Armenia (August 2018) — International development organisation, Near East Foundation UK (NEF) and the Women’s Development Resource Centre Foundation (WDRCF) are implementing a project co-funded by the European Union entitled EU4Women: Economic Empowerment through Social Enterprise. The project aims to strengthen sustainability and increase resources of Armenian civil society organisations (CSOs) involved in advocacy work and programs on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
In early 2018, business model innovation trainings began with the goal of helping a group of Armenian CSOs rethink their operational and finance models around a clear mission to introduce new financing approaches such as private sector funding, crowdfunding, and establishing social enterprises. The ultimate goal is for CSOs to realign their resources, processes and revenue formula, and proactively navigate trends that will ensure their future in delivering women’s economic empowerment programs in their communities.
Since June, trainings have been conducted for thirty representatives from twelve CSOs in the Yerevan, Lori, Gegharkunik, Syunik and Aragatsotn regions. NEF Armenia Country Director, Arpine Baghdoyan, commented on the progress so far, saying “It’s so exciting to see how participants are inspired by the project. Social entrepreneurship is a new field for most of the participating CSOs, so it’s a huge responsibility to coach them in this interesting journey. Local organisations start thinking not only about their future but try to initiate projects which are to the best advantage for local women. We will do this together!”
Nvard Khachatryan, a staff member from the Meghri Women Resource Centre, also spoke about attending the training. “Now, after Business Model Innovation trainings, we have a clear vision about the project which we want to implement, we see the risks, we see our weak points, and we are ready to go on learning. We are not afraid of challenges, and we are ready to find solutions.”
The next step for Nvard and other participants will be targeted coaching paired with a small grants averaging EUR 1,500 for each participant CSO to begin implementing their strategies. The project will also incorporate a series of roundtables bringing together CSO’s and private sector actors to explore opportunities for collaboration and produce plans for joint actions. Results from these business model innovation activities will be replicated through regional mentorship circles, which will incorporate a range of CSOs and private sector actors to enhance sustainability and replication of these efforts.
Ultimately, the project builds on the capacity of twelve civil society organisations to develop business plans and capitalize on co-financing support. At least six hundred women will benefit from the improved abilities of the CSOs, which include economic empowerment programs and advocacy campaigns to advance economic rights and equality for women. A portion of these women will benefit from direct involvement with the social enterprises once they are established.
A second round of training and coaching will focus on social entrepreneurship as a financing approach and will serve to guide CSOs through market research and developing business plans. CSOs with viable plans will receive a grant, averaging EUR 20,000 (USD 23,252), to launch social enterprises with continued coaching and mentoring from NEF and WDRCF. CSOs social enterprises will have the opportunity to participate in market fairs while receiving marketing support. Additionally, NEF aims to develop a microfranchising model involving social enterprises as franchisees.
When Alzheimer’s rendered her father unable to care for himself, Rashedeh left her job as a seamstress to be his full-time caregiver. After his passing a few years ago, Rashedeh was devastated by the loss, and felt lost about how to shape the next phase of her life. Logistically, she knew that the minimal government assistance they were receiving would be discontinued, and she needed to do something to provide for her family.
Rashedeh, a Palestinian Jordanian, grew up and still resides in a predominantly Palestinian settlement near the city of Irbid. She lives with her sister and niece and is their sole provider since the death of their brother a number of years back. Rashedeh started out as a seamstress when she was just a child to support the household and became incredibly skilled. She continued the work for thirty years, until her father became ill. Throughout those years, she experienced low pay and poor working conditions, enduring extremely long days without breaks. Resentful of this mistreatment by employers, Rashedeh hesitated to return to a tailoring operation following her father’s death.
It was Rashedeh’s sister that told her about NEF’s Siraj Center, which is walking distance from her home. This Siraj Center is one of four hubs that NEF has established in Jordan to provide refugees and vulnerable Jordanians with access to training, counseling, and critical information to find jobs, start businesses, and improve their physical and mental well-being. Rashedeh’s family encouraged her to go to the Center to boost her spirits and see what opportunities might be available.
After her first visit, Rashedeh learned that she qualified to participate in NEF’s business development training. Having only attended school until the seventh grade, Rashedeh cannot read or write well, so a friend was invited to accompany her and help her through the training. With the knowledge she gained, Rashedeh developed a comprehensive plan for a tailoring business, which was quickly approved to receive a project grant for 650 JOD (915 USD) to get started. She purchased two types of sewing machines to get established, and now says she feels confident in her ability to deal with customers, register her business, market her services, and calculate pricing and costs.
Already having a reputation as a skilled seamstress in her community, Rashedeh developed a client-base quickly, offering a full spectrum of services including tailoring, repurposing, mending, and producing original designs. She has become known for making yanis, a popular prayer dresses for youth, which is now sought out by many clients.
With the steady increase in clients, Rashedeh has been able to hire a couple of family members to help her meet demand. Having worked in many poorly run sewing shops, Rashedeh stresses the importance of providing a happy and healthy working environment so her employees “enjoy coming to work every day.”
Because of the progress she’s made with establishing her business, Rashedeh was selected to participate in NEF’s advanced business development training, after which she received another 160 JOD (225 USD) to support its continued growth. With these additional funds, she made simple but valuable investments in supplies like fabric (including wool to prepare winter clothes), better sewing cutters, and lamps to improve the lighting in the sewing room.
Rashedeh is now making more than 300 JOD (423 USD) per month, which covers her expenses and leaves her with 100 JOD (141 USD) per month for savings. She feels that she now has a clear vision for the future and hopes to eventually expand to a larger working space, as well as produce more original clothing designs for weddings and other formal events.
Rashedeh revealed that her participation in NEF’s project gave her a sense of direction and purpose during a very difficult time in her life. She says she feels productive every day, confident in her abilities, and less stressed because she earns a good income and can “manage my own time and ideas.” She loves her busy life and what she does and says, “when I think of NEF, I smile.”
While NEF was visiting with Rashedeh, two of her clients came to pick up their orders who have also attended NEF’s business development training at the local Siraj Center after hearing about it from Rashedeh. They have both gone on to launch businesses as well (one selling birds, and the other also does tailoring.)
THE STATE OF WOMEN IN ARMENIA. While change is underway, gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV) continues to be a problem in Armenia — negatively impacting social cohesion and economic development. The absence of gender equality in the workplace lowers women’s prospects of employment and earning compared to men. This inequality is most evident in rural areas, where the prospect of employment is even lower and women are increasingly vulnerable due to a lack of access to services that encourage gender equality and support for women at-risk of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. Armenian organizations actively trying to address these issues are heavily dependent on donor or government funding to operate. This means that they cannot plan their work in the long term, and during some periods they may not have the means to continue supporting women in need. The Near East Foundation aims to change this.
WE EMPOWER COMMUNITIES BY EMPOWERING WOMEN. NEF is working in partnership with the Women’s Resource Development Center to strengthen the capacity of Armenian civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide services focused on improving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in Armenia. With a focus on rural communities in, these efforts build onto NEF’s past work in Armenia that helped at-risk women start their own businesses or find employment to secure financial independence through trainings in business development, vocational training, employability readiness, and financial literacy.
NEF is supporting 10 organizations in Aragatsotn, Gegharkunik, Lori and Syunik Marzes to launch or develop their ability to fund programs that benefit at-risk women and support 600 at-risk Armenian women (particularly survivors or woman at-risk of gender-based violence) safely earn an income and become involved in social enterprises. Main activities include:
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