Schoolchildren in the West Bank are enjoying healthy food alternatives from canteens that women from the Balata Women’s Association manage, thanks to a microfranchise program the Near East Foundation (NEF) developed with support from the London-based Rangoonwala Foundation.
Microfranchises promote economic development by generating sound business opportunities and services. Since 2004, NEF has worked with the Balata Women’s Association in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, providing it and three other women’s associations with a business model and the necessary support to successfully manage and grow nine school canteens.
Adla Je’an—volunteer manager of her association since 2008—embodies in her work the spirit of empowerment, dedication, and energy that NEF endeavors to harness in its initiative for women’s microfranchises. She plays a key role in the Balata’s school canteen’s success by managing its food quality, finances, and compliance with a new Ministry of Education policy to ensure that a variety of nutritious food is served in school cafeterias.
Adla has been instrumental in hiring at-risk women who formerly had poor employment prospects but who now, thanks to her efforts, are able to earn a stable income as cashiers, cooks, and food inspectors. Through the microfranchise model, all employees are also shareholders in these small businesses.
“My association is running nine canteens, three of which are part of NEF’s project,” said Adla. “I notice positive differences in productivity, in sales, in the workers’ attitudes, and in the increase in varieties food sold at the canteens. All these changes are because of the new partnership system that has been introduced by NEF. I hope NEF can include the other six canteens in this project.”
Initially, the Balata Women’s Association worked with the World Food Program (WFP) and NEF, preparing and delivering nutritious snacks as part of WFP’s effort to feed schoolchildren.
When that program ended, the association leveraged its experience in food processing and established private businesses in the form of concession stands in primary schools. Since 2010, they have been providing nutritious snacks to schoolchildren.
With this new phase of support and training from NEF, the association expanded its franchise, increasing efficiency, standardization, and professionalism. It has created 26 new jobs for vulnerable women who, with revenue from the franchise, are supporting social development within the local community. The association was recognized for its efforts by the Ministry of Education and now manages a group of canteens in Nablus, three of which are managed as part of the microfranchise project supported by NEF.
“It is more organized now,” Adla said of the changes since NEF began this latest intervention. “For each canteen we have the same financial and administrative systems, food standards, school canteen design, food containers, and uniforms.”
This sort of success has a ripple effect of increased prosperity.
One of Adla’s hires was Muna Dweikat, 53, who works at the local school canteen as a cashier. She is one of many in her age group in her community who were hard-pressed to find jobs, given their limited education. Muna often had to borrow money from family and friends to cover basic expenses. Now she is making ends meet and can occasionally treat herself to a few luxury items while helping her family members with their expenses as well.
“I can now assist my brother’s family by helping them pay my niece’s tuition,” said Muna. “What’s more, I have improved my overall communications skills and can deal with customers more professionally now.”
Assisting and empowering women like Muna and Adla using the microfranchise model goes a long way toward finding grass-roots solutions to the economic stagnation that regional political stalemates cause. These two women and many others like them in the canteens who participate in the project are forging their own way ahead and helping their families and the greater community.