The Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs project seeks to empower women entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools and skills needed to grow profitable and sustainable businesses that are scalable and facilitate job creation. The entrepreneurship training and development programming that Tomorrow’s Youth Organization offers is both timely and highly sought after. According to a 27 November 2015 Forbes magazine article, Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Surge Globally, global entrepreneurship has surged in recent years. The report the article reference points to “women’s growing participation in economies around the world, which is good news for both families and communities. Having two paychecks brings economic stability to families, insulating them from the upheaval that can result if one person loses a paycheck, as the report notes. In addition, women tend to invest heavily in their communities and education, the report points out.” TYO’s entrepreneurs are strong, forward-thinking women who face countless adversities but seek to create and maintain successful businesses for the very reasons outlined above. Today we interview Ikhlas, an entrepreneur from Salem village outside of Nablus whose insatiable drive is very much attributed to her desire to support and financially contribute to both her family and her community. Ikhlas is a visually-impaired woman with a Master’s degree from An-Najah University. Our interview was conducted entirely in English.
1. Tell me about yourself and your family. Where are you from? How many people are in your family?
My name is Ikhlas and I am from Salem village. I was born in 1987 as a blind woman to a poor family. I have three brothers and two sisters. One of my brothers, Mohammed, is blind like me. We all live with our mother as our father was killed in 2004. I come from a very loving family who loved me and gave me tremendous amounts of love and care. I have a special bond with my mom. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature and a Master’s degree in English Translation and Applied Linguistics. I am an advocate for disability rights and am a member of four disability organizations. I have represented Palestine through a United Nations conference in Malta in 2011 and traveled to the United States in 2012 through Stars of Hope.
2. How, when, and why did you learn English?
Given I was born blind, I attended a girls boarding school in Ramallah where I learned British English. Knowing English gives me a highly competitive edge in the workplace. I also highly enjoy the language.
3. Tell me about the business you are developing.
I want to open an educational center for both sighted and visually-impaired people. I would like to teach people how to comprehend and speak English. As a blind woman, it is important for me to have my own business. Palestinian law does not protect disabled people from discrimination so it is very difficult for me to secure employment. I can not only help myself by opening my own business but can also support my family and eventually provide jobs to other blind people.
4. What are you learning in the Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs program?
When I first came to the business development trainings, I had no idea what a business was or how I could run my own business. I was merely having random ideas in my mind but now they are becoming more organized. With the expertise of Ahmed Abu-Baker from Small Enterprise Center, I am able to organize my thoughts and generate my ideas. I am learning how to refine the service I am offering, develop a business plan, incorporate branding and marketing strategies into my business plan and so much more. I am excited to learn how to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis as a way to study both my internal and external environment as a business owner.
5. What are the challenges you face as someone who is blind? How do you overcome those challenges?
As a blind woman, I suffer from a great deal of discrimination. I was treated very badly throughout all of my schooling as a child. I have been treated very badly by people in my society but have always had my family as my backbone and primary support system. I am blessed to have such a supportive family and I seek to open a business to support them and other disabled people who are not able to secure employment. Sometimes I feel weak and I weep. After my father died, our family became even poorer than we were before. Despite it all I still have hope and a tremendous will to live. Despite all of the horrible conditions we face, I must survive.
Ikhlas was interviewed by Vanessa, Women’s Empowerment Program Coordinator