Our impact, their voices

Photo essay: Woman-led cooperative in Jordan expands business and drives local change through cooperative alliances

On International Women's Day, we celebrate the endeavours of Jordan’s Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society with an in-depth interview featuring its president, Ghada Al-Qudah, and a photo gallery showcasing their activities. Tune in for their inspiring story!

Article | 08 March 2024
Ajloun, Jordan – A cooperative of 15 women, operating since the 1990s and specializing in food and sweets production, recently broadened its business horizons through a strategic alliance with the Jordanian Dates Association in the Jordan Valley, a cooperative renowned for date production.

The alliance was forged after the female entrepreneurs completed a training programme under ILO PROSPECTS alongside other members of local cooperatives. Here, they learned how to expand their businesses through cooperative networking, benefits and challenges of the cooperative model, and how to make sustainable decisions for their businesses.

This expansion has not only benefited the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society but has also had a positive ripple effect on their communities, leading to increased employment opportunities. The cooperative is also about to include Syrian refugee women in its workforce, fostering inclusivity and creating a supportive environment for women to establish and grow their business.

The ILO and the Jordan Cooperative Corporation (JCC) have been working together over the years to promote cooperative training programmes and support amendments to the national legislation regulating the cooperative movement in Jordan, to eventually improve its regulatory, developmental, and representational functions.

During our visit to document the work of the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society in the northern town of Ajloun, we talked with its president Ghada Al-Qudah, who shared insights into their journey and impact.

Ghada Al-Qudah walks in front the headquarters of the all-female cooperative she leads in Ajloun in northern Jordan. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“Our cooperative, founded in the nineties, currently employs fifteen permanent staff members, and additional workers are brought in on demand at our club, depending on the workload,” she said. “Presently, our workforce comprises exclusively Jordanian women, but we are about to welcome Syrian women soon. At the cooperative, our production kitchen caters to a diverse range of products, from traditional dishes like kibbeh, ouzi, mansaf, and shashbark, to our more recent ventures into date-based products such as black coffee, cakes, and nut balls – we cover it all.”

Ghada Al-Qudah shows a handful of roasted date seeds that will be later processed for the cooperative food products. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“Our commitment to sustainability is evident as we use every part of the date, including the seeds,” she said. “After washing, cleaning, and arranging them, we roast the seeds in the oven before grinding them into both plain and sweet coffee, without any additives.
At the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society, our dedication to quality and diversity in our products are the drivers of our success.”

Women from the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society are seen preparing some of their products in the cooperative’s kitchen. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“The training we attended with the ILO equipped us with essential skills in cooperative management and shed light on the intricacies of effective networking,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “I had long been eager to learn the art of business networking, and the opportunity finally presented itself during the training. Following the partnership announcement with the Jordanian Dates Association in the Jordan Valley, we swiftly inked an official agreement.”

One of the cooperative members works on a sweet made with date jam in the association kitchen laboratory in Ajloun. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“The collaboration with the Jordanian Dates Association led us to procure dates, which we are currently processing. Throughout the training, we developed a comprehensive plan with the guidance of the ILO, which we are still implementing,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “This has also helped us find a suitable location for the association and successfully complete the licensing process. All this has been a sweet and pioneering achievement for us. As women, we take pride in serving our community.”

Ghada Al-Qudah and part of her team work on their date-based product in their kitchen. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“The Jordanian Dates Association helped us, but we are also supporting them by acquiring their products, marketing them, and incorporating them into our own operations,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “This collaboration proved beneficial as we obtained the dates at nominal prices, allowing us to create different manufactured products. Working with dates was a new venture for us, and this initiative stemmed directly from the training we received. In my 30 years with the association, this was the first time I had the opportunity to participate in such a course.”

A selection of products of the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society is showcased at the entrance of their kitchen lab in Ajloun. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“We conduct courses within the governorate, often receiving requests for coffee breaks during special occasions or holidays, along with orders for dates,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “Our aspiration is to extend the production and marketing of our products beyond the Ajloun Governorate. Currently, we are actively working on this.”

One of the cooperative members prepares traditional food in the association's kitchen laboratory. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“Undoubtedly, this business is a profitable one. Any investment in which one engages is expected to yield a financial return,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “The venture involves employing more women, representing both a profit and a challenge for us. Also, to enhance our production capabilities and efficiency, we require both financing and equipment. While we currently face various challenges in production, especially in the initial stages of preparation, we see a future where we overcome these hurdles and have access to all the necessary equipment.”

Freshly baked sweets emerge from the oven at the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“We are proud of being part of a cooperative,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “The benefits include generating a sense of community among women, providing them with opportunities to come together and share. This initiative aids women in increasing their income, whether they have a university education for their children to cover, or actively support their husbands. It empowers them to step out of their homes, enabling them to become productive actors of society.”

Women from the Fatima Al-Zahraa Cooperative Society are busy preparing date-based sweets Ma'amool in the cooperative’s kitchen in Ajloun. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“I dream of a positive development and swift progress for the cooperative,” said Ghada Al-Qudah. “Our goal is to contribute to the welfare of our country and its people by providing high-quality and wholesome products. Also, I hope to see an increase in the number of our female employees soon.”

Ghada Al-Qudah arranges some of the products her team has just produced at the entrance of their association’s lab in preparation for a local reception. ©ILO/Ala'a Al Sukhni

“Being part of this cooperative feels like being part of a family where all members, despite facing challenges, work together in harmony and respect. I am confident that, with determination and God’s help, we will overcome any difficulties, find new markets and further expand our all-female business.”

The project has been implemented within the framework of the PROSPECTS programme, a global partnership supported by the Government of the Netherlands and the Dutch-funded project Holland Horti Support Jorda

Get more information on our work on cooperatives in Jordan