Representing Palestinian Entrepreneurs in America
A native of Nablus, Sahar Dwaikat is 29 years old and is a current female entrepreneur in TYO's Women's Incubation Services for Entrepreneurs (WISE) Program. Sahar's business, Flyer Ad for Graphic Design, began as just an idea in 2010 during the Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus (FWEN) Program and has since become a fully operating business based in Nablus.
In April 2013, with TYO's Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad and TYO Volunteer Amani, Sahar embarked on a journey to the United States for the first time to participate in The Women of Nablus delegation through The Telos Group. Sahar shares her experiences in Washington, DC and Minnesota with us and explains what impact the trip made on her.
What was the delegation?
Amani explained it very well. The Telos Group brought three Nabulsi women to the US to share the Palestinian narrative. I of course, was able to speak about my business and the struggles and challenges I face as a businesswoman.
What story did you tell people?
I started out by explaining my business. Then quickly jumped in to the challenges I face - those due to society and those due to occupation. In terms of societal pressure, my parents were unsupportive of my dream to have my own business at the start - women in Nablus are not encouraged to have economic independence. I also faced problems when dealing with men in the market. Communicating with dealers and suppliers (all men) directly meant that they struggled to take me seriously. It also meant that because they don't take me seriously, they give other competition - operated by males - advantages.
Unfortunately, the current political situation has also presented its own set of challenges that are unique to Palestine. The restriction of movement means that I can't leave my city easily and I can't expand my business beyond my city. It presents a big marketing hurdle for me. As a result of the political situation, the economic situation also has created a very unstable economy for Palestinians and therefore securing investors - especially from those outside of the region - can also be difficult.
What did you learn?
- Public speaking. While in the US, I spoke to many different audiences. I spoke to Congressmen, university students, scholars and people in places of worship. I learned how to adapt my story in each of these situations. In the first meeting, I was terrified of messing up or that my English wasn't good enough. But soon, I became confident and was able to adapt and adjust my presentation and answer questions according the the target audience.
What was the highlight of the trip for you?
Speaking at these meetings was amazing! I felt special for being selected to represent my country. We got to meet so many people and I got to share my story - I'm still in awe.
How do you think this trip will impact your business?
This trip was all about self-improvement for me. I am now so much more confident about my public speaking ability. I learned how to present my business with different target groups in mind. I know that this new skill of adaptability, will help give me an edge over competition in my local market.
What was the biggest take-away for you from this trip?
I think the biggest thing I discovered was that DC is safe and people are so friendly and accepting. I fell in love with DC and realized that I could live there - even alone. As soon as I arrived back in Nablus, I've decided to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the US. I am so excited about starting another chapter in my life!