Breaking the cycle of poverty in rural Yemen: Entisar’s story of economic empowerment

March 10, 2024


Life in Yemen is hard. Life as a woman, in a rural, mountainous region, is much harder still. Conflict, a lack of essential resources, and limited access to services, including paved roads, can make it nearly impossible for people to improve their living conditions. Starting your own small business – to increase your income, strengthen your resilience and support your local economy – remains a dream that few achieve.

Entisar Qara’ah, a 35-year-old woman from Al-Sawad in the mountainous Yemeni region of Wesab Al Ali in Dhamar Governorate, knows this struggle well. Her husband frequently changes jobs, unable to secure stable employment that would provide a consistent income for their family. Still, says Entisar with determination, “we never stop striving for a better life.”

Al-Sawad Mountain in Wesab Al Ali, Dhamar, Yemen.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Rural entrepreneurs face difficult hurdles, with both training and funding key to building a successful – and sustainable – business. Training centers are often many miles away, while microfinancing services are typically unavailable in remote regions. Those looking to access such funding often fail simply because they cannot cross the geographical divide between rural and urban areas. To address this problem, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and UNDP Yemen work together with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) through the Emergency Social Protection Enhancement and COVID-19 Response Project (ESPECRP)  to set up microfinance systems in rural communities by establishing Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), which serve as rural savings and financing groups. This is how Entisar got her start.

“The VSLA concept, with its focus on empowering members to start their own income-generating activities, really resonated with me,” Entisar says. “I joined Al-Tariqah VSLA in my village, which allowed me to launch my own small business and contribute to fostering a spirit of cooperation and solidarity within my village.”

Members of Al-Tariqah VSLA open the cash savings box to see how much money has been collected.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Each of these community groups consists of no more than twenty-five members, with separate associations for women and men. Upon reaching full capacity, each association holds elections to appoint a leader, treasurer, and financial and investment officer. As a group, members then come together to identify their own preferences and the training needs that will form the basis for their future small businesses.

Popular choices include sewing – which is what Entisar chose – as well as weaving, livestock rearing, beekeeping and installing and maintaining solar energy systems.

Members of Al-Tariqah VSLA sign approval papers.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

These VSLAs supported by ESPECRP operate on a simple financial model: members contribute a set amount each month, creating a pool of funds that is then used to finance individual projects on rotation. This model aims to launch specific small businesses that not only benefit the owners and their communities but also play a role in revitalizing the local economy and bolstering economic development in rural areas.

“Sewing has been stitched into my life since childhood – I used to make clothes for dolls and children,” Entisar explains, reminiscing about her early years. “Seeing children and women wearing the clothes that I make inspired me to pursue seamstress training. It is not just a skill, but also a way to help my family.”

Recognizing that funding forms just one element of business success, ESPECRP also provides training, and Entisar embarked on her sewing journey with the arrival of an instructor to her village. “She taught me everything from using a measuring tape to cutting fabric, sewing and even embroidery,” explains Entisar. “Now I can make beautiful dresses and gowns.”

Entisar and her colleagues were trained by Ammat Al-Karim Al-Mahdi in sewing.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Entisar received 200,000 Y.R. (around US$ 377) in funding from her VSLA to launch her own small business. She talks with delight about how, with this money, and by saving a little each month, she was able to build what she needed. “I bought a sewing machine along with various materials and fabrics.”

Entisar’s income has been boosted by her business – bringing tangible improvements to her family. She can feed her family properly and the money she makes has eased the burden on her husband while he looks for work. “It has not been easy,” she admits, “but my sewing provides a safety net for us.”

Entisar checks a pair of trousers she has made.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Entisar’s home doubles as a showroom, filled with the dresses and gowns she creates, and anyone interested in buying her creations is welcome to browse her collection.

But her ambition goes beyond her doorstep; she takes photographs of her dresses and sends them directly to fellow villagers via WhatsApp. “My friends and neighbors rave about the quality of my dresses; they have become enthusiastic promoters, encouraging me to keep pushing forward,” she explains. “This word-of-mouth marketing has even attracted customers from neighboring villages.”

Entisar bargains with a customer as she sells a dress from her home.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Amina Sa’ad, head of Al-Tariqah VSLA, praises Entisar’s success. “Her business is thriving. Everyone in the village buys clothes from her and supports her,” she says, adding that this success is also about filling a long-standing skill gap. “There’s a real need for skilled seamstresses in our village, so having Entisar here is a positive all round.”

The local community supports Entisar and is proud to have such a skilled seamstress among them. Muhammad Al-Obaidi, a community member, talks about the benefits of having access to Entisar’s creations. “Local tailoring is perfectly suited for our needs,” he says. “It is more affordable compared to store-bought clothes from the far city, but it also caters to our specific styles and preferences. Every village should have access to such ventures, and as community members, it is our responsibility to support local production.”

Entisar earns money selling the clothes she makes.

UNDP Yemen / 2024

Entisar sees a bright future for her business. “I dream of opening my own sewing factory and expanding my business to neighboring villages and local markets,” adding that she is “incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to implementing the idea of VSLAs in our village.”

In a bid to empower rural Yemenis to improve their income and livelihoods, ESPECRP has supported the establishment of 254 Village Savings and Loan Associations across rural Yemen so far. This initiative equips men and women living in far rural areas with the skills to launch income-generating projects, ultimately leading to better living conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities.


The Emergency Social Protection Enhancement and COVID-19 Response Project (ESPECRP) supports geographically bundled interventions of nutrition-sensitive cash transfers and temporary employment, while also improving access to sustainable livelihoods, key services, and economic opportunities for areas affected by hunger, malnutrition, and climate related shocks. The project is in line with the World Bank’s integrated approach to improve food security resilience for Yemenis. 

Funded and supported by the World Bank’s IDA, the US$ 232.9 million ESPECRP is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD), the Public Works Project (PWP), and the Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS) in partnership with UNDP Yemen.