For many mothers in Palestine, the lockdown was not a pleasant experience. Overburdened with endless house chores, child care, psychological and emotional pressure and homeschooling most women did not find time to do anything for themselves. Bayan Farraj a married mother of three, from Ramallah was not so different. However, she had other responsibilities that motivated her to create time for herself and her small business “Allure by Bayan”, a natural beauty products business. The pharmacist by training who studied medicinal manufacturing for her masters, planned well for her business which she started with support through OBADER project and expected that it will allow her to practice what she studied and fulfil her passion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to disproportionately affect women and girls. Globally, evidence shows that women entrepreneurs are struggling. In a recent survey of women entrepreneurs, 93% of respondents had already been negatively impacted by COVID-19, and 4% haven’t yet been impacted but think they will be in the future. Of those already impacted, 44% have ceased operations temporarily and 3% have ceased operations permanently. A similar pattern is reported in Palestine, where 95% of Palestinian women reported that their businesses were being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The lockdown came as a surprise to Bayan who was preparing for one of her best marketing seasons. She said: “I prepared some beautiful arrangements of my products for Mother’s Day, none were sold.” With the fear that she will lose her small investment, Bayan was quick to react.” I reactivated my Instagram page, advertised my products and spent more time talking to clients about their value.” Many businesses faced similar situations either by cancelling existing purchasing orders, losing customers, or inability to sell existing stock. During the lockdown, she continued to sell products through her social media. Her husband supported her in delivering some items in Ramallah. While under lockdown, she invested in producing items that will require some time to dry like soap. She experimented in new products to be ready when the markets open.
The lockdown was an opportunity for Bayan to learn and develop new skills, expand online network and spend more time discussing the quality of her work with clients on social media. Bayan said: “The lockdown was a golden opportunity for me to develop new products and test them.” She had time to research and experiment with these products and will have them ready to promote as soon as the lockdown is over.
While it was never easy, Bayan tried different approaches to ensure marketing even with a smaller margin of profit providing special offers and delivering inside Ramallah. Her all-natural products, which are usually more expensive were sold for the same price as regular products. For her Staying in the market and keeping the confidence her clients was a coping strategy.
Digital and online marketing became more important for women entrepreneurs across the world during the pandemic. Palestinian women had to develop their skills, start engaging online with customers and use their social media pages to sell products. They’ve also been offering virtual consultations to clients who want to know more about a product before purchasing. In Palestine, online marketing is still limited to social media options. Delivering goods is also limited and depends on then women or their family members. While there are many capacities to be developed and policies and regulations to be put in place to ensure proper and effective online marketing, the fact that women like Bayan are using the options available to them is encouraging and promising.
Bayan never gave up and adopted different coping mechanisms including selling products locally and with smaller margin of profit, distributing free samples and building new local clientele, and finding new marketing strategies and techniques, including using online and digital marketing
Women entrepreneurs like Bayan will be essential for the economic recovery of households, communities and sectors during COVID-19 pandemic recovery and after. However, thinking outside the box will always be limited by systemic barriers including access to finance, ability to market products, social norms and level of awareness and capacities. Since no one knows when this period will end, there is a need for extra support of these women from the authorities, chambers of commerce and other stakeholder to ensure that they can stay in the market. Having an enabling organization to support them and enable them to network and learn from each other is very important. Such an organization can identify common needs and trends and address them collectively. While the women found some ways to engage with their customers over social media, they still need to master digital marketing and understand the legal and policy framework surrounding it. Access to technology goes beyond the use of social media platforms. In a post-COVID-19 stage, mastering new technologies and digital marketing will be crucial for any successful business.
"Women and Youth Entrepreneurs Leading Change - OBADER " which is implemented by CARE International (WBG)in close cooperation with the Ministry of National Economy and funded by the Government of Canada for four years 2018-2022, in partnership with the Business Women Forum and the Center for Continuing Education at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and Save Youth Future Society and Small Enterprises Center in the Gaza Strip. OBADER aims to enhance the economic empowerment and increase the prosperity of low-income women and/or female and male youth as entrepreneurs and employees in central (including Nablus) and south of West Bank and Gaza (WBG).