Our impact, their voices

“Having my own business makes me feel like a queen”

Training on entrepreneurship and access to seed funding has helped Al Batool, a Sudanese refugee in Egypt, to start her own business and gain some financial independence.

Article | 05 April 2023

Cairo, EGYPT (ILO News) – Seven years ago, having been forced to leave Sudan, Al Batool found refuge in Egypt. She was a single mother of four young children and struggled to make ends meet.

“Without anyone to look after my children, it was difficult to go out and look for a job,” said Al Batool. She did manage to find seasonal jobs, mostly as a nurse to elderly people. “However, it was not a regular work and my financial situation got steadily worse over the years,” she added.
Given her circumstances, the best solution for Al Batool was to start a home-based business. However, without any financial support she was unable to make any progress in this direction.

“I used to make Sudanese incense sticks at home, and I knew there was a demand for them in the community. But I was not able to develop a proper business. I had tried seeking help from organizations to develop this idea and turn it into a proper business, but I always faced rejection,” said Al Batool.

In the meantime, the ILO PROSPECTS programme in Egypt, together with Caritas, launched an enterprise development programme in Alexandria in 2022 to strengthen employment and livelihood opportunities for host and refugee communities. Al Batool learned about the training programme from a friend and approached Caritas with the business idea she had in mind.

Sally, Programme Manager with Caritas, said, “We were impressed with the determination and enthusiasm shown by Al Batool. She really wanted to improve her financial situation and was ready to work hard to achieve that. We accepted her application for the enterprise development programme and, through our mentorship approach, helped her understand how to set up and run a business.”

While Al Batool understood how to develop the product, she knew little about other critical aspects of business. The ILO’s Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) training programme introduced her to different areas of business development and management and helped her to set up what has now become a sustainable enterprise.

“Without knowing how to manage the financial aspects of business, entrepreneurs like me are unable to save and we find it difficult to maintain and sustain business cycles and so we need to keep on finding new sources of funding to buy raw materials. But, at the training we learned how to maintain proper book-keeping and separating out profits to keep the business operational. Also, in the past we had a tendency to saturate our target customer base and then struggled to scale up our business. In this context, the training we received on marketing was essential in learning how to avoid these mistakes and build our business models,” said Al Batool, who was successful in setting her own business after completion of the training.

Furthermore, having demonstrated good business performance, Al Batool also received a cash grant through the PROSPECTS programme, which allowed her to expand her product line. “This has brought a multi-fold increase in the profits I generate from my business. I am truly feeling independent and proud of myself. Having my own successful business makes me feel like a queen,” said Al Batool.

With many, including forcibly displaced populations, being unable to secure employment opportunities, the ILO has found that encouraging entrepreneurship can be an important pathway for people to harness energy and ambition to establish livelihoods and an income to provide for themselves and their families, as well as contribute to the local economic development of their communities.

“Al Batool's success story is a shining example of the impact that the ILO’s programmes and toolkits can have on individuals and communities. In Egypt, over 6,000 women entrepreneurs have benefitted from the enterprise development opportunities offered by the PROSPECTS programme and we intend to include more in the future," explained Amir Obeid, Chief Technical Advisor for ILO PROSPECTS Egypt.