Near East Foundation UK: Overcoming social challenges to join the world of work

Near East Foundation UK Case Study: Skills Development Fund

Ghosoun is the successful owner of a clothing business in Zarqa, Jordan. She takes great pride in her ability to contribute to her household income and support her daughters through university. But for Ghosoun, it hasn’t always been this way. Like so many women, she has had to overcome significant challenges to join the world of work and she points to support from the City & Guilds Group’s Skills Development Fund as central to achieving that.

Fewer than one in five women is employed in the Middle East and North Africa region, with workplace bias, social barriers, lack of business management experience and little access to credit all contributing to the low rate of female workforce participation.

Many women have received a good education and studies show that, with support, they could be well-positioned to take up employment. In addition, evidence from the World Bank is clear that women’s employment in the region could significantly improve household income – by as much as 25 per cent – and lead many families out of poverty. In the face of sustained political instability in some parts of the Middle East, international development organisation the Near East Foundation UK (NEF UK), is working to make this aspiration a reality for many vulnerable women and their families via an Employability and Enterprise Training programme.

Changing people’s lives

With support from the City & Guilds Group’s Skills Development Fund, NEF UK is developing a network of 24 ‘Master Trainers’ via vocational training centres – known as ‘Siraj’ centres – in Jordan. These Master Trainers will then go on to train 6,000 vulnerable refugees and Jordanians, enabling them to progress into employment, or to establish their own microenterprise and lift themselves out of their circumstances.

Working in partnership with local community associations, NEF UK provides vulnerable women from a range of backgrounds – rural and urban poor, heads of households, widows, refugees and victims of domestic violence – with support including: business incubation and development services, social support, skills development programmes, and ongoing mentoring to new and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Ghosoun, now the owner of a successful clothing business in Zarqa Jordan, is one such beneficiary. Like so many women in the Middle East, the 35-year-old faced significant obstacles to entering the workforce and strengthening her economic position. With the help of a grant from NEF UK she was able to launch her business, but continued to experience difficulties marketing her products and growing her client base, leaving her concerned her business would not be sustainable.

However, NEF UK’s focus is on providing support for the long-term. Ghosoun was subsequently given the opportunity to attend business development training with NEF at a one of their Siraj centres. This equipped her with the necessary skills to produce a business plan and has enabled her to significantly expand her clientele and offer a delivery service to meet customer need. The businesswoman now brings home between 80-100JD (Jordanian Dinar) – approximately £85- £107 – each month in profit from her business. In the average two person household in Zaqar, this is enough to cover the monthly utility bills. Ghosoun says this would not have been possible without the support of the NEF, and highlights how it is having a knock-on effect and opening doors for the next generation of women.

'NEF’s financial support helped me to start my clothing business and has enabled me to contribute to household expenses, in particular supporting my daughters at university,' she said. 'The training that was provided by NEF on developing a business plan encouraged and enabled me to rethink how to calculate the cost of goods, and also gave me more confidence when dealing with customers and suppliers.'

Ghosoun says that her customers like to buy products from her because they can get exactly what they want, at a fair price, and without having to contend with the hassle of dealing with traffic to go to the market. In the future, she hopes to build on her success by expanding the variety of clothing she markets to include higher-end items that she can sell at a higher price and increase her profit share.

The future

NEF UK is receiving funding from the City & Guilds Group to run this programme over two years, supporting women and girls to develop their skills and ultimately changing the lives of many more families in Jordan. Currently, the country has one of the largest refugee populations, with over 600,000 Syrians and 53,000 Iraqis residing there.

Director for NEF’s Employability and Enterprise Training programme, Rabih Yazbeck, said support from the Skills Development Fund will allow the organisation to continue helping vulnerable families to help themselves out of poverty. He said: 'For vulnerable Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi families, a pillar of NEF’s approach is to help them move from reliance on limited aid to self-sufficiency by connecting them with the tools they need to invest in productive activities and strengthen their economic resilience.'

'NEF is grateful that the City & Guilds Group has decided to collaborate with us on this critical economic development work in Jordan. The contribution will allow us to continue to find innovative and impactful ways to help struggling refugee families and host community families find dignified ways to lift themselves out of dire circumstances.'

Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, Chris Jones, said the work of the Near East Foundation is an embodiment of the impact that the Skills Development Fund was set up to achieve. He said: 'We are proud to be supporting such a worthwhile project, which is enabling women from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop skills and transform their futures.'

'By focusing on training, NEF is helping to equip women to make a sustainable income and change the lives not only of their own families, but of their wider communities too, ultimately helping to break the cycle of poverty.'

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