Zarqa, JORDAN – Lutfiyah Iskander has a busy life running a household and starting her own microenterprise business making soaps and chocolate in Zarqa—an impoverished city in Jordan filled with refugees from across the Middle East, as well as poor Jordanians trying to eke out a living. Without access to capital, much of the Jordanian people’s innate entrepreneurial spirit is wasted. But with help from the Near East Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Lutfiyah defied the odds and was able to start her own business doing something she loved.
The program, called Enhancing the Economic Resilience of Displaced Iraqis and Poor Jordanians, is designed to give those most in need the training, assistance, and life skills required to find employment, establish or expand their own businesses, and in the case of the displaced, teach them skills to create livelihoods whenever they finally find permanent homes. For Lutfiyah, that meant learning about bookkeeping, marketing, purchasing, and maximizing her profit-loss potential.
According to Rania Sweiti, an NEF consultant who helped train Lutfiyah and 350 others like her in the program, the most incredible and satisfying part for her is when everyone starts speaking the language of business. “They are generous people by nature, which means they want to give away their products for free, or at a substantial discount,” she says. “But when they leave the program, they have a different mindset, and think about how much it will cost to give away their wares, and that shows there has been a real change in attitude.”
Lutfiyah is no different than the others in the program, and it was some time before she learned to think like a businesswoman. “It was difficult for me to separate my home expenses from my work expenses,” she says. “But if I’m to be successful, it’s necessary they remain separate.” The startup process was challenging for Lutfiyah and her family, but her husband, Sayel, has the following message for anyone who is lucky enough to have an ambitious and entrepreneurial woman in their life: