Crafting Dreams: Ahlam's Journey from Chemistry Teacher to Artisan Entrepreneur in Palestine

September 28, 2023

On the balcony of her house in the city of Al Bireh in Palestine, sits Ahlam with a colorful collection of croche and macrame products.

Ahlam Abed (40 years old) is a mother of three, and the owner of “Ahlam Makrameh” business. She started her business in 2021 after encouragement from her sister to invest in her talents in handcrafts and love for designs and art. She wanted to introduce new innovative designs and bring new life into traditional products.. “I have always had a love and talent for artwork, I have always liked making my presents with my own designs and started on different art projects for fun. For my studies, however, I took the more reliable route and decided to major in Chemistry to become a teacher. My plan worked for many years and if it wasn’t for COVID-19 pandemic I would still be teaching”.

“The decision was not easy especially that I ama mother and running a business can be challenging while raising children and managing a household. But I wanted the freedom of having my own business and I also loved seeing my designs come to reality.” Ahlam Makrameh offers a wide variety of crochet and macrame products, and slowly started developing her business and designs through resources she found online. “Starting a business was challenging because I needed to design, develop, and market my products while also managing the administrative and financial aspects. I needed to quickly develop my skills to match the requirements of my new role, but training and consultations are costly, so I relied on articles and videos I found online for guidance”.

The National MSME Helpdesk Scheme “Monshati” was established in 2021 as an initiative co-chaired by the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and UNDP on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to tackle the COVID-19 crisis and support Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to survive and grow considering the profound restrictions. In 2022, the Big Heart Foundation supported UNDP to expand this national initiative to support the resilience and growth of MSMEs beyond the COVID-19 pandemic period.

“I have heard about Monshati from a friend of mine who also owns her own small business, she encouraged me to participate in their group training and mentorship sessions as they have benefited her business and were free-of-charge. It was an opportunity I was not going to miss”, says Ahlam. “I started with a training on project management, which opened my eyes to the gaps I had within my business that I needed to address, and also to the great results my business could achieve if planned and executed correctly”. Ahlam proceeded to benefit from many group training sessions offered through Monshati to micro and small enterprises, including Communications, Feasibility Studies, Sales Management, and E-commerce before starting with the specialized training and group mentorship sessions to enhance her technical skills as a manager and a producer. “I have really benefited from the photography and digital marketing group mentorship opportunities under Monshati, the photography sessions helped me better differentiate my products from others in the market, and highlight their uniqueness through photos. I combined that with mentorship on Digital Marketing, which helped me refine my social media pages and strategy, and more than double my reach to potential customers, therefore enhancing my sales”, adds Ahlam.

Monshati offers a wide variety of services to MSMEs including access to information and business development opportunities, access to specialized technical support, and access to legal advisory services. It also acts as a point of access to finance and financial services, including PMA’s Estidama, a national fund aimed at supporting the resilience and growth of Palestinian MSMEs.

“Monshati training helped me look at my products from a different lens, I wanted to start integrating technology into my designs and revamp the old traditional products to be more attractive to customers, which required financial resources that I did not have at the time”, says Ahlam. “I heard of the zero-interest loans I could apply for through Monshati, and after reviewing the requirements I decided to further invest in my talent and apply for the loan. I utilized to apply to multiple banks online, which made the process much easier and faster for me”, adds Ahlam.

Access to finance is one of the major issues facing Palestinian MSMEs, with the majority of MSMEs relying on self-financing or informal sources to finance their businesses, which usually mismatches with their financial needs to harness an investment opportunity or scale up their businesses. Monshati works to connect MSMEs with zero-interest loans and grant packages to support their resilience and scale-up, in addition to providing financial literacy and management opportunities to enhance the utilization of the loan by MSMEs, and de-risk banks investments.

Ahlam’s ambitions do not stop here, as she is planning to open up her first physical store and expand to new markets, “my business is currently home-based but I am actively working towards starting my first store, I want to keep investing my time and energy in my products and develop unique products to be exported to new markets, I know it is not easy given the restrictions and very high requirements, but I believe that what’s made with love can only bring back more love”.