entrepreneurial journey. With the support of an e-commerce platform called Souqfann, they have been able to transform their home-based business into a scalable enterprise, expanding their skills, customer base, and revenue.

Jordan, a country hosting the second-highest number of refugees worldwide, faced numerous challenges in providing support opportunities for displaced individuals. Among these refugees are Syrian nationals who have fled their war-torn country in search of safety and a chance to rebuild their lives. However, the reality for Syrian refugees in Jordan is stark: 83% of Syrian refugees outside camps in Jordan live below the poverty line, making them highly dependent on humanitarian aid. The journey of refugees often involves overcoming tremendous hardship. Yet despite these hurdles, there are stories of resilience and success that illuminate the indomitable spirit of refugee entrepreneurs. Aya Emad Ismail Al Aloul and Mahmoud Walid Mohammed Nazih Nqshbandi, both Syrian refugees residing in Jordan, embody the power of entrepreneurship and determination in the face of adversity.

The Challenges Faced by Refugees in Jordan

Jordan is a home to a large population of refugees, with over 760,000 registered individuals seeking to change their lives for the better. These refugees grapple with a range of challenges and obstacles, including limited access to employment, education, and healthcare. Although Syrians share a similar culture to Jordanians, they still face obstacles in integrating into the host society due to their refugee status. Discrimination and limited opportunities hinder their path to self-sufficiency and independence. In the face of such adversity, entrepreneurial ventures offer hope for a brighter future. By starting their own businesses, refugees can create employment opportunities for themselves and others, thereby contributing to the local economy while gaining a sense of empowerment and independence. 

 Aya and Mohammed’s Entrepreneurial Journey

In 2013, Aya Emad Ismail Al Aloul, a 24-year-old Syrian, arrived in Jordan along with her family of five. Joining her in seeking refuge was Mahmoud Walid Mohammed Nazih Nqshbandi, a 50-year-old Syrian, accompanied by his family of thirteen. Despite the immense hurdles faced as refugees, they clung to a shared vision of becoming business-owners. 

Their entrepreneurial journey began in 2015 with modest equipment, as they started creating beautiful paintings and decorative flower vases. Aya’s passion for art and Mahmoud’s eye for detail converged, giving rise to a business deeply rooted in craftsmanship and unparalleled uniqueness. What sets their business apart is the handmade touch evident in each and every piece. Their dedication to exceptional quality and distinctiveness has attracted a wide customer base, especially housewives seeking elegant home décor and distinctive gifts.

A turning point arrived when they joined Souq Fann, an e-commerce platform that connects artists, artisans, and handicraft producers throughout Jordan to new markets. As part of SPARK’s Jobs and Perspectives programme, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, they received specialised mentorship and coaching in marketing, packaging, and showcasing their products. SPARK’s partner in Jordan, Souq Fann, equipped them with the necessary tools to effectively market their products, showcase their stories, and offer payment, delivery, and customer support services. 

Since joining Souq Fann, both Aya and Mahmoud have experienced a significant surge in their online sales and customer orders. Aya acknowledges that their affiliation with the artistic marketplace has not only provided innovative ideas but has also opened up new avenues for marketing creations. The expansion of their online store and their growing following on social media bears testimony to their success. Their appeal has extended beyond the borders of Jordan, resonating with customers worldwide who appreciate owning a piece of the rich mosaic heritage of the country.  

Amidst the array of challenges they have encountered, from marketing and packaging to sourcing high-quality materials, Aya and Mahmoud have remained resilient and resourceful by adapting to the ever-changing demands of the market. The pair have needed to seek out alternative suppliers to overcome difficulties in sourcing sewing materials crucial for her craft. They aspire to expand their handmade artwork and enhance their packaging techniques. They aim to introduce new products that cater to the diverse needs and preferences of customers of all ages, envisioning a future where they run their own workshop, ceaselessly creating products that fulfil consumers’ desires.

At the core of the Souq Fann platform’s initiatives are the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women entrepreneurs. As part of the program, 50 women, including 13 refugees, joined the platform to grow their businesses, following in the footsteps of Aya and Mahmoud. By providing opportunities and support, the platform and its partners strive to create a more inclusive society, enabling women entrepreneurs to thrive.

Supporting refugees like Aya and Mahmoud at this critical stage is not merely an act of goodwill; it is a recognition of the immense potential they possess. By empowering them through their creative talents and entrepreneurial spirit, we unlock their untapped potential. Beyond financial aid, this approach nurtures a profound sense of dignity and self-reliance, fostering their ability to shape their own destinies.  As Mahmoud wisely stated, “Failure is not when you lose, it’s when you quit.” These words encapsulate the resilience and determination that define Aya and Mahmoud’s journey. They faced and overcame numerous obstacles, refusing to give up on their dreams and aspirations. Hence, by supporting refugee entrepreneurs, we provide them with the tools to persevere, turning setbacks into stepping stones towards success. 

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