Halah’s story begins with an all too common situation for many educated women in Jordan. Despite holding a two-year diploma in Marketing and Business Management, Halah struggled to find stable employment that lasted longer than two or three months. Due to cultural biases and expectations, many Jordanian women have trouble finding employment in their sector which often leaves them with few options. Her and her husband’s financial situation was also becoming precarious as they had to pay off a housing loan. Even after selling off personal belongings, it was not enough to mitigate their expenses with her husband’s monthly salary of 380 JOD (CAD $706). It was evident to Halah that she needed to find employment quickly to contribute to the household expenses.
Halah heard about MEDA through its partner, JOHUD, and began attending training courses in November 2018. These training courses target women in the Jordan Valley to build their capacity for running gender equitable and environmentally sustainable businesses. During her training, Halah learned how to improve her financial management skills as well as learnt about the process of pickle pasteurization which improves the taste of the pickles as well as their shelf life.
With her newly acquired knowledge, Halah started her pickling business in earnest and began earning a profit. With a small amount of savings (42 JOD / CAD$78), she purchased a variety of vegetables (e.g. eggplants, cucumbers, hot peppers, etc.) from the market in order to make pickled products, as well as olive oil for makdous – eggplants stuffed with ingredients such as pepper, walnuts, and garlic and topped with olive oil. From this initial investment, she made a net income of 30 JOD (CAD $56). Soon after starting her business, she made a name for herself amongst her colleagues. “When Princess Basma visited a JOHUD centre during a small bazaar, she chose my pickles as her favourite,” Halah cheerfully said. Not only did this do wonders for her confidence, but everyone began asking her for advice on how to make better pickles.
Her business continued to expand once JOHUD began organizing bazaars across the country and encouraging women such as Halah to attend by covering table costs and transportation fees. Halah also provided samples to her neighbours and friends which further expanded the reach of her products. Finally, receiving start-up funds through the JVL business plan competition helped her become more independent and build further market linkages by directly negotiating with market actors.The main business problem that Halah has encountered is the seasonality of certain vegetables. Not every vegetable is available during the whole year, which means certain varieties are very expensive during the off-season. Therefore, she has to study which vegetables are in-season and adjust her products accordingly, which could mean selling products other than pickles. She has diversified her production to include drying and selling molokhia – a popular vegetable in the Middle East, often boiled and served alongside chicken and rice. She has even expanded into making dairy products when the season is right.
Halah was further helped with her business by developing a relationship with SARH, another JVL partner. Much like JOHUD, SARH provided advanced training courses and mentorship as well as provided access to food fairs which raised awareness of her products. More importantly SARH provided training on digital marketing as well as guidance on appropriate branding and marketing materials. As a result of the training and mentorship provided by SARH, Halah’s monthly net income reaches 150-200 JOD (USD ~$210-280).
To ensure her sustainable existence in the market, SARH signed a MoU with Sameh Mall to link women with potential buyers and connect them with direct customers across Sameh Mall’s network. This has enabled Halah to go to different Sameh Mall branches and sell her products directly to end customers, with no rental fees, and allowed her to access to network with different potential buyers and customers, giving her more exposure in the Amman market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many hardships to all and Halah is no exception. Her husband’s employer could not afford to pay salaries, which meant that no income was coming into the household. To pivot in the face of this uncertainty, the husband and wife opened a small convenience store out of their home which allowed her to sell her own products as well as the usual grocery items.
Halah explains, “The cost of my dairy production highly decreased during the lockdown, as the cost of one liter of goat milk which was JoD1 (CAD $1.85) before the curfew, became JoD0.60 (CAD $1.11). I could earn more from my dairy products sales around JoD200 (CAD $370) revenue a month. Slightly before the lockdown I bought a huge amount of snacks for my children at a good price, and I started to sell them to some of the neighborhood kids. During the strict confinement, everyone had to be home at 6pm and all convenient stores on the main streets were forced to close. My neighbors were looking for any convenient store to serve their needs during evening time. I contacted a wholesaler who had permission to deliver goods during the lockdown and started to order essential high demand items”. Halah opened a small convenient store in her house to serve my neighborhood. Her net income increased to JoD400 (CAD $741) a month. Her husband and her three sons helped her and had passionate ideas to support her to increase my income further. Now, she is back to pickling and her convenient store is growing.
Overall, Halah is satisfied with her performance and her ambition to expand her business operations has not subsided, explaining: “In the future, I want to have a car to begin a delivery service to Amman.” Despite the pitfalls that have occurred, she is confident that with patience, hard work, and a strong will, she will be successful.