Women in Lebanon build resilience through e-commerce

Lebanese family businesses are looking for export and digital trade opportunities to keep their families’ heritage and traditions alive.

In one of the most severe economic crises in Lebanon, resilience is the watchword of the people who suffer daily, both personally and professionally, from its consequences.

In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, the explosion at the port of Beirut caused astronomical losses to the country. Despite these many obstacles, numerous companies have managed to stay on course, and it is in this context that the International Trade Centre (ITC) supports the country’s small businesses to make use of the respective technologies that can increase their presence in regional and international markets.

As part of the Women’s Enterprise Finance Initiative (We-Fi), and with support from the World Bank, ITC put in place the “E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs” project in Lebanon. Under its ecomConnect programme, the team helps women entrepreneurs expand their access to domestic and export markets through e-commerce platforms.

Meet Martine Zaarour from Jar Thuraya

One of these entrepreneurs is Martine Zaarour. Her social company Jar Thuraya collects handicrafts produced by Lebanese women, contributing to both the empowerment of women and the preservation of Lebanon’s natural resources.
Architect by profession, Martine was driven by a strong interest in sustainable development and the defence of women’s rights.

Jar Thuraya won the first prize at the Startup Roadshow Wired in Qatar, which allowed the company to expand to the United States and Australian market. There, more than 40 seasonal products, all packaged in environmentally friendly and plastic-free packaging, are available for purchase.

Heavily impacted by the explosion at the port, Martine explains that she had lost sale opportunities. She adds, “we also faced delays in receiving shipments that were held at the port, such as jars, lids, and so on.”

Martine was not alone in facing these challenges: “Like all other companies in Lebanon, we had to deal with the shortage of electricity, fuel and connectivity, which played a major role in delaying our operations.”

During the programme, Jar Thuraya was accompanied by ITC e-commerce advisor Hala Nassif. “Hala was able to support and empower us,” says Martine. “She helped us discover new opportunities and ways to develop our business.”

Meet Nathalie Boueri and Roy Harb from Ayadina

Nathalie Boueri and Roy Harb, the co-founders of Ayadina, received support in developing the company’s e-commerce strategy as well as explore its brand identity, packaging, export, and marketing.

“Ayadina” which translates to “handmade”, uses pure natural ingredients, from aromatic dried herbs to pickled wild cucumbers, for its range of pantry products and preserves that are sold in selected, high-quality retailers and delis.

“The port explosion did not affect the company directly,” explains Roy who will take over the family business. “However, we felt it indirectly during the two months following the explosion. Sales stopped, production was brought to a halt, and our employees were desperate.”

According to Roy, the project supported the company at the right time: all women employees could maintain their jobs with sales back on track.

“I consider Ayadina as one of the project’s success stories,” explains ITC e-commerce advisor Elvira El-Hojeiri. “They have accomplished valuable outputs by optimizing their online sales channels, creating e-commerce content, and conducting detailed market research and analysis. I believe Ayadina could become one of the leading Lebanese authentic food companies in the region.”

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