Karama Organization mission in its core is creating opportunities for the most vulnerable in society. So that they can fully participate. In order for them to enjoy their full human rights. Who are those most vulnerable? Our target group are children growing up in refugee camps, and women leading low-income households. We are established in Deheishe Camp in Palestine and aim to serve those in need in the southern half of the West Bank.
Especially after the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian society is becoming more and more dependent on foreign aid and funding, which is most of the time conditioned and not sustainable, and it doesn’t aim to solve our people’s issues or even create a better society. It is hard to build a vibrant private sector under the many restrictions of the military occupation and its control over the Palestinian economy, which is dependent on the Israeli economy. As well, the donor community doesn’t help to remove these barriers at all, but it rather mitigates them with short-term solutions. Some of the donor projects working with female entrepreneurs are characterized by lack of relevant training, such as innovative and future-oriented skills and topics, and the lack of ongoing business coaching, and the needed marketing tools and skills for their beneficiaries. Moreover, Palestinian entrepreneurs, including women, are losing creativity and originality in their business ideas, and are just copying each other or foreign businesses. What we really need is a private sector that is valuable, sustainable, and promotes Palestinian resistance and self-reliance.
Besides the general entrepreneurial problems that Palestinians face, female entrepreneurs face additional challenges. Most women in the camp do not have access to start-up funds, loans or other financial services. Women also might face negative perceptions in the business market, especially as business leaders. In a world that prefers dealing with men in business due to many excuses, women find it harder to reach a prestigious place in the business market. Moreover, many married women with children find it very hard to work efficiently due to lack of time and increased family responsibilities, such as taking care of the house and children and other obligations.
Karama Organization utilizes social entrepreneurship as a valuable path for refugee women, not only for the empowering effects of entrepreneurship (at individual and relational levels), but also because it can tap into the growing/recovering market and slowly increasing consumer demand. Thus, women now have more opportunities they can tap into, such as with the food production initiatives, handcraft projects and flower/seedling initiatives supported by Karama.
Since 2011 we have established rooftop greenhouses in the 5 refugee camps from Bethlehem and Hebron governorates. These small green spaces helped over 250 household to access more fresh produce, by learning how to plant and harvest their own crops with the guiding of agricultural engineers and the support of social workers.
Even during Covid19, over 90% of the women were able to continue working in their greenhouses and had a successful harvest season, ranging from 40 to 240 kilos of produce.
Karama’s rooftop greenhouses have proved to be green havens of recreation and self-development for the women, while enough vegetables were produced to relieve the budget of the family and improve their daily diet. Besides, the greenhouse stimulated the women’s own creativity and entrepreneurship allowing several women to produce food products in their own kitchen and sell in their community. One woman even started growing a special type of strawberry plant all over her roof and sell this to Karama and other local organizations!
“I clearly remember being so impressed when they placed the tubes on my roof, then the big bags of soil. We were depended in everything on the project’s agricultural engineers when we started. It has been three years and this year I have been dealing with the greenhouse all by myself.”
In 2012, Karama has started supporting a women-led social enterprise called “Makken,” meaning “empower.” Makken is the name of the food-production unit, store and bakery in which our women sell their products.
Makken meets a social and market need, by creating employment and increasing availability of fresh and healthy products. This initiative consists of a kitchen for traditional food products as well as meals on delivery, secondly a bakery for both sweet and savory items, and finally a store for vegetables, herbs, spices and a range of healthy food products. We also integrated Makken with our rooftop greenhouses project in which women sell their greenhouse produce in our store. Coming from the rooftop greenhouses as well as some local farmers, delicious traditional food products are produced by the women collectively in Karama. We sell jams, pickles, dried yogurt, dried raisins, dried zaatar, dibs and more!
Starting the unit required much effort focusing on a variety of financial, economic and marketing aspects. Business development has been taken into account including health and safety standards, branding, packaging, high-quality inputs and market competition/demands. Different marketing channels have been established, with different options identified during business planning stages. Connections with local stores have been made to place the women’s products in larger stores. The foundation is built to grow into a profitable social business that can support different households from the camp.
Another set of activities implemented in 2021 with the support of some of our donors was small-scale entrepreneurial activities from 8 women from vulnerable households in three refugee camps in the southern West Bank. We selected and trained the women with the most feasible ideas and the highest commitment. Then, a small store was opened specifically for their products, including the flowers and seedlings prepared in the seedling nursery run by a woman in the camp.