Woman Fulfills Genius Business Idea To Help Family Amid Refugee Crisis

“The challenging economic situation pushed me to do it, so I can help my unemployed husband, and families in my community, lead a better life.”

In a community struggling due to a major influx of refugees, one woman came up with an innovative idea to get by: repairing damaged diapers. 

Amira Rizk Abu Bqeira, who lives in Jordan, makes money by buying damaged diapers from a local factory, repairing them, and then selling them at a lower price to disadvantaged communities, according to a UNDP story.

“The challenging economic situation pushed me to [do it], so I can help my husband, who is unemployed, and the families in my community, lead a better life,” Amira said to the UNDP. 

She is one of several local entrepreneurs who run diaper repair businesses, a common practice in rural communities with struggling households, Zena Ali-Ahmad, Country Director for UNDP Jordan, told The Huffington Post in an email. Since local manufacturers can't sell nappies with defects -- with broken elastics, tears, or other issues -- they sell them at a reduced price to local entrepreneurs, who then fix them and sell them at a low cost to disadvantaged families.

Amira's business helps her family, and others, get by in an increasingly difficult economic environment in Jordan, due to a large influx of Syrian refugees.

Jordan has received more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, Ali-Ahmad said. This influx has caused a strain on host communities, with Jordanians now competing with Syrians for jobs and access to public services, like health and education.

“These economies are already struggling,” said Moises Venancio, a UNDP Regional Adviser for the Arab states bureau, to the Huffington Post on Friday. “Unemployment is an issue, they’re already stressed -- and refugees bring additional stress.”

Amid this crisis, Amira enrolled in a UNDP entrepreneurship training and was one of 80 people, out of over 300 participants, to receive a grant to turn her business idea into a reality, according to the UNDP story

A Syrian Refugee family, of two women living together with their nine children, on November 1, 2015 in Mafraq, Jordan.
A Syrian Refugee family, of two women living together with their nine children, on November 1, 2015 in Mafraq, Jordan.

The fact that she is a successful woman entrepreneur contributes to the recognition of women’s value as economic agents,” Venancio said.

The unemployment rate in Jordan is high, reaching 13.8 percent in the third quarter of 2015, according to Ali-Ahmad. But for women, it is particularly bad, at 25.1 percent. Jordan also ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index of 2014 with respect to women's economic participation and opportunities -- the lowest in the region.

“In a country where there are so many cultural stereotypes around the man being the provider and head of household, it helps to show that women can be successful and be breadwinners," Venancio said. "It sets a role model for other women to be heads of household themselves.”

Amira made a point of hiring two other women to work for her business, one Syrian and another Jordanian, according to Ali-Ahmad. She sells the diapers for just 18 cents, providing an affordable product to struggling families, while making a steady income for her own family. Selling about 350 diapers per day, she makes about $17.

While the plight of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict has gotten a lot of attention, from media, governments and NGOs, the situation of people in host communities is less visible, though they have also seen their livelihoods affected. 

“The present situation places a considerable burden on local host communities,” Ali-Ahmad said. “Unemployment rates worsened as a result of the competition for employment. This situation has been a risk to social cohesion. It is crucial to provide livelihood supports to Jordanians in host communities.”

Though Amira’s business started off well, she is now considering closing it due to competition, according to Ali-Ahmad. Another shop opened nearby -- one run by a Syrian woman -- and the new shop sells lower quality, cheaper diapers.

“Amira’s story shows the need to go beyond humanitarian assistance when it comes to refugee influxes,” Venancio said. “In managing the fallout of the Syrian crisis, it is crucial to increase development assistance, to produce more Amiras, to continue to foster social cohesion and mitigate uncertainty about the future -- things that go on to have much more negative consequences.”



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