Empowering Communities by Empowering Women in Kordofan

In a village called Abu Jebeiha, NEF is training community members in how to use their new brick making machine. The machine was provided through NEF UK’s Empowering women in Kordofan through non-wood forest products for income and food security, funded by Comic Relief. 


This brick making enterprise is one of 25 natural resource management (NRM) microprojects that form part of a wider effort, providing a sustainable income to communities with limited income generating options, while reducing deforestation and improving forest management practices. In this case the bricks will replace wood as a construction material, reducing the need to cut trees and providing a more durable quality of b­uilding. Other examples of these forest management microprojects include seedling nurseries to increase plant and forest cover in communities where land has been degraded, and providing gas cylinders to reduce the use of firewood. 

Additional efforts focus particularly on women in poor and remote communities, to increase their incomes and improve management of natural resources by introducing new techniques for producing and harvesting key non-wood forest products such as gum arabic, desert dates, honey, sider, baobab, and other local fruits that improve quality while reducing the degradation of the trees that produce them. The formation and capacity building of local “women’s associations” is the main entry point to the empowerment process that NEF seeks to achieve for women in these communities. The “Women’s associations”, act as a cooperative for producers and others to collaborate on marketing, commercialization, and management of natural resources. 

While over 5,500 people have directly benefitted from this work so far, the impacts reach far beyond natural resource management improvements and include enormous economic, networking, and psycho-social benefits. 

Increasing Distribution and Income


With NEF’s help, association members from Al Odiat village have been able to upgrade their non-wood forest products through screening, sorting, adoption of improved storage techniques, new packing techniques, and increased efforts to prevent insect infestations. These enhancements, along with formalized packaging and branding, have resulted in a higher price for their goods. Another goal of the project is to help associations improve linkages with wholesalers, which gives them access to a wider market. The training NEF UK provided on management, communication, leadership, and business coaching has helped the association achieve this. NEF UK is also introducing microfranchising to these communities, facilitating enterprise expansion and creating a brand for these products that will further help them to access local, national and international markets. 

Changing Attitudes and Empowering Women

Fatima_SudanFatima is the chairperson of E’diat Shargia women’s association. Before the project, people in the village were unaware of how to maximize their income from non-wood forest products. Due to their perceived lack of value, the harvesting and management of these products was left to women in the community. When NEF’s project team came to her community, Fatima immediately got involved, seeing the potential impact in the work proposed. “I realized that the only economic resource that was exclusively under the control of women in the village was non-wood forest products,” says Fatima, “I thought that if women of my village managed to unite, they would contribute to increase their income and would gain respect from their husbands and other men.” The village has access to nabaq (Sider), gum arabic and laloub (desert date), but was not deriving much income from these products as they were either consuming them or selling the products raw and unprocessed. “I mobilized the women’s association members (men and women) and convinced them to get trained to produce improved products, this was done through peer training and project staff. Today every woman from the association that is involved in improved production says that she derives important revenues from it,” explains Fatima. Beyond the increases in income, she has also seen attitude and behavior changes related to deforestation, with many men planting sider and desert date plants in fields around the village. “This is one of my greatest satisfactions in life!” she says, outlining how she encouraged village members to set up household nurseries and for men to give land to women so they could plant trees too. She now believes that most the men in her village are supporting the association in various ways, and the village chief has said that the future of the community is now in women’s hands.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Sudan.



Restoring Livelihoods and Lifting Spirits

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of families have fled war and violence in Syria and Iraq to seek refuge in Jordan – where over 738,000 refugees now reside. Upon their arrival, the struggle to gain their footing and rebuild their life begins and often continues for many years. It is in this landscape that NEF is working to provide both vulnerable Jordanian families and refugee families with safe and sustainable opportunities to earn an income and regain economic stability.



1I1A5560 “It was a bad situation, to see your home fully destroyed after you had been living in it for almost 16 years; it is an extremely difficult feeling. But then you just think okay, aside from your health and the health of your children you can get through anything.”

Asma operates a local cooking business in Jordan. Her prepared meals and catered goods have gained a reputation in her neighborhood and demand for her product has grown, allowing the family to pay down their debts and meet their needs. She is proud of what she has been able achieve with this activity saying, “I have a stronger personality now. I want to make sure my product is perfect, unique, and different from the other products in the markets.” She has gained confidence and independence, especially with regard to decision-making on where to spend money, saying, “Now if my kids ask anything from me, I can do it.” 

Asma’s outlook is much different than just a few years ago in 2013 when Asma and her family were forced to flee their home town in Syria after their neighborhood was raided and bombed leaving their home destroyed. Like nearly 80 percent of  the refugees who seek safety in Jordan, Asma’s family chose not to remain in a refugee camp and moved into a low-income community in Jordan’s urban sprawl.

Although she and her husband found informal work cleaning houses, cars, and cooking for neighbors, they were unable to earn enough to meet the family’s basic needs. Describing this time, Asma said, “The monthly money that my husband was making was not enough to cover all of the monthly expenses. It ran out the middle of the month.”

Asma and her family faced many of the logistical and emotional challenges that confront refugee families starting over in a new place—difficulties finding sustainable, safe, and dignified jobs, accruing debt during the resettlement process, limited access to credit, feelings of isolation, acclimating children who have experienced trauma to new lives and new schools.  

The strain of these challenges reach beyond the refugee community to the host community as well—resulting in declining income and rising poverty, unemployment, and debt. Without help, vulnerable families often resort to harmful strategies such as begging, early marriage, or child labor to get by.

Asma cooking

NEF is working to address these issues by providing refugees and Jordanians with the support they need to overcome these mounting challenges and set out on a path to secure a steady source of income. NEF offers trainings on business development, employability, vocational trades, and financial literacy in some of Jordan’s most vulnerable communities. Paired with the trainings are small business grants, social networking, and on-going mentoring and coaching for new entrepreneurs.

Through NEF-led trainings, Asma learned how to develop a business model, market her products, interact with customers, set prices, and enter into new markets. With the project grant she received at the completion of the program, she purchased a refrigerator for food preservation, giving her as she says, the “push” she needed to really get started.

Asma’s household has seen a 50 percent increase in income from her cooking business. Her customer base continues to grow, and she is planning to invest in additional equipment and another refrigerator to keep up with increasing demand. The family has now started to save some money for the future and emergency expenses which brings Asma and her husband great peace of mind.

On overcoming the challenges she and other refugees face as they rebuild, Asma says, “Why should we be weak, we should be strong and able to face challenges. Why? For us, for our children, for the generations to come. We must persevere.”


Other stories of resilience:

1I1A5648“The honey trade is a beautiful business and a clean business. I hope to expand my business and develop it to export honey to Iraq or outside Jordan.”

Qaiser is 41 years-old. He is a husband and father of four, a son and three daughters. He and his family moved to Jordan from Iraq in 2013. 

Qaiser entered NEF’s program with the idea to start a business producing honey to be used for both general consumption and its homeopathic health benefits. His reason was simple, “It was an opportunity to start businesses so that we [refugees] are able to stop relying on assistance.”

For Qaiser, starting a small business was just as much about boosting his morale and motivation as it was to develop a source of income. While adjusting to his new life in Jordan, difficulties finding work and having to rely on humanitarian aid made it difficult for him to keep a positive outlook. He shared that he still finds it extremely difficult to think about his family back Iraq, especially his parents, but says, “There are big differences between now and before, any support that you get pushes you to improve and increases morale of the individual and the family.” 

1I1A5653When describing the circumstances under which they left Baghdad, Qaiser says, “There was sectarian turmoil. There were dead bodies in the streets, and I was afraid for my family.” That is when they left everything and came to Jordan to start a new life.

Now the whole family contributes to making the business successful. “They help so much in my business, and they work beside me preparing honey and filling bottles. They work with me for many hours, and they get as tired as I do,” says Qaiser. 

In addition to covering the family’s basic needs, profits from the business allow Qaiser to provide other items such as school stationary, toys for his children, and vitamins for his wife who is currently pregnant with their fifth child.

On what he learned from the trainings Qaiser says, “I benefited so much from my participation in the project, because I learned how to enter the market, how to do marketing for my product, how to build trust with customers, and many other things that improved my business idea.”



“There are no challenges or obstacles too great for the blind. They have many opportunities but they need more support because the society has the wrong idea that the blind can’t do anything and they should just stay at home.”

Hanan is a 45-year-old Jordanian woman who sells hand woven goods to earn supplemental income to support her 18-year-old son. This is a worthy achievement in its own right, made that much more notable when considering that Hanan lost her sight when she was just 28 years-old. 

In recent years, Hanan has pursued a new chapter and become a skilled weaver. And with NEF’s assistance, she turned what was once a hobby into a way to generate income.

Hanan shared that it boosted her morale greatly when she learned that there was an organization interested in helping people like her, with disabilities. Of the training, she explained, “The trainer was so good and had an easy training methodology, and NEF’s team also had a good way of communicating with me. Therefore, I continued the training and the trainer explained everything to me and there were a lot of women participating, so it felt real and not like just a hobby.” With the knowledge she gained from NEF-led trainings, and the project grant she was awarded, Hanan purchased materials she needed and started getting her products in front of new customers at trade shows, public markets, and community association activities.

1I1A5615Hanan is steadily gaining more customers and bringing in around 20 JD ($30) per month in revenue from her business. She said that she now makes decisions at home about how to spend her money without having to ask permission and has confidence in her decisions and home management. She expresses her desire to continue to build her business saying, “I want to reach people with my products, and that was the most important thing to me. NEF supported me very much both physically and emotionally, I thank them so much for their efforts because this experience taught us [women] how to depend on ourselves, it taught me personally that the blind can do everything we want. I am able to prove to people that I can work and be productive.”


NEF’s work in Jordan is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) and City & Guilds.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Jordan.

Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment in Armenia


The absence of gender equality has been widely reported in Armenia not only at home, but also in the workplace where women’s prospects of employment and earning are far lower compared to men. Gender inequality is most evident in rural areas, where the prospect of employment is even lower, and women are even more vulnerable due to a lack of access to services that encourage gender equality and provide additional resources to support women at-risk of domestic violence or other forms of abuse.

In December of 2017, NEF UK launched a new project – funded by the European Union – that will strengthen the capacity of local civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide services focused on improving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in rural Armenia. These efforts build onto NEF UK’s recent work in Armenia that helped at-risk women start their own businesses and secure financial independence, while also working with CSOs to advocate for protections for survivors of gender-based violence.

NEF Project Director, Arpine Baghdoyan, who has been implementing economic empowerment programs in Armenia for many years now feels confident that, ‘’The project is a great opportunity to increase the development of social entrepreneurship in Armenia. The business models that we will work with CSO’s to create and operate, will highly improve their financial sustainability and increase their competitiveness overall.” 

NEF and its partners have found that through financial independence, women gain empowerment and the respect of their families and communities and, in turn, experience reduced violence or hostility in their homes and workplaces. As such, NEF remains committed to continuing to advocate for policies and systems that support and empower women in Armenia.

Many Armenian CSOs, including those that advocate for women’s rights and help women and children at risk, 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. NEF UK’s two-year project in partnership with the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia (WRC), will seek to change this.

The project will support 12 CSOs in Aragatsotn, Gegharkunik, Lori and Syunik Marzes to launch or further develop social enterprise activities that will fund programs that benefit women in their communities in a variety of ways. The CSOs will be trained on business operations that will directly support their work to raise awareness of women’s rights and economic empowerment. Ultimately the project will ensure the ongoing operation of CSOs supporting women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in Armenia, benefitting the lives of all those reached by those organizations. Of the CSO’s participating, Ms. Baghdoyan says, “Selected CSOs are those established based on community needs, and now they will be able to highly contribute to solution of those needs such as providing job opportunities to women.’’ The CSOs who will benefit from the project look forward to greater financial and organizational stability in the coming years, allowing them to continue their important work.

Basis NGO is one of the CSO’s who will benefit from these efforts. Founder and Director of Basis, Anna Hovhannisyan, shared her thoughts on the project saying, ‘’We hope that through this project the social enterprises will be able to provide a gender-equal and inclusive way of creating jobs and tackling social issues in our region. NEF UK’s project will be pivotal to meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance in our communities.’’ 

Along with supporting over 600 vulnerable women (particularly survivors of gender-based violence and women at risk of gender-based violence), NEF UK’s efforts will also engage with a number of market actors and CSOs across Armenia to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Click here to learn more about NEF’s work in Armenia.

Increasing access to clean water in Sudan

group photo at NEF  water point

As the Sudanese people return home, they find conditions much worse than when they left. To make matters worse, an influx of internally displaced people (IDPs) in communities across Sudan has placed a drain on the already overstretched resources available.

Basic infrastructure—most notably water and sanitation infrastructure—has either been destroyed or the existing infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance because of inaccessibility due to the conflict. A lack of parts, tools, and trained mechanics, as well as actual damage from rebel activities, has put many hand pumps out of order, or destroyed them completely, and severely reduced the amount of water available to both the local community, including the returnees, and the IDP population. At the same time, a serious lack of latrines and hygiene puts communities at high risk of water borne disease.

To respond to this crisis, NEF’s teams in South Kordofan and Central Darfur are helping to reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality of nearly 100,000 people by improving their access to clean water, and education on hygiene and sanitation best practices. Working within local communities, NEF has mobilized Water and Sanitation Committees (WSCs) and Subcommittees across seven village clusters (Abassiya, Rashad, Abu Karshola, Um Dukhun, Nertiti, Golo, and Rokero). WSCs are trained on best approaches to sanitation and hygiene, and on how to identify and prioritize infrastructure improvements—from water pumps to latrines. To further ensure the sustainability of the project, NEF helps to train and employ local craftspeople and artisans to manufacture and/or rehabilitate water pumps and latrines throughout the villages.

Asmaa Dawood_WASH-SKS

Asmaa Dawood, one of the Sudanese women who attended the hand pump mechanics training, was impressed by the value of what she learned. She also commented that this was the first time women in her village were included in such a training.

“We have benefitted a lot from this training. We received knowledge on hand pump mechanics so that we— including women—can respond when hand pumps are broken. We are really thankful to NEF for the good service that has been delivered to our community!”

As of last month, NEF has helped identify 1,720 beneficiaries to receive new latrines, and 85 artisans to help construct them—more than 50 percent have been completed. Furthermore, the WSCs have distributed 1,500 hygiene kits, which include hygiene and sanitation education materials. These efforts have so far benefitted over 50,000 people.

NEF’s water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) work in Sudan is funded and supported by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Hygeine kit distribution in Golo
Hygeine kit distribution in Golo.
Local artisans at work fabricating latrine slabs
Local artisans at work fabricating latrine slabs.
Hygeine and sanitation education for school children
Hygeine and sanitation education for school children.

Addressing the long-term impact of the refugee crisis

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-08 at 10.06.10 AM 2

As conflict in Syria and Iraq displaces thousands, NEF continues to address the protracted refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon. Humanitarian aid remains largely focused on immediate and short-term needs, providing little to no support for the long-term impact this crisis will have on affected communities.

With an eye toward the future, NEF is providing solutions that will support both the displaced and affected host communities through inclusive opportunities that enable conflict-affected individuals to earn a living and build resilience against future shocks. In practice, this includes strengthening the capacity of both refugee and host communities to recover from crisis and emerge from poverty through business and economic development, employability training, vocational training, financial literacy and financial/start-up assistance, social networking, and on-going mentoring and coaching for new entrepreneurs. As both women and youth are known to be the most vulnerable during times of conflict, NEF’s work in both Jordan and Lebanon has a focus on adolescents and women headed households.

NEF partners with local civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide these and other services at hubs known as Siraj Centers. In Arabic, the word “Siraj” means lantern—with the connotation of a beacon of light and hope. The aptly named centers offer individuals a safe environment to receive training, information, guidance, and coordinated referrals to other service providers.

NEF in Jordan

Strengthening economic and social resilience
Recent activities in Jordan include multiple four-day business development trainings for 455 participants in four areas of Jordan—South Amman, East Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa. A total of 64 workshops have been held in these four locations since March of 2017. The goal of these trainings is to support business creation and income generation, which will positively contribute to the local economy.

Capacity Building
To establish a sustainable framework for continued livelihoods efforts supported by the local community, NEF held an “Ideation and Innovation” workshop to establish a network of local “Master Trainers.” In May, 24 Master Trainers (of Jordanian, Iraqi, and Syrian nationalities) received the necessary training to train others on how to transform their ideas into tangible businesses, perform strategic planning, implement best business practices, and monitor their business’ progress.

Youth Training
Limited opportunities, isolation, and tension contribute to a sense of despair and hopelessness among  refugees and poor Jordanians. To address this, NEF trained 334 adolescents (52 Iraqis, 79 Jordanians, and 203 Syrians) in financial literacy tailored toward supporting self-development through financial management skills. The training sessions also strive to contribute to social interaction and harmony between Jordanians and Iraqi and Syrian refugees, thereby promoting mutual respect and social cohesion. 

To date NEF’s efforts in Jordan have directly benefited 7,960 refugees and Jordanians and indirectly benefitted the lives of 39,800.

Last month, a bazaar was held in Zarqa where project participants had the opportunity to display and sell their products.


NEF in Lebanon

Strengthening economic and social resilience
NEF and its partners have conducted 43 business development trainings for over 1000 Lebanese and Syrian men and women. Additional training sessions covering life skills such as household budgeting and savings were also provided. 209 grant recipients have commenced business operations, either through providing services or selling products.

Vocational Training
Over 370 Lebanese and Syrians received vocational training (300 women, 70 men) related to the type of business plan they had selected. Vocational training topics spanned such industries as food production, tailoring, hairdressing, aesthetics and make-up, book keeping, handicrafts. 

Capacity Building
NEF has helped to increase the capacity of 34 civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide high quality and expanded services. Staff members from each CSO are now able to conduct business development trainings, business coaching, business networking, as well as financial literacy training for adolescents. Additionally, CSO’s have improved their ability to respond to protection incidents and provide appropriate referrals. In May, NEF met with CSO staff members and volunteers to significantly improve and systemize the process of participant data collection and monitoring participant’s progress—this effort will make it possible for NEF and its partners determine the success rate of these services, and make adjustments for improvements as needed.

    IMG_3264  WhatsApp Image 2017-08-08 at 5.52.21 PM
Khayriye (top right photo) was one of the first few women trained in the Minieh center. She has now purchased a sewing machine and completed a six-day vocational training on tailoring. Khayriye thanked NEF and Hadatha saying, “This project was a great opportunity for me.”

To date, NEF’s efforts in Lebanon have directly benefited 3,050 refugees and Lebanese and indirectly benefitted the lives of 12,200.

NEF’s work with displaced and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’ Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the Dodge Foundation, and City & Guilds Group.


Young Entrepreneurs Compete for DreamUp Grants in Morocco

Chaimaa Radi_20_Cosmetics

On Saturday, May 20th, Moroccan youth looking to expand or start a new business will compete for small business grants in the Machrou3i DreamUp competition. The competition is organized by the Machrou3i Business Incubators, created through the Near East Foundation’s (NEF) Empowering Youth through Entrepreneurship in Morocco (EYEM) project funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

Youth in the competition have participated in training and coaching events organized by the Machrou3i incubators to develop their business plans. In the final competition, eight youth will have the opportunity launch their plans with the help of a $2000 project grant, along with ongoing mentoring and coaching through the incubators. Selections will be made by a committee based on a number of criteria including the level of innovation presented in the business concept, the ability of the business to introduce new technologies, well-defined social or environmental benefits, and the ability of the business to eventually create new jobs. 

The DreamUp competition is complemented by a showcase event featuring youth entrepreneurs and businesses launched through the EYEM project.  Organized in partnership Province of El Jadida National Initiative for Human Development, the showcase event in El Jadida (May 19-21, 2017) allows young entrepreneurs to present their products and services to potential customers as well as network with fellow business owners. 

Both events aim to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation among young people in Morocco and to inform young people on the advantages of business incubators and their role in regional youth economic development.

The EYEM project has reached more than 3000 youth in its efforts to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship, provided business development training to more than 349 young people, and funded 251 new businesses with start up assistance.


Key stakeholders meet to discuss GBV issues in Armenia

IMG_0687 copyNEF UK and GCCI gather key stakeholders to discuss the important role they play in protecting against gender-based violence and advancing gender equality and the rights of survivors of gender-based violence in Armenia

NEF UK and the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) organized a special event that included a presentation and exhibition on Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Armenia, a project financed by the European Union and implemented by NEF UK and GCCI.

The event, held on January 18 2017 at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in Yerevan from 14:00 to 18:00, provided an opportunity to explore the role of Armenian civil society organizations, private sector organizations, and government agencies in promoting women’s rights and gender equality among vulnerable groups of women through the delivery of economic development programs.

Ms. Line Urban, a representative from the European Union (EU) delegation to Armenia, gave opening remarks at the event where she emphasized the important role the program has played in advocating for gender equality in Armenia. NEF UK and GCCI highlighted the impact of the EU-supported project and showcased an exhibition of project beneficiary business products and services. Attendees were also able to hear directly from beneficiaries who shared the successes they have achieved through the project.

The event helped attendees to identify the primary causes of gender-based violence in Armenia, what role they can play in the prevention of gender-based violence, and how their organizations can help support the economic stability of survivors in the future. The key findings of the three working groups (government agencies, civil society organizations, and victims of gender-based violence) were shared and discussed among participants at the end of the event.

The project is being implemented in Yerevan, Syunik, and Lori regions in partnership with the Women’s Support Centre, Women’s Resource Centre, Goris Women’s Development Resource Centre Foundation, and Spitak Helsinki Group.

Since its launch in January 2015, the two-year project has helped 230 survivors of gender-based violence gain increased employability, small business skills, and establish small businesses. Seventy women received vocational training in various specializations, 130 received financial support to start their small businesses, 80 developed career development plans, and 50 women found employment in the labour market.

The project has helped build a commitment toward preventing gender-based violence and promoting gender equality among community leaders and employers. The partner community organizations have strengthened their cooperation and signed agreements with regional agencies in Armenia, aiming to create referral mechanisms for victims of gender-based violence.

Although the project ends on January 20 2017, NEF UK and its partners hope to find opportunities to continue this work, as it is highly impactful and required. Project’s learning, lessons and recommendations will be presented at an event in Yerevan in March 2017.

Marine’s story: How I made a profession out of my passion.

MarineMy name is Marine*.  I am 41-year-old and a mother of seven. Six years ago, my husband and I divorced due to psychological and physical abuse that I endured for many years. As a recently divorced, vulnerable, unemployed single-mother, I was unable to provide for my family. The years of abuse made me very weak, scared, and overwhelmed. I lost my house, my children left, and my way of life as I knew it disappeared.

One year ago, I came across the AGERS (Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors) program through the Spitak Helsinki Group NGO—an opportunity that marked a turning point in my life.

Prior to joining the program I didn’t have a profession, but had always enjoyed making handicrafts, baking, and above all being a good mother to my children. I knew that to get my children back, and to be the mother they needed, I would have to get a steady job.

With that aim in mind, I attended both the business development and job development courses that the program offered, along with one month of vocational training, which helped me improve my baking skills.

The courses equipped me with the confidence and skills I needed to turn my passion for baking into a profession. I soon was able to develop a business plan and present it to the project committee. I was shocked that my business plan was chosen and selected for funding, and more so, that I was qualified to start and run a small business!

It has now been seven months since I started to market and sell my homemade baked goods in the Lori region. When I first started, I was baking cakes for neighbors and providing samples for tasting in an effort to increase my customer base. Once they started to gain popularity, I decided to deliver my baked goods to the local store to be sold—they sold out in one hour! Because of how popular my goods were becoming in the community, I was hired as a saleswoman in a local bakery. There I sell my own pastry and meat products, and plan to start producing lavash (Armenian bread).

I now earn enough of an income to support my children and myself. Getting back on my feet has helped me to rebuild a relationship with my children—all seven of them are again living with me. Some of my children, who are now in college, are even willing to help me improve my business based on what they are learning in their courses.

Today, instead of dwelling on the difficulties I have experienced in my life, I focus on the successes I have achieved. One day, I would like to open my own shop. My life has been changed dramatically since I participated in the project, and I plan to pay it forward by helping other women.

The AGERS project is finance by the European Union and implemented by the NEF UK and the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Since its launch in January 2015, the two-year project has helped 230 survivors of gender-based violence gain increased employability, small business skills, and establish small businesses. Seventy women received vocational training in various specializations, 130 received financial support to start their small businesses, 80 developed career development plans, and 50 women found employment in the labor market.   

“The project has improved confidence and self-reliance among survivors of gender-based violence, providing women with safe options when making decisions that affect their family’s lives,” Arpine Baghdoyan, NEF’s country director in Armenia, explained.

Although the project ended on January 20 2017, NEF and its partners hope to find opportunities to continue this important and necessary work in the region.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women.


Anna: From Baker to Bistro Owner









Anna*, a survivor of gender-based violence, recently registered her business—a bistro—in Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan.

Prior to joining the NEF’s Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Armenia (AGERS) project—financed by the European Union and implemented by NEF UK and GCCI—Anna worked as a talented baker at a local establishment for many years. Each day, she did her best to earn money for her boss, ensuring only the best, handmade products made it onto the bakery’s shelves. Though she enjoyed her work, the low salary and long hours she worked at the bakery made her question whether she would do better to start her own business. Anna toyed with the idea for more than three years, but without start-up capital the likelihood that she could try and succeed at launching her own business seemed dim.

Anna learned about the AGERS project in June 2015, and was selected to participate in enterprise-track trainings one month later. Over the course of the two-week class, she gradually came to realize that she could achieve her dream of opening a bistro with the support of NEF UK and Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).

Through the project, Anna learned that her business model was high risk, and to be successful she would need to anticipate common challenges faced by restaurants and plan ahead to avoid them or minimise their impact. The project team helped Anna to register her business, conduct risk assessments, negotiate a rental space, and understand tax law. She used the small grant she was awarded through the project to stock her restaurant with tools and ingredients.

To limit costs, Anna recruited her son Vardan* to contribute to the management of the bistro. Vardan had always struggled with health issues, but continued to work odd labor-intensive jobs to care for the family out of necessity. For Vardan, the bistro presented a welcome alternative to his then-physically-demanding line of work. Working together, Anna could focus on production while Vardan focused on advertising, sourcing fresh produce, and managing delivery logistics.

Two months after receiving her grant, Anna earned enough of a profit to cover the restaurant’s costs. With business on the rise, her self-confidence continues to increase by leaps and bounds. 

“My business is slowly growing” Anna says, “it is my own business. I alone am responsible for both profits and losses. I am happy to have my son’s support. Thanks to the project, I gained the know-how, equipment, and materials to overcome my fear of failure and become an entrepreneur.”

Since its launch in January 2015, the two-year project has helped 230 survivors of gender-based violence gain increased employability, small business skills, and establish small businesses. Seventy women received vocational training in various specializations, 130 received financial support to start their small businesses, 80 developed career development plans, and 50 women found employment in the labor market.


*Names have been changed to protect the beneficiary’s identity.


Survivors of Gender-Based Violence Overcome the Odds

Women in Armenia gather to bring awareness to gender-based violence (picture credit to the Global Fund for Women).

In Armenia, 69 percent of women report being physically assaulted by an intimate partner—often in front of their children—at least once in their lives. With conservative gendered norms embedded in the culture at home and in the community, women’s role in the economy is severely restricted—posing barriers to social and economic change for women in Armenia. To address this systemic issue, women’s fundamental human rights need to be better protected and advocated for.

The Near East Foundation (NEF) implemented an initiative, in partnership with the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and funded by the European Union, to help 200 survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) enhance their employability and small business skills. The Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-based Violence (AGERS) project provides vocational training and business and financial support so that these women can become economically independent and meet their needs with dignity.

This initiative, only half way through its cycle, has already seen tremendous success as 90 percent of GBV survivors who have participated in the program have reported improved self-reliance and economic independence.

Nune, a young woman who was emotionally and physically abused by her family for many years, tolerated this violence as a means to protect her family as she was financially dependent on her husband. Searching for a safe way out, she sought help from a local community organization—the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in Yerevan.

In addition to directly helping women through this program, NEF is also working with local community organizations, like the WRC, who already work with GBV survivors. NEF helps these organizations improve their capacity to deliver effective economic development programs that are supportive of gender equality, protective against GBV, and help to better engage the public, and civil society as a whole in joint action, dialogue, and training around normal, safe workplaces, and protection strategies.

Nune sat down with WRC to discuss her situation and aspirations, which included finding a way to utilize her sewing skills, and they recommended that she enroll in NEF’s AGERS’s business development stream. The trainings helped her to build self-confidence and learn how to develop a profitable business plan for a tailoring business. Impressed by her ambition and comprehensive plan, the project team awarded Nune a grant so that she could purchase a sewing machine and other materials she needed to start and run her business.

Now separated from her husband, Nune lives with her parents. She makes women’s clothes and sells them from home and in different stores in Yerevan. With the success her business has seen, Nune now makes enough of a profit to take care of herself and her family. To continue to grow her business, Nune is negotiating contracts with other stores in Yerevan and other nearby cities in Armenia.

Another woman, Hasmik, had a small child so took a big risk leaving her husband after enduring an abusive relationship. Without a means to support her child, Hasmik moved in with her parents and immediately contacted the WRC for help, who then referred her to NEF’s program.

Through attending NEF’s trainings, Hasmik became more confident in herself, her abilities, and her potential to succeed independently. With the support of an employability trainer Hasmik developed a CV, a career development plan, and learned how to interview for jobs. The project also helped her prepare for job screening and apply to a number of jobs relevant to her skill-set and background. After circulating her resume to employers in Yerevan and the other regions, Hasmik was soon offered a job in a food factory as a quality manager where she is now able to make enough to cover her rent and provide for her family without depending on anyone else.

The AGERS program has so far helped 98 women develop comprehensive business plans and 91 women develop career plans and CVs. Thirty-three women have received certificates for successful completion of accredited vocational training curricula, and 80 women have received small grants to cover start-up and vocational training expenses.

Women’s entrepreneurship is the theme for this short film about NEF’s project helping victims of gender-based violence to gain entrepreneurship skills.